Basin Notes - October 2001

Do Your own Bird Survey

What is it that is essential to life? Somewhere sheltered to stay warm and dry, food and water, and somewhere suitable to raise a family. Whether you are a mouse or an elephant; a wren or an eagle; or the man on the Clapham bus; it's the same list.

Man is the ultimate coloniser and shaper of the world and can adapt and improvise suitable accommodation to survive. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of other creatures whose very existence is put in jeopardy by our rampaging expansion devouring the countryside.

Some creatures are as adaptable as us and take advantage of man-made structures for homes and feed on our wasteful nature. The House Sparrow is one such bird, that found sanctuary in our buildings, and food a-plenty on farms and in towns. It is probably a bird that everyone recognises and sees in gardens and parks every day.

Ubiquitous. Well not any more! The House sparrow population has plummeted by 50% over the last 25 years in the countryside and by 53% over the past 5 years in towns. We are becoming too neat and tidy. Our buildings no longer have crevices under the eaves for nests and there is less seed spilt for them to feed on.

The boom time for sparrows was 100 years ago in the age of the horse drawn vehicle when feed bags jounced on the back of carts producing a trail of seed on every street in the land. Cereal fields after the harvest contained a bountiful supply of food for creatures great and small.

The current problem facing ornithologists is trying to discover the reasons for the decline of this once numerous bird. There are probably a whole host of factors that will eventually be found to account for the decline in population.

What can we do to help? Providing garden feeding stations is one positive way to ensure that the sparrows have a source of food and water. But this is not going to help if the birds are not nesting nearby already. Putting up a nest box may help, but you have to experiment with the position in the garden to get it just right for the aspiring occupant.

Another way to help is to monitor the birds visiting your garden. After all, we only know a population is in decline because regular monitoring was undertaken over many years. The British Trust for Ornithology has organised a Garden Bird Survey for many years to allow anyone to contribute to the data gathering process.

The Basin Wildlife Centre is organising a similar exercise for the Montrose area to cover the Winter months. Everyone can play a part in taking a snapshot of the garden birds this winter and then over subsequent years a pattern can be established that can help to pinpoint other bird species in danger.

Recording forms can be obtained from the Wildlife Centre in the last two weeks of September and the survey will run from October to March. Please contact the staff of the Centre on 01674 676336 for further details.