Sunday, 31 May 2015

Where have all the sparrows gone?

Saturday - North London - Yesterday we headed up to the south Tottenham, Green Lanes area of north London on grand parent duties. As always I set myself a target of trying to find a House Sparrow, no mean challenge as their spectacular fall from grace in the capital is well known yet still largely clouded in mystery. A shortage of insects, increased predation, air pollution and even disease have all been mooted as possible causes and The Independent newspaper`s £5,000 prize offer is still open to the researchers who can offer the most convincing scientific evidence explaining the sparrows` urban decline.
Our daughters ground floor flat is in a typical London back-to-back Edwardian terrace layout forming substantial blocks of gardens, many of which are unkempt and overgrown with tall trees. Sitting in the sunshine supping a cuppa and scanning around birds immediately came my way: the ubiquitous Feral Pigeon, a family of Starlings, singing Blackbirds and Goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits feeding young (they didn't seem to be having a problem finding insects), calling Chaffinch and Greenfinch, while overhead a few Swifts and a Herring Gull were noted, but no Cockney sparrahs.
In a vain effort to tire out our 4 year 9 month old grandson Albert we headed for the local adventure playground at Chestnut Park, full of mature old London plane and lime trees with loads of rough corners and adjacent back gardens, perfect sparrow habitat you might think. A slow circuit of the park produced further bird sightings: Woodpigeons, Collared Dove, Jackdaws, Magpies, tame Carrion Crows, a Mistle Thrush, Dunnock, Robin and Wren, Black-headed Gull and more of the garden birds we`d seen earlier, while Barney was in heaven chasing squirrels, an animal he doesn`t encounter back home on the Marsh. We paused at the café, with outside seating, perfect for sparrows, but not a single Passer domesticus londoniensis was to be seen cadging crumbs from the punters.

                                "Bet you can`t wear me out"
In the afternoon it was football practise for the little fella (who still had bags of energy) and another assault course on a climbing frame in Finsbury Park, one of the great open spaces of London and sparrow paradise; surely there must be one or two of the little blighters here... The bird list rattled away with the addition of water, so Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, dodgy Pochard and Tufted Ducks, plus Rose-ringed Parakeets, a Grey Wagtail (bird of the day), Song Thrush, Jay, a singing Blackcap and calling Great Spotted Woodpecker. Not too bad at all, but still no House Sparrows.
Until, that is, walking beside the old aquifer, that formerly supplied drinking water from Hertfordshire to the City, a small bird flew down to drink, at last a House Sparrow, an adult male, but it was so furtive, quite unlike our brazen birds at home, and was only down for a few seconds before flying off into cover. But I was so thrilled I felt as though I should tweet my sighting out to the wider birding world, as though I`d found a Red-backed Shrike or Alpine Swift!
So, that was that, a single sighting after a day long search for the declining Cockney sparrah, and with Albert still in one piece, but still a bundle of energy (how do you exhaust a nearly 5 year old boy?) we headed back to base to watch an entertaining FA Cup Final.

Sunday, Lade - cool, wet, w 5 - Another shocking day weather wise with strong winds throughout and rain for most of the morning. We checked the lakes out during and after the rain but apart from a couple of hundred Swifts all was quiet.


  1. Paul ,
    Glad to hear you made it up to the 'big smoke' and back safely , and managed to get your target .
    We live 12 miles out on the edge of the sprawl , and 25 years ago when we moved in , never had House Sparrow sightings . Over that time things have got better , with daily visits now to the feeders of up to 6 birds , and they are heard chirping in several local roads , so in my opinion they are on their way back .
    I've even seen females looking up at my unused communal box ,
    One Spring it will happen , fingers crossed .

  2. To see no spuggies in such a traditional habitat is quite weird and as you said, so far unexplained.
    Given the number that you have back home and the fact that Sheppey seems to be a haven for them, it seems that they have become a purely rural bird.

  3. It is weird as if you go to Paris or New York sparrows are all over the place, is it just London? I don't know. Good to here `your` birds are on the up tho Greenie.

  4. We do have them in E4, Paul. A very noisy crowd in the hedge over the road, and a few in the garden.

  5. This is good news, maybe things are on the turn...

  6. I saw a group of sparrows flitting between the trees by the pond in Finsbury Park. I can't say whether they were tree sparrows or house sparrows. Lovely to see them.

  7. That`s good news, most likely House Sparrows, as Tree Sparrow now almost unknown in the London area. Thanks.