Big thank you from

Where humans build, the house sparrow follows

by Paul Cormacain

I'M STILL listening for warblers returned from Africa, and still listening for cuckoos, swallows, swifts and indeed corncrakes. They are not communicating, with me anyway, so I have to make do with the birds in the garden.

Some folk have told me that they have no blackbirds in the garden for the last few weeks. The birds are all too busy with matters matrimonial to be worrying about coming into gardens on the lookout for a regular supply of free food.

But the blackbirds in our garden have not heard the news, and still come in for a free lunch.

As I write, a house sparrow has just come in. Doing a garden survey of late I was unable to report a house sparrow sighting for months, and now one has just come in. Lucky me!

The RSPB is now selling a house sparrow nesting 'apartment', and they now consider this is essential, because of the different method of finishing new houses for this century's customers.

Modern accommodation does not have the spaces at the top of walls, does not have the gaps under roofs that the older houses would have. The house sparrow thrived because these spaces guaranteed a safe spot for a nest, a spot where predators could not reach.

I have come across the occasional house sparrow nest in a tree, but this would be the exception rather than the rule. So perhaps the house sparrow should have been called the 'tree sparrow'.

As Man spread out from Africa northwards, the house sparrow came too. Our original European farming ancestors started to build homes, and guess what .... the house sparrows liked them and started to nest in them.

Then came foreign invaders into England, and the sparrows followed them. Primitive farmers moved into Wales, Scotland and Ireland, threw up primitive houses, the sparrows followed, then built nests in the houses. There may well have been the rare 'tree' sparrow here, but no one recorded it.

As time passed, humans increased in numbers, houses increased in numbers, and the 'house' sparrow thrived. As our land became more populated, more folk lived in towns than in the country, more sparrows lived there and it could have been thought that the sparrow was our most common bird.

As it happened, there were more chaffinch and blackbirds, and the sparrow almost only lived in towns. Then the new building techniques, as mentioned, and sparrow numbers have fallen off gradually. Now the bird is rare.

Sparrows are gregarious and this is reflected in the plan of the new RSPB nest boxes. The nest becomes plural, and to reflect the birds' mannerisms, the nesting arrangements are gregarious. If you have a suitable site in your garden, perhaps you should consider a home for house sparrows. The bird does need our help!

We have greenfinches, chaffinches, bull finches in the garden. From time to time a goldfinch turns up. Like last week. The other finches are beautiful, the goldfinch is superb. Its colouring is dramatically red and white and yellow and black and brown. The face is red surrounded by a small area of white, and some black. The back is brown and the tail is white and black. The bird has black wings, and in flight large yellow bands are highly visible. Even at rest these yellow bands stand out. The male and female are similar, unlike in so many other species.

With so much bird food in the garden, and so many birds popping in for a snack, you would think that the raptors would find the place popular. They do, but dare not come in much nowadays.

We have had buzzards overhead in the past, they were mobbed crows and decided it was not such a good spot. The kestrel is missing, but the landscape lends itself to visits by sparrow hawks. They come low over a garden, pop over the hedge and drop. Suddenly they are in the midst of small birds, any one of which would be a lovely meal for the hawk. And that is when the small birds scatter. They do not want to be eaten.

It just takes a human to be present. The small birds can ignore and the cats and dogs on the lookout for food run off. And the hawk. Well, he or she decides that humans can be very bad news and they tend to scarper. So there may be raptors about, but as a general rule the birds tend to be safe. Except from the cats when the owner allows. them to go roving and hunting.

Coming Events

Monday 25th April - Lisburn RSPB will hear Stephen Foster talk about Wetland Management. Contact David McCreedy on 4062 6125.

Thursday 28th April - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, 10.30, call 9187 4146

Ulster Star