Friday, 20 January 2012

High-Rise Flats?

Years ago I used to subscribe to a wonderful publication called "Vole Magazine".  Nowadays we would call it a green broadsheet since it contained well written articles on countryside issues and topics such as the "History of the Garden City". It was sponsored by Terry Jones and not affiliated to any charity or to the BBC. Though it only ran for three years, it had contributions from loads of great writers including Richard Mabey. Bill Tidy and Ralph Steadman both contributed cartoons and I can remember one in particular.

Two  country types are chatting in their front garden outside their idyllic, thatched, Cotswold cottages. One says to the other, " My, what a coincidence: I design high-rise flats for a living too." 

I was reminded of this cartoon when I looked out of the Visitor's Centre window this morning to see  no less than 11 nest boxes on one tree! What's going on there? Is it an affordable avian housing scheme?

This communal nesting installation is aimed at sub-urban sparrows that prefer a housing estate to a rural hovel. We have triple sparrow nest boxes on the building but they are too heavy to install on the trees, so we have 11 single ones, close together. It seems that sparrows are unlikely to occupy a nest box unless they have neighbours next door, and the noisier the better.

Sparrows are members of the weaver-bird family. You may have seen pictures or travelled to Africa where the Acacia trees are often festooned with their hanging nests made of grass. Living in a colony has its benefits in terms of  finding food or a mate, child care, sharing knowledge and protection from predators. It's also true that it may attract more predators and parasites.

House sparrow, male.
Until a couple of years ago, it was rare to see a sparrow near the Visitors' Centre, but there were some near the allotments. Now, as I write this I can see over a dozen of them at the bird table and these are the birds I hope will nest here.

They are Passer domesticus, the House Sparrow; quite a rare birds in some parts these days, but perhaps making a come-back. These communal nest box schemes were originally designed for tree sparrows (Passer montanus) which are much rarer birds, typically associated with traditional farmland. The best place to see them locally is at the RSPB's Ouse Washes Reserve, though we have had the odd winter sighting here.

You may feel that these nesting tower-blocks are a bit of an eye-sore, but the tree is a weeping willow and it will soon soften the view when it sprouts yellow, drooping fronds in the summer. Hopefully though, we will have something new and interesting to watch from the window this year.

If you are interested in sponsoring a nest box, you can pick up a leaflet from the centre.