There’s a House Sparrow nest in the roof above my head as I write. But next door has a House Sparrow nest too, and theirs is easier to watch from our garden, and that’s what I have been doing for over a week. The frequent visits to the nest have become quite addictive and I’ve spent/wasted (you choose) quite a lot of time not quite getting back to work because I thought I’d just wait for another visit to happen.
This has made me realise that I don’t know very much about House Sparrows really. Of course, I know what they look like but I don’t know what they do. I must have watched over 200 visits to the nest and it pretty quickly became apparent that only the female was feeding the young. I thought House Sparrow was a species with biparental care of the young, so I kept watching, but no, not at this nest. But yes, generally, House Sparrows show biparental care and the sexes divide care of the chicks equally, it seems (see also this experiment looking at parental care in House Sparrows).
Maybe the male has died and left the female to cope, or maybe the missing male is the one which sometimes sits about ten feet from the nest and chirps. He looks very fine but not like a good father. The same male House Sparrow that sits on my neighbour’s roof, chirping, sometimes sits on my roof, chirping, and I wonder whether he might have two females on the go at once. The nest in my roof is not, at the moment, as active as the one next door, and it is less easy to watch, so I know less about it but I might turn my attention to it when the first nest fledges as it should do soon. I can see up to three chicks at the entrance to the nest and they look quite big to me. In theory, male House Sparrows do a bigger share of caring for fledged chicks as their mate prepares to lay some more eggs and nest again. I’d be surprised if that happens in this case, but I may never know, if the chicks fledge and stay next door I won’t be able to watch them as easily as I can see them in the nest.
The lone female has been working very hard. She often shoots past me, at a distance of a couple of feet as she leaves my neighbour’s roof, crosses my garden and heads into or past my other neighbour’s garden. And then she is back very quickly, perches at the nest entrance, feeds a chick or two and then is off again, sometimes by the exact same route over and over. I’ve noticed, twice, that when there is a Jackdaw perched on my neighbour’s TV aerial, she stops short and sometimes perches on my conservatory roof until the Jackdaw has gone, and then she returns to the nest. She’s canny as well as hardworking, that House Sparrow.
It’s difficult to see the food that is being fed to the chicks but it often looks like seeds, and rarely like insects, even though insects are supposed to be the main prey fed to young house Sparrows. I wouldn’t be sure about this, but that’s what it looks like to me.