House sparrows

Posted: Friday 15 March 2013
by Kate Bradbury

A road near where I live is inhabited by a large colony of house sparrows, and a colony of swifts also breed there.

House sparrow, photo by Andy Hay

A road near where I live is inhabited by a large colony of house sparrows, and a colony of swifts also breed there. I don’t know what’s so favourable about conditions near a road – good nesting sites probably – but it’s lovely to see.

House sparrows have suffered huge declines in recent years, and have been wiped out of some urban areas altogether. It’s nice to know that – at least for now – the 'cockney sparrow' is doing well in this small patch of East London.

Having colonised many parts of the world, and with nearly four million breeding pairs still in the UK, it’s easy to think the decline of the house sparrow is nothing to worry about. But recent estimates suggest that numbers dropped by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008. There are a number of factors that are likely to blame, including a lack of food and available nesting sites.

While adults are seed eaters, their chicks rely on small insects, including aphids. If there’s insufficient food for them to eat they can die. A page on the RSPB Liverpool website suggests that in order to prevent further declines, each breeding house sparrow pair needs to successfully rear five young, but one study found nest after nest of starving chicks.

We gardeners might not believe that aphids are in decline (we might even welcome such an event), but one thing that’s becoming increasingly obvious is that insects in general are less abundant than they used to be. Despite growing up in the built up suburbs of Birmingham in the 1980s, our car bonnet was always covered in splattered insects in summer. I can’t remember the last time I saw a car bonnet covered in insects.

If house sparrows visit your garden, why not put up nest boxes for them to raise their young? Planting a native hedge will also create habitats for insects and therefore food for sparrows. You could also take a more relaxed approach to your garden and give aphids free rein of your plants. What’s the worst that could happen?

Do you have house sparrows in your area? Do they nest in your garden? Or have you not seen any for a while?

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Talkback: House sparrows
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happymarion 16/03/2013 at 18:41

In the eighties I used to stop counting at 20 when the sparrows descended on my garden. The wild patch og groud at the back of my garden was bought and tidied up by my neighbour. Loss of habitat meant loss of sparrows till about three tears ago. One arrived on its own and so far three have been feeding regularly with my robin, pair of blackbirds, pair of bramblings, three bluetits and one chaffinch. I have erected a birdbox and their are lots of hedges and a spinney in my garden so I hope to see my count increasing year by year.

SwissSue 16/03/2013 at 19:02

Loads of sparrows in our garden, they gobble up nearly all the birdfood I put out, even the fat balls, they're certainly not dying out here!  Also bluetits, great tits, the odd robin, several blackbirds, occasional chaffinch and a fortnight ago dozens of starlings on their way back up north. The sparrows nest in every opening they can find under the roof and particularly in the virginia creeper growing over our shed. Next door neighbour has fitted special nesting boxes for swifts under the eaves. They come back every year almost on the same date. Love watching them swooping around endlessly, don't know where they get the strength from! The other day our neighbour watched a heron help himself to one of our goldfish. Luckily we have too many of them so we don't begrudge him the occasional one.

Bunny ... 16/03/2013 at 19:13

Loads of sparrows here too ...nesting under roof tiles grrrrr , sparrow towers here , luxury accommodation
We have a heron who must have found fish in neighbours pond as see it daily

Lots of robins, blackbirds , bluetits, a wren and a woodpecker , finches and crows

FloBear 16/03/2013 at 19:25

Never saw a house sparrow here for the first 20 odd years after I arrived.  A couple appeared about three years ago and today I saw 4 or 5 in the garden. I'm glad they've arrived but was miffed to find that my yellow crocus flowers had been devoured. Pretty sure it was the spadgers, they always ate my mum's yellow crocuses. 

Bunny ... 16/03/2013 at 19:34

By next week there will be many more Flo

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