Have you ever watched a sparrow sleeping? We have a nest box with a camera and the pictures are beamed into our living room. The female sparrow has the box, he doesn’t get a look in. I think he sleeps on our security light outside the backdoor. We go the long way around to gain access to the back garden after 4pm, when he’s settled on the light. Of course, we have removed the bulb. Shame she doesn’t let him in to snuggle up.
Before I go to bed I watch her on my telly. Her tiny body pulses in and out. It’s very soporific and I feel my heart beat slow to the same rhythm. Sometimes she wakes up suddenly, as if from a chasing-blue-tits dream. She looks around like she doesn’t know where she is , then she preens, yawns, stretches out one twiggy leg and tucks her tiny head back under her wing.
World Sparrow Day is in March (there’s a web site). Sparrows have lived alongside humans longer than any other wild birds. But, they’re in serious decline. Once they were so numerous they were regarded as pests, raiders of cereal crops. During the reign of Elizabeth the First, farmers could take the heads of sparrows to the parish church where they would be paid a bounty. During the First World War, Rat and Sparrow Clubs were formed ‘in order to save food for human consumption’. Hundreds of thousands were killed. 3d was paid for a fully fledged sparrow, 2d for an unfledged bird and 1d for an egg. But in the towns and cities, the disappearance of the horse in favour of the car had even more of an impact as sparrows could no longer rely on pinching the horses feed or sorting through the droppings for undigested grain.
Sparrows have continued to decline and are now on the Conservation Red List meaning they are a species in need of urgent action. The authorities in Delhi have adopted the house sparrow as the state bird in a bid to halt any further decline in their numbers. ‘We will take steps to ensure that the sparrow returns, feels safe and is able to live peacefully in the city,’ said a Chief Minister.
I like that they want the sparrow to ‘feel safe’. My bird looks safe in her box. And in the morning, she won’t have far to go for food, though she’ll need to keep one eye out for the sparrowhawk.
Scruffy urchins of the bird world,
surviving by your wits
and your hard-faced cheek.
Angels with Dirty Faces,
In your crop-eating-outlaw days
you had a price on your head,
were picked off for pennies
by persecuting posses.
Then you learned which side your
bread was buttered and muscled in
on small town gardens.
You were chased away from
feeders by people who preferred
the glamour of goldfinches,
the ballyhoo of blue tits.
But now you’re rather rare
and they want you back,
will gladly sacrifice
their finely tilled seed beds
to your early evening dust bath.