Tag Archives: House Sparrow

Bird Nerd part 12: 2014-15 compared to previous years

How my garden birds did in 2014-15 compared to previous years
How my garden birds did in 2014-15 compared to previous years (click to zoom in)

Bird Nerd Part 11: headlines from the last year

Another year has passed, so I have another stack of data about my garden birds to wade through. I started recording data about the number of birds I see back in June 2010, so I’ve now got 5 years of data. In this post I’ll just share some of the headlines for the last year (June 2014 – May 2015).

Methods

This post outlines how I collect the data. In brief, I record the maximum number of individuals of a bird species I see at the same time in my garden, while sitting in my study working from home for the day.  This year I have 23 days of observations, which is the lowest so far – I think I must have had more meetings at work. Darn this paid employment thing getting in the way of birdwatching! (I love my job really.)

Averages, minimums and maximums

On average, I saw 18 individual birds of 7 different species per observation day. This did vary quite a bit over the year – the lowest was 2 birds of 2 species (in September) and the highest was 39 individual birds (in October) and 12 species (in December). The total number of species I saw over the year was 17.

The species league table

Average numbers of birds seen per observation day, and proportion of observation days seen on
Average numbers of birds seen per observation day, and proportion of observation days seen on

Notable visitors…

We had one visit from each of the following birds (having had none the year before):

Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Male blackcap
Male blackcap
  • Chaffinch
  • Blackcap
  • Pied wagtail
  • Song thrush

…and noticeable absences

goldfinch
Goldfinch

This year we had no visits from wrens, goldfinches or siskins on observation days. This is the first year with no wrens or goldfinches recorded.

Coming soon

I’ve got another post or two planned looking at changes over the last five years, and also seasonal patterns in my garden visitors. (I even have hopes of presenting some of data in a more visual way than usual).

Empty nest

This time last year the first brood of house sparrow chicks in our camera nest box were fledging. And the year before that, ill-fated bluetit chicks had just hatched. This year, for the first time since we put the box up, no birds have shown any inclination to nest in it.

I don’t know why. Our garden is still full of sparrows, emptying the feeders and chattering away. The box is well hidden by a rampant clematis, but it was last year as well. There’s no sign of nesting in our other bird boxes either. And I don’t think they are nesting in our gutter like they used to.

I miss watching them build the nest, brood the eggs, and wait expectantly for them to hatch. And I miss hearing the cheeps, and checking the camera footage to see the moment they fledge. (To cheer myself up, I’ve just rewatched the footage from last year).

Oh well, there’s always next year. And I should get to see plenty of bluetit chicks on my next dormouse box check.

Do you have any idea of why the sparrows aren’t nesting in the box this year?

Getting ready for spring

Right now the weather’s a bit miserable, but there are definite signs of spring outside. In the garden there are a few little irises in flower, their rich, stained glass blue a shot of colour amongst the browns of late winter. Our bluebells and daffodils have made an appearance, but aren’t yet in flower. And, as I walk to the station each morning, it’s light, and birds are singing.

So, it’s time for me to emerge from hibernation, and start getting ready for spring. Dr C and I spent yesterday in the garden, making preparations. Pruning. Tying in honeysuckle. Feeding and mulching the fruit trees. Planting seeds to germinate indoors, and lily of the valley to provide scent in April.

We’re not the only ones getting ready for spring. The birds seem to be checking out potential nesting places. Yesterday was the end of National Nestbox Week. We did our bit by getting our nest boxes ready: clearing out old nesting material from last year, and putting the camera back in, ready for whoever occupies it this year.

House sparrow about to fledge
One of last year’s brood fledging

Last year our camera nest box saw a pair of house sparrows successfully rear two broods of chicks. The year before bluetits had tried (unsuccessfully) to raise youngsters in it. I read somewhere that house sparrows tend to return to the same nest site each year, so I’m hopeful that we’ll get to witness some activity. I will keep you posted!

 

Bird nerd part 8: Big Garden Birdwatch 2015

The last weekend in January was the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, when hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK record the numbers of birds they see in one hour. This year I was down in Cornwall that weekend, staying with my parents, so there were four pairs of eyes to keep watch.

The list of what we saw is a little different from what I’d expect if we were at home (see my report on last year’s birdwatch). Here’s what we saw down in Cornwall:

Great British Birdwatch results from my parents' garden
Great British Birdwatch results from my parents’ garden
  • 4 Blackbirds (we usually get a couple)
  • 2 Bluetits
  • 4 Chaffinches (we rarely get chaffinches)
  • 2 Dunnock
  • 2 Great tits
  • 3 House sparrows (we’d beat them on sparrows)
  • 2 Magpies
  • 3 Robins (we usually only get 1)
  • 30 Starlings (We rarely see more than 10 at home)
  • 1 Woodpigeon (we’d beath them on woodies as well – we usually get 2 or 3)
  • 1 Wren
  • 1 Greater spotted woodpecker (We’ve never seen a woodpecker in our garden)
  • 25 Rooks (there’s a rookery in the trees by their house)

No collared doves though – we usually get 2 or 3.

Chaffinch
Chaffinch
Blue tit
Blue tit
Great tit
Great tit
This chaffinch is too fast for me!
This chaffinch is too fast for me!

Later this year they’ll release the full results, which will give a useful snapshot of how the nation’s birds are doing.

 

Photo special: Isles of Scilly

Every September my thoughts return to the Isles of Scilly, where Dr C and I spent our honeymoon (and several happy holidays since). Through my work I’ve travelled a lot of the world, but I still think the Scillies are the most beautiful place I’ve been. They’re also havens for seabirds and other marine wildlife. Here are a few of my favourite photos from the Scillies.

Bay on the Isles of Scilly

Oyster catcher
Oyster catcher
Grey seals
Grey seals
Swallow skimming the beach
Swallow skimming the beach on St Martin’s

The Isles of Scilly

Puffins landing gracefully(!)
Puffins landing gracefully(!)

Isles of Scilly11 07 05 Scillies 091_edited-3

Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh
Looking from St Agnes to the Gugh

birds and boat Song thrush

More house sparrows fledging

A couple of weeks ago I reported that another brood of house sparrow chicks had hatched in our camera nest box. But we didn’t know how many as nesting material was blocking the camera’s view into the nest. Since then we’ve been listening carefully to try and work out how they were getting on.

We knew at least two chicks had hatched, but as the days went by we got concerned. One chick was cheeping noisily, but there was only occasionally another, fainter cheep at the same time. We feared the worst.

A couple of days ago the nest was finally trampled down enough to get a partial view inside. To our surprise, we saw one, then two, then three, then, finally, four chicks.

After a couple of days of wing stretching and looking rather crowded, .

The parents haven’t been so quick to start sprucing up the nest for the next brood as they were last time, but we’ll keep an eye on it just in case.

 

House Sparrow chicks!

Very exciting news – we have some new arrivals! While Dr C and I were away last week the house sparrow chicks hatched.

I’m not entirely sure how many chicks there are.  The nest has an overhanging bit which means the camera can’t see all the way in. We’ve seen two chicks.

House sparrow chicks
House sparrow chicks – you should be able to spot two open beaks, and the tail of the mother sparrow (on the left)

I’m also not sure how old the chicks are. I had set the laptop up to monitor the nest in our absence, but despite my best efforts it seems to have shut itself down within hours of my departure.

The mother sparrow seems to be spending quite a lot of time keeping the chicks warm. According to the RSPB, sparrows brood their chicks for 6-8 days. The chicks fledge after 14-16 days, so that could be anytime next week. It will be interesting to follow their progress.

Bird Nerd part 5: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 results

Last week the RSPB released the results of the 2014 Great British bird watch. Once again house sparrows topped the list, with an average of 3.8 seen per garden.

The survey was carried out by almost half a million volunteers  across the UK. It involved watching a garden or park for an hour during one weekend in January, and recording the maximum number of birds of each species seen at one time.
So how do the results compare to the average number of birds I saw in my garden this January? The table below shows the mean number of birds observed per site in the UK as a whole, Surrey, and my garden. As you can see, the results are pretty similar.
House sparrows also topped my list. Unlike the rest of Surrey and the UK, I didn’t see any goldfinches. Dunnocks did make it onto my list though.
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
But how does this compare to previous years? Compared to last year there has not been a huge amount of change in the average numbers of birds seen for the top 10 species nationally. For my garden, there has been a drop in the number of starlings, and smaller drops in the numbers of several other birds, but that may be down to the mild winter meaning birds don’t need to visit the feeders in my garden as much as last year.
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014

A day in the life of nesting sparrows

Today is World Sparrow Day. Who even knew there was such a day? To mark this important occasion, I thought I’d give you an update on how our sparrows are getting on.

The sparrows have been busy over the last couple of weeks, building a nest in one of our boxes. This of course is good news. What makes it even more gratifying is that they’ve chosen the box with a camera in, so we can keep a close eye on their progress.
This is the first year we’ve had sparrows nesting in the camera box, so I’m not sure quite what to expect. While bluetits lay one large clutch a year, sparrows usually lay 2 to 3 clutches of 2 to 5 eggs, so we may get to see several broods this year if we are lucky.
Our sparrows are still at the nest building stage, so haven’t started laying yet. I’ll keep you posted!
In the meantime, here’s a high speed overview of a day of hard nest building.

PS. You may have noticed I’ve given the blog a bit of a facelift – let me know what you think! Hope you like it.