Sparrows in Paris

by Richard Jones

Paris, for an old school friend's birthday party. I've got a couple of hours on Sunday morning before the Eurostar home, so where better than a park to sit and watch the sights?

Path and borders in the Promenade Plantée, ParisParis, for an old school friend's birthday party. I've got a couple of hours on Sunday morning before the Eurostar home, so where better than a park to sit and watch the sights? I'm on the east side of the city, between the Bastille and Nation so it's a stroll above the Avenue Daumesnil. I say above, because the park is the Promenade Plantée, a disused railway viaduct converted to an elevated walkway awash with trees and bushes, and planters full of flowers.

It's very busy with promenaders, commuters, joggers and roller bladers (even though there are signs saying not to, but hey - this is Paris). There's lots going on but I have to admit that there are not many signs of wildlife. The plants are fastidiously tended and the borders manicured. Not one weed sprouts anywhere. As I sit and watch all the passers-by, my ears gradually become accustomed to the general hubbub and I slowly realize that, in fact, there are plenty of rustlings and twitterings from the denser growths.

There are sparrows, hordes of them. Now this is a puzzle. I hardly ever see sparrows in London. Admittedly there is a small gang of about a dozen in the block of back gardens in my East Dulwich street. I've come to pay them very close attention because I know sparrows are still on the decline in England. I rarely saw them when I lived in Nunhead and there are precious few in Dulwich Park or Peckham Rye. They have become something of a novelty with me. So how do they do so well in this narrow green strip through the densely populated 12eme arrondissement?

Something occurs to me. Are the houses of south-east London no longer attractive for nesting in the eaves? What with roof insulation and loft conversions, perhaps the birds are being edged out? Ironically, the five- six- or more-storied Paris blocks probably have eaves far less accessible to interfering humans. Is this why the sparrows are so numerous here?

Police station in Paris, featuring large caryatids on the upper floorsThe Promenade Plantée is a fascinating way to see this part of the city, with views down every boulevard and into the private courtyards of the apartment blocks. All manner of strange architectural detail is revealed, but my favourites were the bizarre caryatids surmounting the police station.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Sparrows in Paris
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 25/04/2008 at 13:17

We've just come back from Paris and we too remarked on the number of sparrows to be seen, particularly in the gardens on the Champs de Mars. Very odd seeing as we seem to have lost most of ours.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/04/2008 at 15:10

I was in Paris two weeks ago and we stopped for a baguette in a park area close to the Champs Elysee. There were sparrows everywhere and they were so tame I was hand-feeding them. At times I had two or three trying to take bread from my hand at the same time. Very entertaining!

Gardeners' World Web User 25/04/2008 at 23:10

Every year we have had a family of blue tits nesting in our bird box which was made to blue-tit measurements given on a form collected from a visitor centre at Tockholes whilst out walking. This year the sparrows have pecked at the hole and made it bigger and are now nesting there. We are looking forward to the new family taking residence in our garden. We have never seen as many sparrows as this year.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/04/2008 at 11:17

I've had the same experience in Paris - huge numbers of sparows!

What is even more perplexing is the variable fortunes of sparrows in the UK - severe decline in London and the South East contrasted by equally strong growth in the West (up 92% in ten years in Wales). Despite a lot of research we still cant come up with a satisfactory reason why, though housing upgrades, unleaded petrol and agricultural change are all possible factors.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2008 at 04:44

I live in surrey near Redhill, there is a garden with an overgrown hedge walking past you can hear the continual chattering of sparrows, so more over grown hedges may be needed to accommodate these little birds.

See more comments...