The Humble House Sparrow

Blog post by Tom Hibbert on 15 Apr, 2021
Tom Hibbert, birdwatcher and content officer for The Wildlife Trusts, takes a closer look at one of the UK's most familiar birds.

House sparrows may not be the most colourful bird in the UK, or the most impressive singer, but they've long been one of our favourites, because they live in such close proximity to people. Their friendly little faces are a common sight in many parks and gardens, chirping away from a hedgerow or happily hopping around outdoor cafés and picnic areas, hoping to swoop in and steal any neglected scraps.

When I first took an interest in birdwatching as a student, house sparrows were a constant companion. I'd stand at the window of my tiny attic room, watching their lives play out amongst the rooftops of the town. First, a male perched proudly on a gutter, cheerfully cheeping away. He found a partner, and I watched as they carried grass and feathers into a hole in the brickwork of the adjacent building. Then, one day there were young sparrows clinging to the roof tiles, the bright yellow gape at the base of their beaks still visible, gifting them a perpetual frown.

A decade later and I'm in a different flat, in a different town, but still delighting at the antics of sparrows. I may not have a garden, but I'm lucky enough to have a few sparse bushes beyond my window, which are often alive with these busy birds, preening and chirping as they wait to visit the feeders fixed to a nearby fence. For me, that's one of the great appeals of the house sparrow - they can bring a touch of the wild into some of our most developed areas.
House Sparrow (credit: Paul Taylor)

House Sparrow (credit: Paul Taylor)

As lockdown after lockdown severed so many of my usual connections to nature, cutting me off from the forests and nature reserves where I spend most of my free time, these feathered friends were a vital link to the natural world, and so often a lifeline for my mental health. I watched them flit and flirt in the tangles of a scrawny bramble bush, and smiled at the scruffy juveniles snoozing in the sun.

House sparrows are still one of the UK's most common birds (in fact, they're the third most common breeding bird, with around 5.3 million pairs), but they are a lot rarer than they used to be. According to the latest report on The State of the UK's Birds, since the late 1960s we have lost around 10.7 million pairs of house sparrows. This drastic decline has earned them a place on the UK Red List for birds, which essentially flags them as a species in need of urgent action.

There's not one single cause behind this decline, but an accumulation of issues across different habitats. As our older buildings have been renovated, and homes improved, there are fewer cracks and gaps in which sparrows can squeeze their nests. As gardens, streets and roadsides are tidied, we lose valuable habitat for the insects that house sparrows eat, an issue compounded even more by the use of pesticides. Changes to the way land is farmed are also linked to declines in rural sparrow populations.

House Sparrow (credit: Paul Taylor)

House sparrow (credit: Terry Postle)

But there is hope for house sparrows, with signs of slowing declines and even a slight recovery in some populations in recent years. If we can find more space for sparrows, offering them opportunities to nest, and help our insect populations to recover, our hedges can once again be full of their joyful chirps.

You can help them at home by leaving parts of your garden to go wild, encouraging the insects that they need to feed their young. If you have sparrows visiting, a row of nest boxes or a special 'house sparrow terrace' near your eaves could give them a place to nest - they're gregarious birds that like to nest close to other sparrows. You can also help by supporting campaigns to help insect populations recover, like The Wildlife Trusts' Action for Insects, because without these our insect-eating birds don't stand a chance!

Tom Hibbert is Content Officer at The Wildlife Trusts.

Header image: Elizabeth Dack
Share this

Latest Blog Posts

How to Identify Owls How to Identify Owls
by The Wildlife Trusts on 13 Jan, 2022
NWT Recommends: Holiday Reads NWT Recommends: Holiday Reads
by Emily Mildren & Susannah Armstrong (with contributions from several NWT staff!) on 17 Dec, 2021
Broadland Group's Return to Work at Upton Fen Broadland Group's Return to...
by Jerry Simpson on 09 Dec, 2021
The Queerness of Nature: In conversation with James McDermott The Queerness of Nature: In...
by Meg Watts & Molly Bernardin on 02 Dec, 2021
COP26: What's it all about and what do we want to achieve? COP26: What's it all about ...
by Kathryn Brown on 04 Nov, 2021
A New Direction: Starting Small by Creating Norfolk Wetlands A New Direction: Starting S...
by William Walker on 21 Oct, 2021
Broadland Group Moth Night Broadland Group Moth Night
by Jerry Simpson on 07 Oct, 2021
Moth and butterfly survival strategies Moth and butterfly survival...
by The Wildlife Trusts on 23 Sep, 2021
Out for Nature: Reflections on Pride with The Wildlife Trusts LGBTQ+ Employee Network Out for Nature: Reflections...
by Meg Watts on 14 Sep, 2021
Celebrating bees with our supporters, Lisa Angel Celebrating bees with our s...
by Susannah Armstrong & Lisa Angel on 09 Sep, 2021
Horsey Butterfly Walk by the Broadland Local Group Horsey Butterfly Walk by th...
by Jerry Simpson on 26 Aug, 2021
Recognising birds of prey Recognising birds of prey
by The Wildlife Trusts on 12 Aug, 2021
Cley Calling: Closer to Home Festival Review Cley Calling: Closer to Hom...
by Evie York on 29 Jul, 2021
Day Flying Moths Day Flying Moths
by Robert Morgan on 17 Jul, 2021
Bishop's Garden July Update: From Moths to Wild Flowers Bishop's Garden July Update...
by Barry Madden on 15 Jul, 2021
Swift Awareness Week Swift Awareness Week
by Sarah Gibson on 01 Jul, 2021
Exploring Living Landscapes: Finding Common Ground and connecting young people with nature Exploring Living Landscapes...
by Meg Watts on 24 Jun, 2021
A 30 Days Wild Minibeast Hunt A 30 Days Wild Minibeast Hunt
by The Wildlife Trusts on 17 Jun, 2021
Secrets of the Water Vole Secrets of the Water Vole
by Kelly Hollings on 10 Jun, 2021
Wild Gardening for Small Budgets & Spaces Wild Gardening for Small Bu...
by Meg Watts on 03 Jun, 2021
Bishop's Garden May Update: A World of Wild Flowers Bishop's Garden May Update:...
by Barry Madden on 27 May, 2021
Walking the Eastern Coast Walking the Eastern Coast
by Katy Ellis on 20 May, 2021
Good for us, Good for Nature Good for us, Good for Nature
by Robert Morgan on 13 May, 2021
Take a stroll with us for National Walking Month Take a stroll with us for N...
by Chloe Webb on 06 May, 2021