March 20th was World Sparrow Day, and according to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), there are reasons to hope for our house sparrows. Over the past 40 years, the house sparrow has seen a rapid decline in its UK population, falling by nearly 70% between 1977 and 2018, and as a result has been placed on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. As we celebrate World Sparrow Day, the future doesn’t look quite so bleak for this characterful bird.
More recently, the rate of decline has slowed and while the UK number shows a sustained decline (down 12% between 1995 and 2018) there has been a decline
encouraging signs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Over the same period (https://app.bto.org/birdtrends/species.jsp?year=2020&s=housp) – 1995 to 2018 – house sparrows rose by 51% in Scotland, a whopping 91% in Wales, and in Northern Ireland 36%.
It should be remembered that this recent surge in house sparrow wealth comes against a backdrop of long-term decline and we have a long way to go before the former populations are restored across the UK, but the move is in the right direction.
House Sparrow, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Rob Jaques, BTO Garden BirdWatch (GBW) team, said: “The house sparrow is very much associated with our urban landscape and it was participants in our long-running garden bird feeding survey that first highlighted the extent of our house sparrow loss, identifying the different patterns of decline between suburban and suburban countryside regions. “
Mike Toms, co-author of several papers examining the decline of house sparrows in the UK, added, “BTO volunteers have helped us understand the needs of house sparrows, identify relationships between their population and certain urban features, and the importance of large gardens and highlight food resources and nesting opportunities. “
One of the great things about the house sparrow is the number of citizen scientists now monitoring the species in their gardens through programs like BTO Garden BirdWatch and Garden Wildlife Health. The large number of volunteers involved means researchers can draw on a larger dataset, and most importantly, examine the regional differences – for example between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that could help explain the changing fate of the house sparrow.
However, more volunteers are needed, especially those living in urban areas in Northern England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. BTO Garden BirdWatch has been monitoring garden birds every week since 1995 and recording the fate of house sparrows and other garden birds. It’s free and accessible to everyone. So, if you think you can help the BTO by monitoring the birds in your garden and sending the information you have gathered to the BTO, please visit www.bto.org/gbw
The house sparrow can be found in countries around the world, and World Sparrow Day reflects this. World Sparrow Day is an initiative of the Nature Forever Society of India and was first celebrated in 2010 with the aim of highlighting the pressure Sparrows face around the world. Let’s hope the UK continues to show signs of recovery and that any future World Sparrow Day will truly be a celebration for this wonderful little bird.