Seen any sparrows lately?

Continuing the theme of birds and whether there are more or less of them this year, I thought I would bring your attention to a worrying report from the RSPB that is highlighting the plight of the common house sparrow. Numbers of house sparrows have declined in the UK by 68% in the last 30 years (i.e. they have more than halved in my lifetime).

The reasons for this are unknown, but it is thought to be related to a lack of food for the chicks resulting in lower numbers leaving the nest and a higher mortality rate in those that do fledge. Why the lack of food? The reason is thought to be our disappearing gardens, the reduction in house sparrow numbers being more pronounced in towns and cities than in rural areas. The increase in decking and patios, the removal of hedges, the addition of the dreaded leylandii and the obsession with short grass have all reduced the number of insects inhabiting our gardens. This, coupled with our chemical warfare on all things creepy-crawley, has reduced the food available to the sparrows.

But, I hear you cry, shouldn’t this affect other garden visitors such as blue tits and robins? I think that it has, but it is just that the sparrows used to be so populous that the reduction is more noticeable. Pairs of sparrows need to raise at least five young a year to keep the numbers up, this means having multiple broods and more mouths to feed.

The numbers of sparrows in our garden fluctuates throughout the year, but I know there were a couple of pairs about and that there were two successful broods. Will that be enough? I am not sure, I have only seen the occasional sparrow in recent weeks, but it may be that they are off somewhere else at the moment. (A few weeks ago we had about 8 goldfinches at a time in the garden, then none for weeks, but lots of greenfinches and chaffinches; I guess it depends on whether there are other food sources around.)

So, what can we do? I fed the birds mealworms for a couple of months this year (admittedly they were aimed at the blue and great tits and I was a little annoyed at the time by the gluttony of the sparrows) but this can be expensive if rewarding. The RSPB recommends leaving patches of grass unmown for insects to congregate in and planting certain shrubs, one of the best being honeysuckle which provides food for birds and bees for a lot of the year as well as having the advantage of being easy to grow.

To read more about the decline of the sparrows see the BBC news pages and the RSPB website.

I will certainly be monitoring the sparrows in my garden from now on, let me know how the sparrows in your area are faring.


There were more new visitors to the garden today. I was alerted to the fact by the huge amount of noise coming from outside whilst I was making my breakfast. Sure enough, a nest of great tits must have recently fledged and were visiting the garden. I was a little concerned because the adult was feeding them sunflower hearts, although it did seem to be breaking it down a little. So, out I went into the rain to pop some more mealworms out, and, after watching me for a bit, off they flew, and didn’t come back. I waited, I shooed away some sparrows (who seem to have taken a leaf out of the starlings’ book), they came back with many a noisy pathetic-looking chick to show me why they were taking all of the mealworms, but the great tits stayed away.

They were back by the time I got back from work this evening, and the adult, when the juvenile goldfinch would let him, was feeding them sunflower seeds again (even though I hadn’t learnt any lessons and tried the mealworms again).

Time to fly the nest, for some anyway.

Well, it is bank holiday and it is raining again.  I say this despite the sunshine of earlier in the month, because it was raining this time last year.  I remember this specifically because we spent far too much of our day watching recently fledged blue tits, great tits and coal tits in the garden, and were thankful that they had chosen a rainy bank holiday because our neighbour had gone out for the day and left the little furry killing machine (aka Harry the cat) indoors.

I think that things are running a bit later this year as the blue tits don’t look as manky yet and do not seem overly interested in the mealworms.  The sparrows have, however, fledged, their youth betrayed by their awkward flights around the garden and their constant clamouring for food.  Life for an adult sparrow seems much akin to that of human parents really, particularly for the one female who spent some time gathering mealworms for the noisy offspring, popped out from the feeder to hand them over, then stood on the fence looking vexed and wondering where they had wandered off to.  Baby sparrow had popped over to the other side of the garden to investigate a different fence which looked more interesting!

Hopefully it will rain when the blue tits finally decide it is time for independence.