As we walked home along Springs Lane last weekend we passed a chirping bush – or, to be more precise, a small bush full of singing house sparrows. It took me a moment or two to realize what I was hearing as I rarely hear a sparrow these days, let alone a bush full. We have lived in our present Ben Rhydding house for fourteen years now, and I have never recorded a sparrow on my BTO Garden Birdwatch record sheets -or I hadn’t until 14th July last.
A nondescript brown bird was feeding on the seed dispenser. What could it be? I puzzled for a while then fetched the bird book to make absolutely sure and – yes – it was a female house sparrow. It hung around for about a couple of weeks then disappeared. Sparrows are gregarious, so no doubt it flew off to join the gang down near the railway line – or, indeed, the gang in the Springs Lane bush: at a lower altitude and in more sheltered locations.
Those of you who still get sparrows in your gardens or see them in the town parks may be wondering what all this fuss is about. The fact is that house sparrows, so common even thirty years ago that one never noticed them – or only to complain as they hoovered up the food meant for ‘more interesting’ visitors – are in serious decline, and the reasons are much debated.
Sparrows have adapted to live close to man, so changes in our way of doing things affect them. Some experts suggest that increased exhaust fumes have poisoned our city sparrows, but pigeons seem to thrive amid the traffic, and suburban and country sparrows seem badly affected too. Certainly, changing farming practices – fewer weeds and less harvest spillage – will have reduced the food supply of the latter as it has for other farmland birds. Though they will nest in bushes, house sparrows prefer the nooks and crannies in buildings – home improvements like plastic faschia boards and soffits shut them out.
So, how can we help? We can put up sparrow nest boxes under the eaves on houses or out-buildings, provide seed in feeders and on the ground and, perhaps, not be quite so tidy. A few weedy corners, thick ivy and overgrown bushes are good habitat for wildlife of all kinds, sparrows included. Let’s cherish them!