House Sparrows

House Sparrow. Photo: Tim Melling

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.

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10 Replies to “House Sparrows”

  1. Lovely synopsis on your House Sparrows. Interesting to read your comment on what the chicks are being fed.
    I was at Bempton Cliffs RSPB last weekend. Apart from the absolutely stunning sea birds they also have a large colony of nesting tree sparrows. Smart little birds with male and female having the same plumage. In addition there were huge swaths of red campion wild flowers which turn the tops of the Cliffs pink as far as one could see.
    The only downside was that a red backed shrike had been at Bempton Cliffs for several days but had departed the evening before we arrived.
    ? What about a reintroduction programme for the red backed shrike rather like the circle bunting? I will enquire of the RSPB.

    1. Does the circle bunting have a rounder outline than the corner bunting?

      Sorry - couldn't resist. I'll get my coat!

  2. No mo' May notes from South Wiltshire

    I thought that this meant that May had been cancelled because of the cold weather that the Gaianurd has not noticed but friends informed me that it was about not mowing grass during May so that I could attract lots of scowls from Dearly Beloved who likes short grass that doesn't hide rats on her way to the clothes line but I did mow in April once the frosts had lifted and the results of my steering around ingressed primroses violets cowslips and bugle were quite artistic even though I say it myself and I am deliberately allowing the grassy margin at the wood to widen because it softens the transition between grass and fekkin blackthorn but more importantly means there is less grass to mow which I try to help by never applying fertiliser to grass, being of sound mind.

    Sometime in April a pheasant started sitting under a Coral Carpet only a few feet from the sitting room window so she could glower at me while I was shooting rats at the bird-feeder. She wasn't phased by the ssplatt of my trusty Weirauch and eventually hatched ten chicks which turned out to be tiny little pheasants but six eggs were left unhatched. The number of chicks diminished daily until there were only two left when we went to Devon for a week to get wetter. We didn't kill them. They either starved or were predated by unknown furry or feathery things. When we came back there were none, and no hen nor neither. Our two resident partridges, wood pigones and three young hares had decimated flat-leaved parsley, cow parsley, jasmine, phlox, Lathyrus vernus, hellebores, Jacob's Ladder, Astrantia and anything else standing around in pots waiting to be planted before we die. Dearly Beloved Mrs C wistfully refers to this vandalism as "Natural Chelsea Chop". But I don't. I look forward to having a Mad Dog again, when the pheasants in the garden will be headless ones. Odd, that. The head must be tastier or crunchier than the rest. After the Devon wetting a Curly-coated Terrorist, or cockapoo, visited for a week but surprisingly she didn't chase anything although she did bounce defiantly around the no mow grass proudly holding an intact long-dead pheasant egg in her mouth. Rather a relief as I expected her to find a couple of rat corpses I hadn't removed.

    The day after we came home a few honey bees appeared in the sitting room. Mrs C escorted them out one by one in glass jars. Then some more. And some more. We couldn't work out how they were getting in and we were running out of jars. By this time there were dozens milling about outside the window. Uh-oh! Scouts! A fire was lit in the stove with the doors open and the damper shut. I cut more green sticks from elders to make the most horriblest smoky fire possible. After an hour or two all the bees had quit and the scouting party had gone. Although the smell of smoke took a couple of days to disperse (and the alarms didn't go off - only work for toast, obviously) we didn't have a swarm on the telly, which would have been very inconvenient and interfered with watching SFCs, Roland Garros, The Giro and The Newsroom. From experience last year, when a swarm moved into the bathroom wall, there is very little time available to repel the scouts before the swarm arrives so you have to act quickly. Too much excitement for an old geezer!

    Any road up there's no mo' May now it's June. It seems a shame to disappear the daisies, dog daisies, buttercups, speedwell and bugle from the grass aber Befehl ist Befehl. Potted Flyscrapers sitting on nests by the kitchen window and on top of the old drainpipe round the back. Geranium isparta blooming everywhere and Rozanne starting. Buds on roses I pruned in April looking good but ones I had to leave because of pheasant sitting are looking sickly with black spot. Ground elder growing well and flowering in places - I wonder if it will attract White Admirals again. Ivy has just about killed a magnificent lilac. Where will the bees swarm now?

    Interesting revelation of the long grass - among the sphagnum there grow bents, fescues, bromes, fogs, couch, tall oat grass, Poas, cocksfoot but no sweet vernal grass or crested dogstail that I have seen. And no Lolium at all. Someone must have had the right idea, long ago

    1. Ivy does not kill trees ( see RHS, Forestry Commission that was, Woodland Trust etc). Our lilac has been clobbered too and no ivy anywhere near it. More likely the strange weather extremes.

      1. The RHS, Forestry Commission that was, Woodland Trust etc. have not, to my knowledge, seen the trees in my vicinity that have been broken and keeled over under the weight of ivy, combined with wind-rock, rain and snow nor seen the smothering of shoots that have led to progressively less emergent new growth each year for the last decade. Nor have there been any strange weather extremes. Perhaps they don't count lilac, Weigela, field maple or elder as trees. If you want to be picky the causes of their demise were gravity and light exclusion, assisted by ivy and opportunist fungi.

  3. Despite spending a fortune on sparrow boxes, ours seem to prefer last years House Martins nests. Stuff them full of dry grass and then watch them collapse. Mini wrecking balls!

    1. Although ours, and neighbours, House Martin's were very late this year, the nests were not taken by Sparrows.
      I think they wait till the Martin's are here, just for the hell of it.

  4. Our sparrows are mysterious in that whilst in the garden much of the time I cannot work out where they are nesting.

  5. I'm not popular with some neighbours here as I basically established a large local colony of house sparrows over the past few years. The estate is one of those modern ones that, according to most sources, has houses that are too tightly sealed to accommodate nesting birds, yet almost every house seems to have a nest in the roof now. My sparrow terrace nest box remains empty though, my fault for positioning it wrongly I think. Numbers peak at about 70-80 birds at the end of the season. I've also noticed one corner of the garden seems to be designated as a crèche for delinquent sparrow teenagers. It has been dubbed 'the naughty sparrow corner' and any plants left there will be taken to pieces. It's where I leave plants that suffer from aphids now in the hope that the young birds can use them as practice.

  6. I think we do not spend enough time just sitting watching wildlife and pondering what is going on in our rush to twitch, photograph and generally dash about. It can be most rewarding.

    Watching videos of our RSPB Turtle Dove supplementary feed plot is quite illuminating. (bit of a slow news feed for TDs; one passed though on 5/5.):

    The cast is below. The action is mainly crow.

    One (?) crow likes sidling up from behind and tweaking the pheasant's tail and running off when the pheasant turns round - 4 separate occasions. And a few very obvious occasions when “maybe if i can just……” lurking behaviour occurs.

    And what Tail Tweaking crow could neglect that great fluffy tail the grey squirrel flicks around -4 occasions.

    Then there is the Feather Thief. It's a crow crash and grab on a stock dove or wood pigeon. The crow ends up with a tail feather in his bill. This is either made as a landing attack, on arrival, or simply launching across the field and crashing and grabbing.
    The first time the crow was lame but the second one was not and there have been a few obvious “with intent” attempts and nifty maneuvers by doves.
    (I have got some of these clips up but the extracting and freeze frame stuff is before my age grade)

    We have 20+ stock doves at times. One smart pair has nested in the top of our woodshed to be handy.
    Ponderings: In previous years “one day” almost literally, in June, the Stock doves stopped coming. Some other preferred food source must have become available. But it was such a sharp cut off of visitors. Last year when a pair first took up residence here and stayed faithful to the field it was not so obvious.

    There are many fewer wood pigeons attracted to this year's Project Turtle Dove seed mix, with less large seed, or maybe they have better greenery tips available with this later season. Plus the 5 pairs of shrub nester wood pigeons round the house know where the sunflower hearts occur.

    Surprisingly (to me) Jackdaws make the effort to eat the TDmix, and also surprisingly one, sometimes two, pairs of crows are regulars! A pair of Red leg partridge and a cock pheasant are no surprise. . No finches but I cannot remember if there were in previous years, anyway with the competition of sunflower hearts, they are a kitchen window job.

    Grey squirrels do come but not so much as when there was sunflower. Muntjac enjoyed a nibble then too.

    Bit parts; rabbits, muntjac and fox cubs heaving out worms.


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