The birds' wedding day
Did you know that February 2nd is the birds’ wedding day? When I first came to Shropshire the postman told me this. I am inclined to believe him because only a few days ago, I saw a house sparrow with a feather in its beak heading for our eves.
House sparrows are everywhere here in Shropshire and if you have a bird table, you will see them crowding round the food, they often force out the timid little birds and even the smart blackbird. House sparrows love seeds and today they are on our bird table making a great deal of noise and creating lots of mess. They seem to be just ordinary common birds, with not much to be said in their favour.
Last year, my husband was given a nest box with a camera fitted and he put it up on a tree trunk straight away. In our excitement, we didn’t check the size of the hole (which had several adjustments) and we were disappointed that it was large enough for a pair of familiar house sparrows, who immediately claimed it.
You could connect the camera to the TV via a long cable which we pushed through our living room window. Soon we were watching from the comfort of our armchairs. We saw, on screen, the sparrows ‘build’ a messy nest inside the box. They took in dry grass to make a bundle then filled it with feathers. The female laid five white eggs and the birds took turns incubating. You could see the eggs clearly when one of the pair stood up to change shifts. After 12 days, they were proud parents and we felt that we were too.
The box had a microphone so we could hear the babies shouting for food when a parent darkened the hole to come in. We could see big orange gapes as the babies craned their necks to get an insect or a juicy caterpillar. We didn’t get many jobs done that week, as we couldn’t resist spying on the everyday life of two, suddenly interesting, brown birds.
Then, I don’t know what went wrong, but one morning, when we turned on, one baby bird was dead. Then another died and another, there were only two left. Was it the wet summer? Was it the lack of food? We did not know the answer. I switched the screen off and couldn’t bear to watch any more.
There seem to be thousands of house sparrows here in Shropshire but my sister in Yorkshire says that she hardly ever sees one these days. The RSPB will tell you that sparrows have declined rapidly in the last 30 years and could be in danger. These little birds used to be pests. They were as common as mice, raiding the corn field and crowding the roads to scavenge every grain dropped by the farmers’ trailers. Now they are under threat.
So, look out for them this spring when all the birds dress up in their spring attire. You will see house sparrows in their new, smart brown outfits.
I hope they enjoyed their wedding day. I threw them some seeds and wished them good luck. These sociable, friendly, brave, happy little birds might not be here next year.
(Adapted from my Nature Notes column)