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House Sparrow continues to decline…

The House Sparrow is a familiar bird, living alongside man that has been undergoing a very worrying decline in recent years. Various reasons have been suggested for the decrease in House Sparrow numbers and, while scientists have some idea of what is going on, more work is needed to find answers to some important questions. Over the next 18 months, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) will be looking in depth at the House Sparrow decline and urgently needs volunteers to get involved in a survey of House Sparrows this coming spring.Rosie Cleary, the BTO`s House Sparrow Project Officer, is looking for volunteers across the country to help her with a survey of House Sparrows in our towns and cities. Results from the BTO/CJ Garden BirdWatch show a large decline in the numbers of House Sparrows visiting gardens in many urban areas and the new survey aims to find out why this is happening.Rosie Cleary said What is particularly interesting about the pattern of decline is that it is most pronounced in large urban areas in the southeast of England but much less obvious in Wales and Scotland. If we can get enough people involved right across the UK then we can, hopefully, find out why there is this regional variation, and maybe use it to discover what is causing the decline.Rosie Cleary continued The survey will involve a simple questionnaire asking for information about House Sparrow numbers in gardens, the habitats in which they are seen, food availability and the presence of potential predators. House Sparrows are familiar birds to most people and by asking a few simple but important questions we hope to be able to involve lots of people in this important research.NB There are approximately 6-7 million pairs of House Sparrows in the United Kingdom. In the 1970`s there were some 12 million pairs. The largest decline has occurred in the eastern part of England, while populations appear to be more stable in Wales and in parts of Scotland. In London there was a 75% decline in numbers between 1994 and 2001. The decline seen in rural areas is thought to be due to more efficient harvesting of cereal grain and better storage, both of which have led to reduced food availability during the winter months.In towns and cities the causes of decline may be more complex and several different factors have been suggested. These include
(i) reduced food availability because of cleaner streets, loss of brown-field sites to development and increased competition from other bird species.
(ii) the lack of available nest sites: modern buildings may contain fewer nest sites.
(iii) pollution affecting House Sparrows directly or their insect prey.
(iv) increased predation by cats, Sparrowhawks and Magpies.
(v) diseases, which can be picked up on bird tables.The BTO`s Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run continually throughout the year, providing extremely important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. For more information: http://www.bto.org/gbw/gbwhome.htm - An information pack on Garden BirdWatch is available from GBW, Room R4, FREEPOST, Norfolk, IP24 2BR. Contacts:
Rose Cleary (House Sparrow Project Officer) 01842-750050 (office)rosie.cleary@bto.org
Mike Toms (Garden BirdWatch Organiser) 01842-750050 (office) mike.toms@bto.org 07759-559780 (mobile)
Graham Appleton (BTO Press Officer) 01842-750050 (office) graham.Appleton@bto.org

4th July 2014