Help halt the decline of the House Sparrow
July is a critical month for House Sparrows whose numbers visiting gardens are in long-term decline. Food provided by householders can give this species a real boost as the young fledge the nest particularly as poor survival rates during the first year of life have been linked to the decline of this charismatic species. They need to develop their independent feeding skills and people can help them on their way by providing high quality bird foods and a supply of fresh clean water.
Decline of House Sparrows
Over the past 40 winters numbers of House Sparrows coming to garden feeding stations have dropped by almost two thirds. Recent declines have not been uniform across all regions: the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey* shows that House Sparrow declines have been steepest in English gardens – particularly in the south east – but much less severe in Welsh and Scottish ones.
A number of factors have been linked to the decline of House Sparrows in urban areas. Loss of nesting opportunities, due to changes in roof tile design and replacement of wooden fascias and soffits with plastic alternatives, for example, appear to be important. Also increased demand for off-street parking, so called ‘garden grabbing’ and the use of decking have served to restrict foraging opportunities for this species. Research shows that House Sparrow breeding success improves in gardens that contain a high proportion of deciduous shrubs and a small amount of concrete.
House Sparrows are mainly seed eaters, tucking into a range of seed mixes with a high cereal content, which are often less preferred by other species. During spring and summer, however, invertebrate foods for young House Sparrows become really important with adults doing a great job of clearing up garden greenflies. They will also take foods such as live mealworms, with research suggesting that small colonies may expand through such provision.
Top feeding suggestions
- Ernest Charles Live Mealworms, provided in an Ernest Charles Live Food Tray.
- BTO Feeder Seed provided in a BTO Seed Feeder, which has a FeedSafe antibacterial coating.
The relatively large head and stout bill of a House Sparrow gives this species, which is about the size of a Great Tit, a robust appearance. Males have a black bib, which extends up the throat and around the beak and eye, and a grey crown with chestnut-brown sides. Female House Sparrows do not have a black bib, are buff-grey underneath and have a pale stripe above the eye. Both males and females have brown and black-streaked wings. During July, also watch out for recently-fledged young – they look like females, with young males moulting into their black bibs during late summer and early autumn.
Ernest Charles, wild bird food and bird feeder on-line and catalogue specialist, has teamed up with partner the British Trust for Ornithology to select a favourite bird of the month. For July the choice is the House Sparrow.