House sparrows staging a comeback, survey suggests

House sparrows appear to be staging something of a comeback after suffering major declines, the Big Garden Birdwatch suggests.

Results from the survey, run every year since 1979 by the RSPB which asks volunteers to count the birds in their garden or local park during a weekend in January, showed a mixed picture this year.

Sightings of some of the smallest garden birds were lower than last year, with long-tailed tits down by 27% and wrens by 17% after being seen in large numbers in 2018.

Numbers of some of the smallest birds, such as wrens, were down this year (John Bridges/RSPB Images/PA)
Numbers of some of the smallest birds, such as wrens, were down this year (John Bridges/RSPB/PA)

Populations of both species may have been hit by last year’s severe cold weather brought by the Beast from the East, which is likely to have hit smaller birds hardest, but experts said it was too early to say if it was a one-year blip or the start of a trend.

There were fewer sightings of 15 of the 20 top species seen in gardens this year compared with 2018, the survey showed.

But there is good news for the bird that occupies the top spot, the house sparrow, which has seen its numbers fall by more than half (56%) since the Big Garden Birdwatch began 40 years ago.

In the most recent decade, from 2009 to 2019, numbers appear to have increased 10%, suggesting at least a “partial recovery” is happening over time, the experts said.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “Over its long lifetime, the survey has shown the increasing good fortunes of birds such as the goldfinch and wood pigeon and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling.

“But there appears to be good news for one of these birds.”

Blue tits came third in the survey (Ray Kennedy/RSPB Images/PA)
Blue tits came third in the survey (Ray Kennedy/RSPB/PA)

He said the figures for sparrows over the past decade gave experts hope that “at least a partial recovery may be happening”.

Starlings were the second most recorded species, although they have suffered major and ongoing declines in recent decades, while blue tits took third place in 2019.

As the conservation charity unveiled the results of the bird watch it announced it was releasing a specially created track of birdsong called Let Nature Sing.

It urged the public to download, stream and share the single to help get birdsong into the charts for the first time and highlight the crisis nature is facing.

RSPB director of conservation Martin Harper said: “Birds are such iconic parts of human culture but many of us no longer have the time or opportunity to enjoy them.

“The RSPB wants to help more people reconnect with their wilder sides and is bringing birdsong back into people’s busy lives by releasing a soothing track of pure, unadulterated bird song.

“We hope that by understanding what we have lost that we inspire others to take part in the recovery. Without nature our lives are so less complete.”

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