Friday, 21 November 2008

Why have the Sparrows gone?

House Sparrows have been making headlines this week. They've been declining over the last few year and now the results of some research has been published.

Here's an extract form the news item:

"Scientists from Natural England, De Montfort University and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds published a plausible explanation this week.

They say the sparrow’s decline in suburbia is likely to be explained by the popularity of non-native species such as Leylandii hedges, the removal of native trees and hedges and the conversion of front gardens for parking."

While I am sure that the research is valid and has been properly validated, I must admit that I am convinced that this tells only part of the story. Here in St Margaret's I was pleased to note that there was a very healthy population in our area. Four winters ago I counted up to 40 in the garden on many days. The numbers have certainly dropped in the last few years and so far this autumn I've seldom seen more that two or three at a time.

What's changed? Well as far as I can see very little. The nest sites that they use in the roof are still there. I've put up seven additional nest boxes, but only one has been used and that was three years ago. There hasn't been any paving over, not horrible decking and there are still a host of suitable plants in the garden. Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Goldfinch numbers are still good. There may be more cats about. I haven't been as energetic in persuading them to leave our garden as I used to be, but I don't think that that accounts for it.

I believe that the other factor involved is the rapid change over of crops with fields lying fallow for far shorter times. When I first used to birdwatch on Dartford Marshes there were flocks of up to 1000 birds feeding on the stubble fields in Autumn. These didn't come from the farm but moved to the farmland from the town at this time of year. The stubble fields seldom last long now and the efficiency of modern machinery means that there is not much seed to be found anyway. I don't really know if this is having a cumulative affect but I'm sure it's more than just the changes in gardens.

I visited Fowlmead CP again this afternoon. Not that I think the actual park has much to offer, unless you want to cycle round it, but because it has a great view over Worth Marshes and I was hoping to see an Owl or two in the evening and perhaps a Hen Harrier out over the fields. In fact I didn't and the extremely cold wind blowing through the observation platform meant that I didn't stay as long as I had planned.

I did look at the information board by the lake. It bright and glossy but it's so disappointing to see that it is rubbish. What purpose do they serve. You would hope that it was it inform and in a small way educate.

This picture is labelled Mallard. Well technically it is correct. It's one of those farmyard mutations that interbreeding has produced. But if someone wanted to know what a wild Mallard looked like they would get completely the wrong idea from this picture.

Even worse is this bit. Two mistakes in one. The picture is of a Coot, not a Moorhen and once again the can't spell, Moorhen is one word. (At least they've put the spelling of Pipit right on their WEB site since I wrote to them).

Ironically I couldn't see any Moorhens (or coots) on the lake, but just over the fence there were at least eight around this little pond on the farm next door.


tanyaa said...

Universally familiar in appearance the widespread and once abundant house sparrow has become a mystery bird at many localities in recent times. For years we objected to the permanent resident flock in our garden taking more than a fair share of food during the winter. But now weeks pass without a single example putting in an appearance.

Birdingben said...

Hi Tony
Yes,the Fowlmead board is a bit (underst atement) misleading !!!
Is the Kentish Plover still a 'probable' sighting on the board by the visitor centre?

Tony Morris said...

I didn't look at the visitor centre, too many cyclists zooming about!