Sparrows, like Robins, give us a sense of companionship around the garden. During the hot summer, often spent outside around the patio, the familiar and somewhat tuneless chirping of Sparrows was nonetheless welcome: a sharing of space with one of only two species of sparrow occurring in Ireland. Passer domesticus, along with the Tree Sparrow, (a very localised species in Ireland) are the only representatives of a larger family that occurs across the Tropics and Asia. Although they construct a somewhat untidy nest, they are safe and successful in their choice of residence: a nest in the apex of our roof, spirited away from our eyes through the tiniest gap in the tiles of the A line.
They are insect feeders in the summer months, reverting to a traditional fare of grain and seed come the autumn, furthering their close association with man and the farmed landscape. Although successful and with a wide distribution, their numbers are never very high with us, as they are limited by the availability of suitable nest sites. In more urban settings their sedentary nature and ability to survive polluted environments is evidenced by concerns over exhaust fumes and they can even suffer genetic damage, caused by poisons such as arsenic present in used cigarette filters, which find their way into the nest lining. Paradoxically, the toxins present can knock out nest parasites but overall, not surprisingly, smoking and its by products are bad for birds as well as man.
Our rural location means that September and October are a time of plenty, with some seed remaining in stubble fields, and more lying in lines around sharp bends in the road. We have a party of 10 or 12 birds right now, availing of a shrinking supply of Elder berries right now. These birds will disperse over the winter before returning, maybe as a pair or two, announcing their arrival with a subtle chirping, a territorial song from the apex of the eaves, continuing a welcome association with the ‘cheeky spadger’.