The sparrow is one of our best known small birds. However, since 1970 there has been a 70 per cent reduction in the numbers of these birds in the UK. This has been attributed to changes in building methods, so that there are fewer nesting holes in the roofs, and changes in farming practices, so that loose grain is no longer available at and following harvest time. However, there are still more than three million breeding pairs, so they are not classified as at risk.

Ever since humans began to build houses the house sparrow has been partly dependent on us and our settlements for food and shelter. Not all nests are in buildings – occasionally they can be found in hedges or ivy-clad trees. In this case they will be domed structures of straw and feathers. In rooftop holes the nest is very rudimentary, just a small amount of straw and feathers to make it cosy often very close to other pairs of sparrows. We have a lot of sparrows in Fairfield because the builders were kind enough to leave gaps under the eaves big enough for sparrows AND starlings! We solve the food problems by putting up bird feeders and tables. House sparrows will eat almost anything they can find.

The male sparrow is about 14cm long, beak to tail, which is slightly bigger than the female. It has a red-brown back, a grey cap, red-brown sides and an unmarked grey underside. Females are more brown with a streaked back.

Like most small birds, sparrows only live for 2 to 3 years. They breed from April to August. The proceedings start with a ‘ Sparrow Party’ Where a male sings loudly and displays to attract a female. Other males hear his performance and rush to join the party, and eventually the hen makes her choice and the performance is over. The hen moves into the chosen nest, improves the basic male decoration, and lays 3–5 eggs – white with grey or brown blotches. Incubation, mostly by the hen, is 12 to 14 days. Chicks are fed by both parents and fly after about 15 days from hatching. There can be up to three broods a year if the weather is favourable, but not necessarily by the same cock and hen pairing.

Sparrows are known to be very social birds and both males and females often visit neighbours. It is a wise sparrow chick that knows its own father. Scientific studies have shown that only around 40 per cent of any single brood has the same father. We (and the RSPB) encourage this by putting up so called ‘Sparrow Terraces’ for multiple occupation by sparrows. A sort of Love Island.

From October to April, outside of the breeding season, sparrows form large flocks and huddle together in roosts to keep warm.

I have a sparkling new Sparrow Terrace ready to put up. It is built to the RSPB specification. Each one of the entrances leads to a completely separate nest. Although most people would consider putting it right up near the eaves, it doesn’t actually have to be that high up – on 2nd floor level perhaps. I can’t do ladder work anymore, so I can’t put it up, but I’m hoping that it will be installed on one of the buildings in Fairfield very soon – keep a look out for it!

Peter Land