Green shoots of recovery for House Sparrows?

No.:  2012-16
June 2012

House Sparrows are approaching a six-year high in gardens. Numbers declined sharply in 2006 but are now making a steady recovery. To help the public nurture this upturn, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has produced a free factsheet.

House Sparrow by John Harding 

The House Sparrow is a species that
has been in long-term decline.

The House Sparrow is a species that has been in long-term decline. Data collected by householders who take part in BTO surveys show that the number of House Sparrows using garden feeding stations during winter has dropped by two thirds since the early 1970s. The middle of the last decade saw a particularly sudden drop, which coincided with a large outbreak of disease (trichomonosis) in Greenfinches and Chaffinches. It is, therefore, possible that trichomonosis might also have had an impact on House Sparrows, although formal analyses are yet to be conducted.

Since this drop, however, numbers of House Sparrows in gardens have rallied and are now approaching a six-year high. This recovery is fragile and needs support. Gardeners can create a more hospitable environment for House Sparrows by cultivating thick vegetation, cleaning feeding stations regularly and by putting up groups of nest boxes in which House Sparrows can breed. Other top-tips are provided in the BTO House Sparrow factsheet.

English House Sparrows are in particular need of some TLC. Since 1995, when the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey started, declines of House Sparrows in English gardens have been much steeper than those in Scotland or Wales. On average, almost one in four English householders have lost their House Sparrows since 1995, compared with fewer than one in ten householders in both Scotland and Wales. Early indications suggest that House Sparrows are also faring better in gardens in Northern Ireland and Ireland than in England.
 

Summer is a fantastic time of year to look out for House Sparrows. Territorial males can be heard ‘chirruping’ from roof tops as they proclaim their breeding territories, with the main nesting period continuing until August. From June through to early September, numbers of House Sparrows in gardens increase rapidly as fledglings arrive in search of food and shelter.

Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch Team, commented: “The decline of the House Sparrow has grabbed the public’s attention unlike any other species. Just a few decades ago, children grew up surrounded by this charismatic species. Now, they are likelier to spot a Chaffinch, Collared Dove or Woodpigeon in their garden.”

He added: “These green shoots of recovery for House Sparrows in gardens are small and delicate. They need nurturing and the BTO wants to help the public to do this.”

For the free BTO House Sparrow Factsheet, email gbw [at] bto.org, telephone 01842-750050 or write to House Sparrow Factsheet, Garden BirdWatch, British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

  1. To see a preview of BTO House Sparrow Factsheet please visit here (PDF, 360.99 KB).
  2. Find out more facts and figures about House Sparrows through BTO BirdFacts
  3. 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
  4. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk, Stirling and Bangor, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Tim Harrison
(BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: tim.harrison [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Press Officer)
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 2012-16

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