The Sympathetic Sparrow?

So the days are getting longer and we have had some very cold nights this week. The weather has been great for walking and photography.

The Sparrows were back in the three foot hedge, in human time, at about 8.45pm. I think from my observations, it is true to say, that my sparrows tend to rise and return from the Old School Sparrow Clan roost earlier on bright sunny days. In this respect they might be similar to the humans who live in the house whose wall they use for the nest box home. This behaviour doesn’t seem to be effected by how cold it is!

The strange thing is that as I walk the country lanes, tracks and paths I often end up passing the roost early in the morning or late in the day on my way home and that got me thinking. Do sparrows sleep? Well yes they use unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS). I won’t pretend, I looked it up. That basically means sleeping with one eye open and only half of the brain shut down. This is a survival characteristic; leaving themselves in at least a partial state of alert should a predator be around. It’s the sort of question my granddaughter might ask and I like to be prepared!

My cock sparrow in the three foot hedge

During the week the sparrows got me thinking on another matter. You know finches get the dreaded white foot disease as I call it, papillomatosis. Apparently this is most common in finches and the species that is most affected is the Chaffinch. A symptom of this is a bird that struggles to keep balance. I spotted just such a bird on a large branch of our old holly tree. It wasn’t perched but its breast was flattened against the branch for support since its leg or legs were now unable to support it. Every few minutes it fluttered as if trying to shift its balance slightly. It repeated this behaviour and then out the hedge a House Sparrow arrived. It perched on the branch within a few inches of the struggling Chaffinch. Now the question is why? Was it offering moral support, was it being inquisitive, did it realise the Chaffinch was in difficulties. Of course, I can’t answer the question but what I can say is that our cock sparrows are pretty much self contained and if you watch sparrows they are not particularly gregarious with any bird except their own species in fact in some ways they are very picky about a lots of things. A few minutes later a hen sparrow joined then on the same branch! Then distracted by other happenings in the garden, I looked back and they are all gone! The incident reminded me of the use of Larsen traps by game keepers. They put one crow or magpie in the trap and this attracts other birds that are then caught! The say the trapped bird is making calls in another bird’s territory and that causes the interest. Having seen stumbled over some of these traps in the past I think this could be true, but the visiting birds could also be responding to the distress calls of the already caught bird!

This year something remarkable happened in our garden. A Robin crashed into the kitchen window when a Sparrowhawk charged through the garden. Birds panic and bang, a robin drops to floor, stunned after its rather violent smash into the glass. My wife witnessed this. She was in the kitchen at the time. She went immediately to investigate and found the adult Robin on the floor, still, but breathing, stunned. She picked it up and made a gently hollow in the dry soil in the raised border just outside the window. We have learnt from experience that some birds left and kept warm will recover? It was beautiful sunny day. The Robin lay on its back legs up in the air (not a pretty sight) and my wife retired to continue with her work in the kitchen but at the same time she kept a close watch on the robin to see if it would recover. The Robin, lying on its back, eventually came round. It recovered enough to turn over. Within a few minutes another robin appeared and presented food to it. The injured bird didn’t take the offered food but the new bird dropped the food nearby and flew off. This was repeated three times. Eventually the injured bird came round and flew off. Was this the bird’s partner. Did it realise that this injured bird was in difficulty? There are so many questions!

Anyway the three foot hedge is empty now and my sparrow is with the rest of the clan, at the roost just up the road. They are grabbing a bit of shuteye or USWS to be precise!

Dawn and its pouring with rain again!!

Its not long after sunrise and the House Sparrows are still in there roost in the hedge up the road. But soon the birds will be back in the garden. The wintering Blackcaps are visiting the fat feeders. I would like to think that’s because I have gone to the trouble of making some extra special ‘home grown’ fat slabs for them. This is a speciality of the house, well actually the garden! But realIy we all know that they back because the weather has been wet and cold. By 10am there are three House Sparrows in the three foot hedge, two males and a female. Typically noisy, one of the males sits and chirrups, just reminding everybody that this is his patch and its in my patch!

The female (hen) found a feather, colour, white. This is very fortunate because I have been telling people who are engaged in our House Sparrow project, that sparrows love white feathers. I sneak to the fireplace and lean out slowly, just far enough to poke my camera round the brickwork and point it optimistically at the Sparrow with feather. The postman walking past thinks I have lost the plot! Several shots later I realise I have nothing to share with my followers but I am beginning to understand why sparrows like Hawthorn hedges, even 3 foot of them. Why? Well because House Sparrows are practically Hawthorn twig colour and very well camouflaged when sitting amongst their branches.

The female drops it and the male picks it up, considers it for a minute or two, twirls it round in his beak as if not sure which way it should be held to best effect. Then the hen takes it back before he has time to decide. So the enthusiasm and interest in this object goes on for a few more minutes before the male drops it and then carries on announcing to the world that this is his territory. So is the nest box on my wall above him and it has has been his for some time.