Campaign Diary: The pure joy of seeing sparrows settle in our house | Birds


Our scruffy lawn sparkles with sparrows. For weeks they roamed the garden in flocks, dust bathing in raised beds, rummaging and bickering in the messier corners. They come to this well-stocked builder’s merchant for its grasses, leaves, moss, and feathers—even shreds of twine pulled from apple espalier bindings—to build and line their loosely woven nests.

Near the greenhouse, two females arm wrestle on a blade of dead grass. On the terrace, a man tilts his head and gives me an appreciative look. House sparrows (unlike many species of garden birds) share construction duties between the sexes, and this particular male is a connoisseur of fresh grass. It keeps coming back to the edge of the lawn to pick soft leaf blades in its beak. They fall on either side of his black bib, giving him the look of a portly gentleman sporting luxurious green mustaches.

In Honeysuckle, there is a feud of spuggies in a messy queue. The tangled mountaineer sheds his skin, shedding tan-gray fibers that sparrows and starlings peel off in thin strips. One of the females flies over the fence dragging her ribbons of bark. I watch longingly as she disappears under the eaves next door – one of their usual nesting sites.

A female house sparrow. Photography: Alan Garner

Several years ago we laid out two sparrow terraces – each a row of three nesting boxes – in hopes of attracting a few pairs to our side of the fence. A mid-terrace housed a colony of tree bumblebees. The blue tits raised chicks in the same pen the following year. But no sparrow came.

This spring, the signs are more promising. A few weeks ago, a male began to inspect the left box, blades of dried grass in his beak. Procrastinating at the hole, he faked the entrance once, twice. When he finally crossed the threshold and then reappeared a few moments later, his beak empty, I rejoiced. Frantic building work followed and now his mate is stealing feathers from the henhouse, defying the indignant cries of Moss, Cumulus and Burnet – our dwarf Orpingtons – as she lines her nest with their fluffy cast-offs. A well appointed end terrace – sold.


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