House Sparrows: Extinction in our back-gardens?
Updated: Feb 2, 2021
House Sparrows. These chattering, chirping, chestnut balls of feathers and rapacious calls have lived cheerfully alongside us since the Stone age. Once every city was full of them. Crowded, hap-hazard nests stuffed the eaves of buildings, chestnut blurs flitting across pavements and decorating tiled rooftops like feathery baubles. Once, almost every park in London overflowed with these charismatic little passerines, tweezering lawns and wood for invertebrates, and performing elaborate, noisy displays to one another. Today, visitors to Hyde Park in London and many of its other green spaces will be lucky to see a single sparrow.
All over Britain, the picture’s similar. Gardens and parks that once thronged with these bubbly characters are silent. Urban hedgerows fat with squabbling black beaks and flurries of wings now sit unoccupied, a skeleton of what they were.
Though near invisible in areas, due to lack of research, House Sparrows, the one species of our wildlife seemingly doing well, have been silently disappearing. Scarce research carried out prior to the late-1970s showed they were consistently declining for over 50yrs. Then, in the late 1970s, when detailed research was first carried out, House Sparrows living in urban areas suddenly plummeted by almost 71%. Since, 1 in 4 gardens have lost their House Sparrows, attributed to pollution and monocultures of concrete, no longer relieved by a green speck of ivy, or a vibrant roadside verge.
Staying on their current road, House Sparrows will be pushed away from us. It starts in the city centre, where air pollution impedes their delicate lungs. Free-radicals pollution, which causes cancers and damages internal tissues by violently reacting to living cells is especially potent. And one of its main producers are car exhausts. Gradually, as more of our urban areas turn into ‘dead zones’ of concrete and tarmac, they’ll get pushed further away, having to take refuge in isolated rural villages.
But, as agriculture intensity is predicted to increase in coming years, excessive pesticide/herbicide use on the militant rural monocultures of crops will worm their way into House Sparrows, via the food chain, poisoning them. We know already that pesticides reduce the ability for songbirds to develop healthily. Plus, over 40% of their invertebrate prey is declining rapidly in part due to pesticides.
Put simply, our previously peaceful relationship with this species is in danger, and the rate we’re ‘developing’ our urban spaces is jeopardising their future, gradually squeezing them out of our urban spaces.
To read more on why they are declining, visit our blog post on it here: Why are House Sparrows in decline? (savethehousesparrow.com)
To find out more on House Sparrows and their decline in general, we’ve sorted some reliable links to information on their decline (we’ll also be writing lots more in the future so keep your eyes-peeled!):
RSPB on House Sparrow decline: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/causes-of-population-decline-of-urban-house-sparrows/
BTO House Sparrow Survey 2002: https://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u23/images/about_gbw/house-sparrow-survey/bird_table_63_housp_survey.pdf
General House Sparrow information by Wildlife Trusts: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/larks-sparrows-wagtails-and-dunnock/house-sparrow
Effects of Pesticides on birds: http://www.wisconsinbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/effectspesticides-1.pdf
2019 Blog post on House Sparrows + their decline: https://blog.nature.org/science/2019/03/25/where-have-all-the-house-sparrows-gone/
Thank-you for taking the time to read! .