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Attempt to save declining sparrows

PUBLISHED: 09:33 17 February 2009 | UPDATED: 07:58 01 August 2010

A SUFFOLK farm is at the centre of a last-ditch bid to conserve the area's largest breeding colony of rare tree sparrows.

Graham Sayer and his 14-year-old son Aaron have been working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust to try to boost numbers of the birds at their home at Flixton, near Bungay.

A FLIXTON farm is at the centre of a last-ditch bid to conserve the area's largest breeding colony of rare tree sparrows.

Graham Sayer and his 14-year-old son Aaron have been working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust to try to boost numbers of the birds at their home near Bungay.

With support from the trust's Steve Piotrowski, the pair are providing much-needed bed and breakfast for the tree sparrows by putting up nest boxes and providing them with food.

The Sayers' farm is home to nine breeding pairs of the birds, making it east Suffolk's largest breeding colony.

Tree sparrows have suffered a 96pc decline in numbers since the 1970s and Mr Piotrowski says there are only about 12 such colonies left in Suffolk - and about the same in Norfolk.

The decline has occurred at the same time as a decrease in the numbers of other farmland birds which share the tree sparrow's diet of grass, wildflower seeds and some cereal grains. Components of agricultural intensification are also likely to have contributed.

It is the first year of the trust's tree sparrow survey which

will involve working with landowners to identify flocks and put up nest boxes.

Mr Piotrowski, who heads the trust's survey, said the Sayers' home provided an ideal location. "This is a bit of an oasis in an arable desert," he said. "Aaron and his dad have been feeding the birds all year round and have made nest boxes for them.

"We hope, by preserving this little haven we can focus on the birds that are left. This is a last-ditch effort, but we may already be too late."

To mark National Nest Box Week this week, Aaron and Mr Piotrowski put up a triple tree sparrow nest box.

Mr Piotrowski is urging people to keep a lookout for the birds around their homes.

Tree sparrows are smaller than a house sparrow and have a chestnut brown crown and nape, and white cheeks and collar with a distinctive black cheek spot. They are shyer than house sparrows and both sexes are identical.

Tree sparrows nest in holes in trees, thatched buildings and old orchards, but readily take to nest boxes. They form loose local colonies and where these are supported with nest boxes and ample seed supplies, local populations can be stable and increasing.

Suffolk's remaining tree sparrow colonies are generally in mixed farming areas with access to small wetland patches and artificial nest sites or old/pollard trees. However, there are others which thrive in isolated gardens, surviving solely on supplementary feeding.

To report tree sparrow sightings, call the Suffolk Wildlife Trust on 01473 890089.

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