Sunday 10 May 2015
They used to be ubiquitous in our towns and cities, flitting, pecking and chirping noisily.
But now they have all but gone, and the streets and gardens have fallen silent.
House sparrows - the brown, boisterous opportunists that were Britain's best-known and most-loved urban birds - have virtually disappeared in our built up areas. Scientists say their numbers have plummeted by up to 90 per cent since the 1970s.
No-one is exactly sure why, though the loss of hedges, trees, insects and flowers have all been blamed. Predation by domestic cats and other animals may also be implicated, as well as pollution.
But now conservationists, communities and schools have launched campaigns to try and bring back house sparrows. One of the pioneering projects is in Glasgow, where the birds have suffered a very steep decline.
The ornithologist, JD Summers-Smith, recorded a massive 98-99 per cent decline in sparrows in suburban Glasgow between 1959 and 1997. The birds are now recognised as one of the most endangered across the UK, and are on the "red list" of the most vulnerable species.
"Despite a large amount of research into the subject, we still don't conclusively know what is causing the long-term decline in house sparrows," said Toby Wilson, a senior conservation officer with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSBP) in Scotland.
"Studies have shown that large numbers of house sparrow chicks are starving in their nests as a result of a lack of insect food, which could be limited by pollution and a reduction in greenery in urban areas."