Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Our urban House Sparrows have declined by nearly 71% sine 1977 according to BTO research. In the past sixty years, over 34 million have vanished, due to reasons still not yet fully understood. But, from popular theories and research there is, we’ve compiled a list of some of the easy things you can do to help out.
Let it grow!
During their breeding season (March-August) House Sparrow chicks must be fed invertebrates. They won’t develop properly without. Invertebrate decline is one of the main suspected drivers behind their decline. So, to attract more to your garden: leave it alone! Nature generally knows what’s best and leaving it to do its thing is probably the best way to help wildlife.
If you’re still keen on keeping it tidy, but good for wildlife then mow every six weeks or so (and not at all over Winter) but if you’d like to have more of an impact, then mow only twice annually: once in March/early April to take away any Winter growth, then again in August (ideally).
And most importantly, remove the cuttings. If you don’t, they’ll put nutrients back into the soil, and although counterintuitive sounding, the more nutrients in the soil, the less diverse plants and invertebrates you’ll get-there’ll only be one or two very vigorous plants that drown out everything else. If you don’t have a garden, then these same ideas can be applied to a nearby roadside verge, which combined, covers an area larger than Nottinghamshire-a valuable habitat. To find out how, we’ve attached Plantlife’s guide for managing roadside verges below: https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf
Over the past century, we’ve become so much more ‘efficient’ at construction, our buildings lack the gaps and crevices House Sparrows build their nests in. So, put up a nestbox for them (or ideally several!). Since we’re basically walking talking food factories to them-producing so much waste, House Sparrows are happiest when nesting on buildings. Ideally, put your box in the eaves, but if that’s not possible, they should be at least three meters high (this helps a lot with disturbance). If you have the option, try putting up several together, or buying a colony nestbox, different in that it has several entrance/exit holes each with an individual ‘chamber’, as House Sparrows almost always nest in social colonies.
To make sure it is suitable for House Sparrows, give the hole a quick measure. If it’s 32mm< across, it’s suitable, but if its lower (most commonly 25mm) then it’s too small and you’ll get things like Blue Tits.
Once your nestbox is up, be prepared to wait a bit. Sedentary, House Sparrows rarely travel over 100m from their nest, so you’re relying on pioneering sparrow coming over to have a look. Even if nothing moves in first try, make a habit of giving them a quick clean twice annually. This should be done in early March or February, before the nesting season, then again in September, straight after the nesting season. You can use chemicals, but just a quick brush down and scrub with some warm soapy water will be fine (make sure to leave it to dry!).
House Sparrows suffer from the same sort of pollution-induced health problems as us, they’re lungs are after all very delicate. Recent studies showed they’re especially harmed by ‘free radicals`-unstable atoms/molecules that steal electrons from living cells. They’re produced from pollutants like cigarette smoke and car fumes, and overtime can lead to organ and cell failure, potentially cancer too.
So, get walking! Or try to cycle into work this Thursday, or to the Co-op instead of taking the car, which would just create unnecessary pollutants that could hurt your local Sparrows (and you!). Using public transport more (when we aren’t in lockdown/a global pandemic) is fantastic too, as those buses etc will usually be running anyway, so effectively the pollution is already in the atmosphere. Why add more by driving?
The Birds and the Bees:
Leaving your garden to grow is probably the best (and easiest) way to give your local inverts a helping hand, but putting up bug hotels (maybe even making some yourself?) leaving a patch of open soil for mining bees, providing a bowl of water full of marbles for bees etc to drink from and making a habitat pile are all brilliant ways to help!
If you’ve got House Sparrows near you, consider leaving out some mealworms too. Live are best, but if you don’t have anywhere to put them etc, scattering dried ones around are fine too, giving the sparrows vital oils and proteins. If you decide to do this though, you’ll have to stay consistent, as they’ll start relying on you and the food you give them (in Winter switch to fatballs/blocks and grains-the higher fatty content will keep them going through harsher weather).
Although no direct links have been made, cats do kill House Sparrows, and if less were allowed to, it would have a huge effect on most garden birds. The best way to stop them this is via a quick-release collar with a bell. They might not like it, but you’ve just got to remind yourself that the chicks starving in their nests because their parents have been killed by a cat probably don’t like that either.
You don’t have to keep it on them all the time, just when they go outside.
The second option is to make them more of an indoor cat. Spend some time finding out what makes them feel secure when they’re indoors-do they like hiding in a certain cupboard, or do they have a space where they can have some time to themselves? Spend more time with them if you can, find ways they can vent all that pent-up energy and instinct without killing anything. They might look cute to us, but to a baby bird they’re no different from a wild Lynx.
And last but definitely not least-donate! Organisations like the BTO are currently hard at work, dissecting the declines of all kinds of wildlife, and pouring thousands of pounds into fighting them. But most of their work is completely dependent on us donating to them for their survival. Currently, there aren’t any charitable causes (that we know of) directly fighting the decline of House Sparrows, so we’ve got together some general wildlife charities where you can donate to, should you wish:
Donate to the RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/
Donate to the Wildlife Trusts nature recovery plan: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/donate
Donate to the BTO: https://bto.org/how-you-can-help/donate
Donate to the Cameron Bespolka Trust: https://www.cameronbespolka.com/donate
Donate to Hen Harrier Day: https://www.henharrierday.uk/donate
Donate to Black To Nature (with a focus on the social aspects of conservation as well as the conservation itself): https://blacktonature407719168.wordpress.com/donate-to-the-mission/
Donate to WWT: https://www.wwt.org.uk/join-and-support/donate/
Thanks again for stopping to read! .