Wild Things: Will sparrows retain top spot?

Wild Things: Will sparrows retain top spot?

How did you fare spotting birds for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch? Usually the weather’s rubbish on the allotted day and birds that turn up regularly are nowhere to be seen in my garden.

Not this year. The sun shone and the temperature climbed to a relatively mild January 8C high. All my regulars appeared. Busy house sparrows chirped, two robins indulged in a territory scrap and blue tits foraged in the holly where outsize wood pigeons sought out the last berries. A dunnock visited, its neat back markings and red legs putting to shame those who describe it disparagingly as “a little brown job.”

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Then there were the blackbirds. A splendid yellow-billed male appears to be setting up territory with a female. At least one visited my garden on 27 out of 31 January days so I was surprised to read an article in these pages recently where the writer stated he had not seen a blackbird for weeks. Either the author needs to get out more or he should visit Sidcup for a blackbird-fest.

“My” garden pair are often seen fighting off holly berry-seeking interlopers, perhaps from a continental winter influx which makes complaints of January blackbird shortage even more incredible. The RSPB estimate UK blackbird numbers at around five million breeding pairs so they are not even on the amber list of concern. It will be interesting to see their position on the Garden Birdwatch table.

On Birdwatch day I had plenty of gulls, ring necked parakeets, magpies, crows and starlings but they were all flyovers and the RSPB stipulate you can only count birds which land in your garden.

House sparrows topped the survey last year and I suspect they will do so again.

But their numbers have dropped massively over the last 20 years or so. Several different reasons have been suggested but no firm conclusion agreed as to exactly what is affecting numbers.

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We can all help them by putting out seed for them to eat and supplying nestboxes. It is national nestbox week soon so this is the ideal time to put up special sparrow boxes. They like to nest communally so supply boxes with several entrance holes. Available ready made from the RSPB website shop or follow their instructions to construct the boxes yourself.
Chaffinch garden sightings are expected to have fallen this year. There are far fewer chaffinches and it is believed they could now be suffering from the same type of disease which badly affected greenfinch numbers. Help eliminate disease by cleaning feeders regularly.

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