Good news for House Sparrows

No.:  2013-34
September 2013

During the last few decades, the population of House Sparrows has declined by roughly half, causing great alarm amongst both scientists and the general public. However, the latest data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch, suggests that the decline is levelling off in our gardens.

House Sparrow by Edmund Fellowes, BTO

The decline of the House Sparrow
has been dramatic

The decline of the House Sparrow has been dramatic, falling from around 12 million British pairs in the 1970s to between six and seven million pairs currently, with a greater reduction in population size in urban and rural areas, than in suburban ones. Given that gardens are thought to be a particularly valuable habitat for our House Sparrows, it is encouraging that the latest BTO Garden BirdWatch data indicate that numbers are stabilizing, which is also reflected in data from the wider countryside.

The reasons behind the decline very much depend on population location, as House Sparrows are fairly sedentary birds. Populations across Britain were affected by loss of nesting sites and food sources, especially the lack of invertebrates to feed their young. However, in rural areas, changes in farming practices are thought to have had a large effect but in urban and suburban populations causes were more complex and may have included increased competition with other birds and increased pesticide use in gardens.

Clare Simm, from the BTO Garden Ecology Team, said:  "This complexity is also reflected in the factors that are driving the change in this delightful bird’s fortunes. We are a nation of wildlife lovers and more people are now managing their gardens for wildlife, which will be benefitting our House Sparrows. There is also a greater awareness of clean feeding stations and in reducing garden pesticide use. The combination of these factors could be helping the House Sparrow to maintain its population."

This news does not necessarily mean that House Sparrows are out of danger, as the turning point has only occurred in the last few years. Clare added: "Here are five simple things you can do in your gardens to encourage House Sparrows.

  1. Let an area of your garden go wild to encourage insects.
  2. Plant species such as hawthorn and Ivy which provide thick vegetation for House Sparrows to hide in.
  3. Provide your birds with a home, using either a House Sparrow terrace or a group of nest boxes (with 32mm entrance holes) near the eaves of your house.
  4. If you feed your birds, provide them with a suitable seed mix that includes large grains.
  5. Regularly clean your feeding stations to prevent disease."

For more information on how to help your House Sparrows, contact us for a free House Sparrow leaflet at gbw [at] bto.org, telephone 01842 750050 or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw
     
  2. For more information about House Sparrows please visit here
     
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2013-34

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