Science

Number of house sparrows rises by ten per cent in a decade


Hope for the British house sparrow as RSPB survey shows numbers of the chirpy bird have grown by ten per cent in the last decade

  • RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch annually surveys Britain to determine bird numbers
  • Found sparrow numbers are stabilising and increasing since 2010  
  • This was the 41st year the project was held and followed a mild winter
  • Warm weather was beneficial for small birds like sparrows, tits and wrens  

The house sparrow is showing signs of resurgence after decades of population decline, according to the RSPB. 

Chirping sparrows were once seen commonplace in almost all British gardens but since the 1970s has struggled to adapt to the rapidly changing modern world. 

Sightings of the sparrow are down by more than half overall but since 2010 the species has experienced a resurgence, with numbers increasing by ten per cent.  

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Chirping sparrows were once seen commonplace in almost all British gardens but since the 1970s has struggled to adapt to the rapidly changing modern world. But in the last decade they have shown steady population growth (stock photo)

Chirping sparrows were once seen commonplace in almost all British gardens but since the 1970s has struggled to adapt to the rapidly changing modern world. But in the last decade they have shown steady population growth (stock photo)

It is thought the lack of winter stubble and less grain being wasted for birds to scavenge may be partly to blame for the long term sparrow decline. 

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: ‘While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 53 per cent (1979 – 2020), in the most recent decade (2010-2020) numbers appear to have increased by 10 per cent. 

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‘Giving us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening.’

‘The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings at the most commonly seen garden birds with more than 1.3 million recorded sightings throughout the weekend. 

‘Starling held down the second spot once more, with the blue tit completing the top three.’ 

The survey takes place on the last weekend of January every year and in 2020 almost half a million people mucked in and got involved, spotting more than eight million birds. 

Data from the citizen science project revealed a year on year increase for many small birds, such as long-tailed tits, wrens and coal tits. 

BRITAN’S MOST POPULAR BIRDS  
Rank Species Average per garden % of gardens species recorded in 2020 % change in gardens since 2019 LONG TERMÿAverage per garden% change 1979 – 2020 Change since 2010
1 House sparrow 4.7 64 2 -53 10
2 Starling 3 38 -5 -80 -12
3 Blue tit 2.9 80 3 20 4
4 Woodpigeon 2.3 76 -1 1035 35
5 Blackbird 2.1 85 -2 -46 -12
6 Goldfinch 1.7 32 -4 n/a 50
7 Great tit 1.5 58 1 72 11
8 Robin 1.4 83 1 -32 6
9 Long tailed tit 1.3 30 14 n/a 37
10 Magpie 1.2 55 1 199 26
11 Chaffinch 1.1 33 11 -65 -37
12 Collared dove 1 40 7 256 -25
13 Dunnock 0.8 44 2 6.2 -16
14 Jackdaw 0.7 20 1 n/a 40
15 Feral pigeon 0.7 18 8 n/a 27
16 Coal tit 0.7 36 10 281 11
17 Carrion crow 0.6 22 12 n/a 24
18 Greenfinch 0.4 14 8 -65 -64
19 Wren 0.3 24 13 81 45
20 Song thrush 0.1 9 23 -81 – 55
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The house sparrow remained at the top of the rankings with more than 1.3 million recorded sightings throughout the January weekend when the project goes ahead. Starling and blue tit (pictured) came in at number two and three, respectively

The house sparrow remained at the top of the rankings with more than 1.3 million recorded sightings throughout the January weekend when the project goes ahead. Starling and blue tit (pictured) came in at number two and three, respectively

These jumped in number by 14, 13 and 10 per cent, respectively, compared to last year’s survey. 

This short-term hope for the small birds is being put down to a mild winter.  

Mr Hayhow said: ‘Small birds suffer during long, cold winters but the warmer January weather this year appears to have given species such as the wren and long-tailed tit a boost.’ 

Since the inception of the Birdwatch initiative in 1979 many species have seen their numbers dramatically reduced, including the sparrow and the song thrush. 

The song thrush was originally one of the most popular birds but by 2009, its numbers were less than half those recorded in 1979.

This year it came in at number 20 on the most commonly seen birds, spotted in just 9 per cent of gardens. 

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive, adds: ‘Despite everything that’s going on in the world, nature is still doing its thing. Birds are singing and blossom is bursting. 

‘Watching wildlife, whether from a window or a balcony or even online, can offer many of us hope, joy and a welcome distraction, and so we are keen to help you carry on connecting with the natural world.’





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