Saturday, 8 March 2014

In praise of the "Spadger!"

Every nook and cranny seemed to be occupied by a Spadger's nest
When I was a nipper growing up in rural Worcestershire, I spent nearly all my waking hours outside, mostly mucking around with friends on local farms. One of my abiding memories of those carefree days was of  “Spadgers” – our name for the House Sparrow. They were everywhere!

As I slowly surfaced from my overnight slumbers, the first sound I would hear would be the “chirp, chirp” of a male Spadger sitting on the guttering above my open bedroom window, announcing to the other males, that this was his part of the house! They nested under the roof tiles, they nested in every available hole and once those had all been taken, they built messy domed straw nests in the creepers climbing up the side of the house.

There were constant Spadger bust ups throughout the day. An argument would kick off in a bush with two or three birds, which seemed completely irresistible to all other Spadgers in the locality, as they would hurtle headlong into the bush to join in the fracas, not dissimilar to a bunch of drunken football hooligans. Thirty seconds of flapping, squealing and squawking and all would be over as abruptly as it had started!

As darkness began to fall in the short winter days, all the Spadgers would collect in an enormous holly hedge that went down the side of a small orchard, choosing to roost amongst the protective spiky green leaves. Once they had all gathered together, the noise was almost deafening! I always thought to myself that they were chatting about the day’s events, boasting about scraps that had been won or lost, the result of which could perhaps kick off another brief skirmish.

Spadgers were totally part of my everyday life, always present wherever I went and I suppose that I completely took them for granted.

So it makes me sad to read that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations. Strangely, whilst the decline in England continues, breeding bird survey data indicates that recent population increases have taken place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The declines in England have been so severe that the species has been made a “Red data species”. How on earth could this happen to my noisy, full-on little “Spadgers" and what exactly does this ominous designation mean? Well, here it is explained:

Red list criteria
1)      Globally threatened
2)      Historical population decline in UK during 1800–1995
3)      Severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years, or longer-term period (the entire period used for assessments since the first BoCC review, starting in 1969).
4)      Severe (at least 50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years, or the longer-term period

It looks as though urban sparrows are possibly declining due to the lack of insects available within our towns and cities, which are vital for bringing up their young. On the other hand, rural sparrows are thought to be faring badly due to the lack of grain and weed seeds available over-winter.

Despite all this doom and gloom, I was thrilled to find out that the 20th of March has been declared “World Sparrow Day”!! As the most widely distributed wild bird in the world, it is obvious that others love the “Spadger” as much as I do!

Take a look at this wonderful link to see just how much is going on around the world on behalf of this LBJ (little brown job!) with attitude!

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