Bird feeders help attract record number of sparrows

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk

Just there, bouncing, bumbling over the stones like a thrown brown dice - this line from the poem “Sparrow” by Roger Elkin describes the hopping gait of the house sparrow.

This past glorious summer has been spent mostly at home in our townhouse with a stone yard. This yard is a sheltered sun-trap with a high wall and a drift of clematis in one corner – at its best in the early summer. The sparrows are attracted here by the bird feeders which are refilled sometimes twice daily. There is also a plastic dish of water which the blackbird uses as a bath and I need to clean it out regularly to remove algae and debris.

We have had record numbers of sparrows this year. At the peak of the breeding season when possibly two or even three broods had fledged we lost count as 20 or more queued up in the clematis or on the high wall whilst the luckier ones swung upside down or clung right way up on the feeders, never staying long – constantly on the move and flitting back to the wall or taking flight as a whole troupe as another tribe arrived. It was fascinating watching the adult birds of both sexes feed their hungry youngsters. The parents were often smaller than their offspring but still responded to the chirps and begging gestures. We surmised that the youngsters were not yet athletic enough to balance on the tiny struts of the feeders so left that job to the adults.

Sparrows are usually followed by wood pigeons and collared doves which strut below the feeders pecking up the scattered seeds.

The tit family has been poorly represented with occasional glimpses of a blue tit and even rarer glimpses of a single coal tit. Wasps commandeered the best situated nest box this year and I can say in their favour that they did not cause us any distress and it was fascinating to watch their flights and the extension of the nest onto the outside of the box.

Alas autumn has arrived and the joyous procession of sparrows has almost stopped. This was probably triggered by the presence of a sparrow hawk last week. We only became aware of it when I spotted movement below the clematis from the passage window. Barely breathing John and I watched it through binoculars and clearly saw it tearing feathers off its prey, anchoring the carcass with its foot and then delicately shredding and eating the sparrow, forever swiveling its head around to check for marauders. We admired its magnificent banded chest and golden eyes. The sparrows head was the last morsel eaten and then the bird stretched and lazily hopped onto a higher piece of wood, bent down to clean each foot in turn and then fell asleep. The poor sparrows were missing from our yard for two whole days and only now are daring to return in small numbers.

SWT Berwickshire Members Centre has started its monthly meetings at Duns Parish Church Hall on the first Thursday of each month at 7.30pm. All are welcome.