Birds in Sulgrave – April

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

The name, both in English and Latin, emphasises this bird’s long association with human habitation. We think of it most often as a denizen of towns and cities; the London sparrow is generally attributed with “Cockney cheekiness”. Despite this, it is a nervous bird compared, say, with the robin. It is a country dweller, too. In former times vast numbers of sparrows, being mainly seed-eaters, caused devastation to farmers’ crops. In 1800 the poet Bloomfield wrote:

While thousands in a flock, for ever gay,
Loud chirping sparrows welcome on the day.

A bounty was put on the birds and consequently they were trapped in huge numbers – one consequence was the popularity of sparrow pie. Nowadays, however, there is serious concern over their decline in numbers, the reason for which is not clear, but apparently it is more evident in the urban environment. Here in Sulgrave there is still a thriving population.

Sparrows can be included in the many species described by birders as “little brown jobs”. While the female perhaps lacks obvious distinguishing colours, being brown-backed with black streaks, and greyish elsewhere, the cock has a grey crown and cheeks and a distinctive black bib. Sparrows are social creatures, generally in flocks of up to a dozen, and breeding in small colonies. The untidy nests are placed in odd corners of buildings, in holes in brickwork, for example. Sparrows have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for promiscuity.

The call (it can’t be called a song) consists of a variety of chirps. Occasionally a group of the birds will suddenly erupt in a frenzy of chirpings as if in loud argument.

Among the birds visiting your feeding station, keep a look-out for the house sparrow’s near relative, the tree sparrow (Passer montanus), a much rarer country bird, but a couple have recently been seen regularly on a bird-table in the village. The two sexes look alike. At first sight they can be mistaken for the cock house sparrow, but they have a nice red-brown crown, and white cheeks with a black patch.

Please note that the so-called hedge sparrow (more correctly named dunnock) is not related to the true sparrows.

See Bird Archive for other birds in this series.

Text: George Metcalfe    Photographs: John Sheppard


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