House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)



House Sparrow © Ray Scally

House Sparrow © Ray Scally

Most House Sparrows live all their lives within 1-2 km of their natal site, so not much difference would be expected between the breeding and wintering distribution, and this is borne out by the maps. Just nine tetrads had birds in winter where they had not been recorded in the breeding season, and 24 the other way round. These small differences show no significant pattern and are almost certainly due to the vagaries of recording effort. Similarly, there was no meaningful change in the habitat codes recorded.

Adults remain focussed on their nest sites all year round, adding material to the nest at any time, and females roost in it on and off throughout the year. They often join flocks along with the males and the first-year birds, however. More than 600 counts of House Sparrows were made by winter fieldworkers, half of them of more than ten birds, with 35 groups of 40 birds or more including five three-figure flocks. They also roost communally, the pre-roost gatherings often betrayed by the birds’ noisy discordant chirruping. Despite this being the time of greatest pressure on their lives, with difficulty in finding sufficient winter food, House Sparrows finish feeding and go to roost extraordinarily early on a midwinter afternoon, usually an hour before sunset. Atlas surveyors recorded roosts in 28 tetrads, especially in evergreen hedges such as privet and leylandii or impenetrable bramble or hawthorn, mostly holding from 10 to 40 birds. These were dwarfed, however, by the massive total found by Brian Martin, 200 House Sparrows on 23 November 2006 roosting in laurels in the car park of a Warrington superstore (SJ58Z).

Cheshire’s early-20th century ornithologists made no attempt to hide their dislike of House Sparrows, and wrote little about their status. Coward (1910) said that ‘... with obtrusive familiarity, the bird monopolises the scraps spread in suburban gardens in winter, frequently to the exclusion of more deserving species, and repays its benefactors by pulling to pieces the crocuses and early spring flowers.’ Boyd’s view (1951) was that it was ‘... far too plentiful’. Bell (1962) added nothing, copying the comment on distribution from Coward and Oldham 62 years previously: ‘This abundant resident is widespread, except on the bleaker hills in the east, but it frequents isolated farms on the high ground’. Perhaps we can deduce from this that there was little change in its status, although with the disdain for recording House Sparrows, continued in early Cheshire Bird Reports, it is impossible to be sure.

Nationally, rapid declines amongst House Sparrows wintering in gardens are indicated by the BTO's Garden Bird Feeding Survey (Robinson et al 2005): it fell from presence in 97% of gardens in the 1970s and 93% in the 1990s to only 83% at the start of this Atlas. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch has recorded a drop in average numbers per garden, from 10 in 1979 to 4.4 in January 2007.

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