The Irishmen of Birds

John F.M. Clark looks at the changing fortunes of the house sparrow

'Where have all the sparrows gone?’, laments a recent newspaper headline. In March of this year, the Independent drew attention to the strange disappearance of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) from Britain. Two months later, the same newspaper offered a prize of £5,000 ‘for the first convincing scientific evidence for why this bird, which for so long has stood in our culture for all that is humble but hardy, is suddenly in terrible trouble’. Equally concerned by the 65 per cent decline in the house sparrow population across Britain since 1970, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has enlisted the help of the Children’s BBC to embark upon a nation-wide survey.

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