Swinger House Sparrow's



When it comes to animals that are closely associated with humans, we’d often think of our domesticated species, like dogs and cats. But there is a wild bird that shares our homes and history. That bird is the House Sparrow!


The once numerous House Sparrow is in serious decline! This decline could be linked to several causes. Some of which are unknown. As with all things in life, when things are going wrong, the door opens wider for opportunities to make things better.


We humans have far reaching hands that have a significant effect on our planet. Both bad and good. And the story of House Sparrows is no different.


Our changes in living over the years, either creates new opportunities for wildlife or creates changes so dramatic that our wildlife cannot keep up and adapt to the changes in time.

We are a species that is always in persuit of new ideals and change and a big part of my mindset goes against conservation and tells me that these changes, good or bad, are just a natural part of evolution. Natural selection and unnatural selection playing out every single day. But I’m also a strong believer that where human hands affect others in a negative way, myself and many other likeminded homosapiens who respect our place and the life that shares this place with us, have a responsibility to intervene where necessary.


As individuals we tune ourselves into what we like the most. The personal preferences that shape us as individuals. And for me and many others, the House Sparrow is a bird of our childhood!

The soundtrack of my early years was a chirping male House Sparrow. My bedroom window overlooked a pan tile roof of which the Sparrows used to sunbathe on. And this was the first thing I heard as I woke each morning.


Sadly, the pan tile roof is now silent! The hedges that were once heavy with birds are now also silent.


To me, the House Sparrow is so intertwined with humans that allowing them to decline to the point of extinction (which could be the case one day) would be a failure on our part! They are a symbol of our connectivity to our past and the wild. The House Sparrow is a bird that we cannot lose!


Back in the early 90’s, House Sparrows were plentiful in my garden! But all of a sudden I noticed that their numbers started to deplete. To a point at which there were none here for many years. I remember trying desperately to do something about it by building and putting up nest boxes for them. One of which was a colony box made from an old kitchen cupboard! But my efforts were in vain and all of a sudden my childhood bird was gone!


As an avid collector of all things nature, I have a prize possession in the form of a Sparrow skeleton. This one being an unlucky 90’s bird that got stuck in the roof cavity and perished.



In recent years, to my joy, I’ve begun seeing a few adults returning to my garden in the spring. And some have even stayed on through the summer to raise a family.


This spring, I’ve seen the return of a few adults to my garden, eating the new emerging buds! That unmistakable chirping in the hedge that instantly takes me back to my childhood. Everything they need is here and they have started prospecting potential nest sites which is very promising indeed.




“I don’t care, it’s only a Sparrow!”


On average, we are a species that shows empathy, love and devotion! Some more than others. We are avid collectors of memories and nostalgia, whether we think we are or not. Items that define relatives and eras, photographs stored and revisited to give you that emotional fix of what once was. We live in a fully sensual world. Take away the elements that give these experiences power and you are left with something lacking it’s full strength.


More often than not, when it comes to recalling passed loved ones, your emotional response will most likely be triggered by a smell or a sound! One that takes you back to that specific moment in time. Sparrows and the sound of Sparrows certainly evoke such childhood memories within me. Not only because they take me back to those memorable days but the sound of these once abundant birds chirping away would have been the daily soundtrack to my grandparent’s time! All the more reason that we should do all we can to preserve these birds for the future generations so that their memories of us are associated and fused with these birds. A direct link to us when we’ve gone!


A Bloody Nuisance!


There was a time when Sparrows existed in such high numbers that they were seen as pests. It’s quite normal for many folk of older generations to tell you stories of airgun target practice on these birds. Things were different back then! However, a target practicing airgun wielder is not the reason for their dramatic decline.


One quite significant finding is the discovery of Avian Malaria in Sparrows, which is having considerable effect on urban Sparrows! Just like human Malaria, Avian Malaria is spread by biting insects like mosquitoes and midges.


Birds in more dense populations are suffering the most as the transmission from one bird to the next is that much greater. So there may be some advantages in having small pockets of broken populations in this case.


Me being me, always thinking outside the box, often wondering how problems can be solved, had the wacky idea of putting tonic water in the bird drinker! Haha… Tonic Water contains Quinine! Something that has been used against Malaria for hundreds of years. There is even a current study to see if it has any effect in the fight against Covid-19!


Please DON’T go putting Tonic Water in your bird drinkers!!! I’m just putting my mad thoughts out there. Chances are it would have a serious negative impact! Let’s leave the science to the scientists. But there’s no harm in thinking up new ideas to help. No matter how crazy! I champion that!


The Bully Bird!


Sparrows have a bit of a reputation for being quite thuggish! And they can be! They are strong in the character department. It’s part of who they are! When they find suitable territory to feed and nest then they make their plucky characters known. I often hear people painting Sparrows in a bad light especially when it comes to nesting! Competing with other birds for a nest site is a common trait. But this normally comes down to the lack of nest cavity availability!


If you only have a handful of suitable nest sites and a garden full of birds then demand for those limited sites is going to be high.


Compared to older ways of life, modern living is that much more efficient and draft proof. And the nooks and crannies that our cavity nesters seek are few and far between.


This is where nest boxes come in!


There are many birds that take to nest boxes quite readily and the House Sparrow is one. The simple act of adding nest boxes to your plot not only supplies your Sparrows with a place to increase their population but it also relieves the stresses that come with suitable cavity shortages.

Sparrows and other birds will take to various box designs but the standardised tit box with a 32mm hole is a good place to start.



Location Location Location!


Box placement is also key to occupancy. Quite often, box placement is decided to suit human preference. “It’ll look lovely there on the fence!” And it’s decisions like this that reap little reward.


When it comes to boxes, you’ve got to think like a bird. Take note of the aspects and exposure to the elements but most crucially, take note of the bird’s behaviour. Just like us humans, birds have daily routines and behavioural patterns. Understanding this can significantly up your chances of success and equally up theirs too! If we had the choice, we would not choose to raise a family in a place that we didn’t feel was safe! And neither would our birds. Make them feel comfortable and you are half way there.


Come Dine With Me!


The next tick to achieving success is where to eat and what to eat!?

We, ourselves have our favourite foods and favourite places to eat. So do birds!


Our old ways of living suited Sparrows down to the ground. Our messier and less efficient habits in food production and transport, unintentionally gifted our Sparrows a free lunch. Nowadays, these scraps and spillages don’t occur like they once did. So the act of intentionally feeding birds these days can be a huge benefit and a lifeline to our birds. In a world where people are starting to tune in and realise the benefits that nature can bring to our physical and mental wellbeing, then I feel confident that our wildlife is also going to benefit and we may even see a reversal of downward

trends as a result.


To put things in the crudest and most basic of ways, a Sparrow’s function in life is no different to our own. Our objectives are quite bluntly to eat, sleep and breed!


The order of which is up to the individual!!


The same rule that goes with bird box placement, applies to feeding stations too! Once again, a bird table and birds feeders are often located to suit the human and not the birds. Watching birds is something I encourage and it’s a wonderful thing to do but you’ll have happier birds if you cater for their needs as well as your own. The way in which this is achieved is to have more than one feeding station if you are able to do so. Have a main feeding area for your viewing pleasures but also have specialist food outlets that are species specific!


It’s an idea that I’ve tried and tested over the years and it’s a winning formula!


Grit And Determination!


Bird behaviour is a complex science. It’s as equally complex as our own behaviour and similarities and comparisons can easily be drawn. Feeling comfortable in our surroundings is something we welcome and we do what we can to avoid the anxieties and stresses of life! We are quite lucky in the fact that we are not on the menu of another but many animals are and it’s that knowing that effects their demeanour and behaviour. Even the positions of the sun throughout the day effect behaviour.


Feeding in the glaring sun comes with its risks as visibility can be hindered therefore predation risk increases. Having choice allows for safer feeding. Also when feeding in an area with little cover, birds that are on ‘the menu’ are always on high alert. Which in turn burns a lot of calories! Sparrows are of no exception to this rule and the aptly named Sparrowhawk would happily take advantage of a Sparrow out in the open. Therefore, a feeding station positioned for our pleasure can unintentionally become a slaughterhouse where the birds you are intending to feed become food themselves.


Multiple feeding stations in various habitats significantly evens the odds between predator and prey and species specific feeding stations could be another crucial key to saving individual species.

Trial and error is something I champion! I’m always trying to think of new ways to achieve goals.


Questioning facts and deliberating whether the last best thing really was sliced bread!? I often take inspiration from many angles and amalgamate them into something different. And my Sparrow specific feeding station in my garden was inspired by the grit trays designed for Bearded Tits that can be found in our wetland nature reserves. These trays are just simple platforms attached to a pole with a rim to stop the grit from falling off. These platforms are placed in a reed bed of Phragmites reeds and the Bearded Tits regularly visit them to ingest the grit which is used to grind up the seeds and aid digestion.


This Bearded Tit inspired platform design and the replacement of my magic Sparrow superfood instead of grit, makes for a perfect combination…



Tip Bits!


When it comes to deciphering what foods Sparrows like to eat, then look no further than the feeding utensils they have! (ie.. their bills!) Like the Buntings and Finches, Sparrows are de-huskers and seed crackers. They have a strong bill and will pretty much have a nibble at most things but they are primarily tuned to a diet of seeds, grains and cereals.


The table mix of my choice, (and my Sparrows) consists of mainly mixed corn, sunflower seeds and kitchen scraps like bread and biscuit crumbs. These go on the main bird table as these are ingredients that many different species will love.


Larger particle foods are removed when adults are at the young feeding stage as this can lead to chicks choking!


As well as this main table mix, my ultimate Sparrow superfood is designated only for the feeding platform along with some bread and biscuit crumbs.


This superfood is Millet! Sparrows love Millet! It can be purchased as a loose feed that goes straight onto the feeding platform or as sprays that can be hung in dense cover.


And dense cover is the last key to making this formula work! Simply place your feeding platform at the edge of dense cover such as a climber, a hedge or a shrub (mine is alongside a large honeysuckle) and not only will your Sparrows feel that much more confident when feeding but you won’t get so many other species competing for their food source as they will be preoccupied, dining at the main bird table!


This will also benefit shyer species like the Dunnock who often avoids busy feeding areas. It will also be a safe place for fledgling Sparrows to feed. They have the immediate safety of dense cover and are away from main table predators. This gives them that crucial period of time to learn those all important life lessons that will see them through to adulthood, rather than being snuffed out on their first visit to the main dining area!



Grass Roots Level!


Seed eating birds like Sparrows, Finches and Buntings don’t just diet on the main seed crops. These birds, along with many other species such as our summer migrants, the Turtle doves rely on weed seeds as a food source!


However, how often do you see arable farmland with weeds in it these days?

Fields are meticulously managed to produce maximal yields of one crop and very little else. Pesticides in the form of chemical sprays not only diminishes invertebrate food abundance but also weed abundance too. This along with minimal waste and changes in agricultural methods leaves very slim pickings for our wildlife.



Many suburban and rural villages have heathy bird numbers simply due to the rich tapestries and variations in gardens and it’s these that can be a saviour. The multitude of different plants and flowers caters for a plethora of different invertebrate life.

It’s this invertebrate food that many of our birds turn to as the main food source for raising their young.


Although adult Sparrows are seedeaters, young Sparrows need these protein packed, fluid bags to survive and grow into a seed-eating adult!


So it really does start at grassroots level! Get the health of your habitat right from the start of the food chain and the rest will follow.


Speaking of plants! And grass in particular… there is one plant I’d like to talk about that will hopefully answer your question as to why I called this article ‘Swinging Sparrows’ !? It’s more crazy than my Tonic Water idea! Be warned!!


Firstly let’s just recap what a Swinger is…


SWINGER…

‘noun

1. INFORMAL a lively and fashionable person who goes to a lot of social events.

“one of the oldest swingers in town” 2. INFORMAL a person who engages in group sex or the swapping of sexual partners.

“a twilight world of swingers and wife-swapping”’


Just bear with me on this one!…


I’m not suggesting that House Sparrows are swingers! Far from it.


House Sparrows are monogamous, typically mating for life. But some birds do engage in extra-pair copulations and around 15% of fledglings are unrelated to their mother’s mate! So there is actually some fact in my Swinging theory. However my main connective association with Sparrows and Swingers is to do with the plant, Pampas Grass!



Now there is divided knowledge on this plants connection to Swingers. Some have never heard of it, some are very aware of it and some likely pretend they don’t know in order to not reveal the going’s on of their private lives!


Pampas Grass is a plant that’s native to South America. It’s a dramatic plant that has a large, dense base of bladed leaves with long, duster-like flower heads.


The story goes that if you have a Pampas Grass in your front garden, you are a Swinger! And it’s a symbol/invitation to other Swingers to come join you in Swinging activities!


The confusion occurs when someone has a Pampas Grass in their garden simply because they like the plant for what it is. There are reports of genuine Pampas Grass appreciators having strangers knocking at their door, giving them winks and raised eyebrows!


In the height of the Swinging era, Pampas Grass sales plummeted, probably due to the fact that people didn’t want to be associated with the Swinging community and many plants were dug up!

I have a Pampas Grass in my front garden!! Am I a Swinger? Or just a Pampas Grass lover!? I actually don’t mind speculations and assumptions! Bring it on!


In fact, come to think of it… my Pampas Grass was given to me by a friend! I’m now questioning his intentions!? Hahaha…


Anyway, that’s the gossip surrounding this plant but what has it got to do with Sparrows?


Well… on many occasions I’ve noticed that House Sparrow are rather attracted to Pampas Grass!


They not only feed on its seeds but they use the feathery plumes of its flower heads to line their nests.


It’s likely that when Pampas Grass was fashionable, many Sparrow’s nests were lined with this plant!? And maybe the mass non-association digging up of these plants correlates with the decline of our House Sparrows in some way!?


So whether you are a Swinger or not, there is good reason to have plants in your gardens that are of benefit to Sparrows like the Pampas Grass.


The fundamentals of what I do is to try and educate, inform and inspire others in whichever way possible. Nature is a deep, complex and in-depth field and when it comes to the nitty gritty, scientific side to nature, there can be quite a lot of facts and data to grasp and this can be rather off putting! I take this science and try to translate it into a way that is digestible. For others and also for my own mind and knowledge!


So the fact that I associate the House Sparrow with being ‘The Swingers Bird’ is my way of thinking and maybe you too with see them in this light from now on. It’s not necessarily what’s wrong or right that matters. It’s the raising awareness and bringing a subject to the forefront that has the greatest effect.


It gets people thinking, talking and connecting for the greater good!


The House Sparrow is definitely a species worth making the effort for. It’s a bird that is steeped in our history and one that is close to many hearts.


We have the ability to bring about change. And reversing the decline of these birds and conserving them for generations to come is very achievable.


With a little bit of effort and applied knowledge we will hopefully see their downward trend swinging back in the right direction!


Thank-you for reading!