By Jean Irvin, Ashbourne Field Club
SPARROWS used to be our most common garden bird but these days they are not quite so easy to spot as their numbers seem to be in decline in England. Do you have sparrows in your garden?
The name sparrow comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘spearwa’. It is variously called ‘spadger’, ‘spurdie’, ‘spugger’ or ‘sprug’. Most of these names are from the North of England - Northumberland or Cumbria - or from Scotland.
Sparrows nests are remarkable mostly for their makeshift quality, an untidy heap of straw stuffed into a hole or a space under the eaves.
They usually nest close to man in houses, factories or other buildings although they can make very good nests in trees if they have to.
Rather fittingly numerous sparrows nest in the warehouse of Penguin Books Limited where they live happily among Puffins and Ladybirds as well as Penguins!
Sparrows will also use the nests of other birds such as blue tits, swallows and house martins, often evicting the rightful owners.
There are several mentions of sparrows in the bible. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father knowing it?” This is the King James version. In the New English Bible the price of sparrows has more than doubled. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” and in the Psalms: “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.”
In 1771 the Opera House at Covent Garden purchased a number of sparrows to be let loose to ‘act the part of singing birds in a delightful grove’.
Unfortunately they were more than happy to stay in the opera house where they interrupted the performances and inconvenienced the audience for some time!
Another sparrow that we have in our garden up in Stanton is the tree sparrow. This one has a chestnut brown head rather than the house sparrow’s grey.
It is known in Cheshire as Copper Head and in Yorkshire as Red Headed Sparrow. Tree sparrows have a black bib and a black spot on each cheek as well as the chestnut brown head.
They are more secretive than house sparrows but are just as good at stealing the nests of other birds and also build an untidy nest in a hole or crevice.
Sparrows have colonised most of the world and are usually found in close proximity to man in the centres of cities and in the countryside.
Let’s hope they will continue to be a common sight in our gardens.