There is a tree in my garden that is quite literally alive with sound. As I write this, even with the window closed tight, I can hear it calling. There’s a loud and busy cacophony of chirps and chirrs emerging from the branches. The tree chatters non-stop from dawn to dusk, a natural alarm clock and a constant reminder of nature’s presence.
But trees can't sing can they? Okay, you’ve got me: the culprits of the sound are quite often hidden away among the prickles and berries. But who are these champion chirpers that find refuge in the holly tree?
House Sparrows, lots and lots of House Sparrows. The sparrows are calling in what is known as a flock call: it helps keep the group together and also highlights the availability of food to other members. These cheery birds have come to feed in the garden on the tasty selection of food we provide. They enjoy feeding on the seeds feeders and scraps dropped on the floor by the other birds.
Sparrows are a social birds, so there’s a fair amount of them that visit the garden. Mainly females, they drop down from the holly tree and queue up for the rich pickings. I’ve tried to count them, but it’s damn tricky. They’re such a busy and lively bird, always hopping and flitting around. There can be as many as ten, even fifteen or more of them feeding at once: so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s many more in the tree. With this behaviour, it’s no surprise sparrows are often associated with human habitation and even human characteristics:
‘a sharp-eyed, quick witted exploiter…relies at all seasons of operating in gangs’ (Max Nicholson as quoted in Birds Brittanica)
I never tire of watching or listening to the sparrows. Admittedly their calling isn’t tuneful: it’s high-pitched and monotonous, but lively none-the-less. A few years ago, the tree never sang, but now it doesn’t stop, and that’s certainly a good thing. The sparrow has seen a decline of 67% since 1969 and is considered a red list species. In London, they have declined by ¾ between 1992 and 2000. Hard to imagine as they seem such a common sight, but a shocking and mysterious decline. I’m glad therefore that providing food in my garden has helped at least one population thrive. Why not provide food in your garden too and help your trees sing too?