Bring the sweet bird song back to your garden

By Dúlra

If only workmen weren’t so damned professional nowadays, our birdlife would be in better shape.
When Dúlra was a youngster, a starling nested under a slate at the left-hand side of his bedroom window, and a house sparrow nested in a gap between the gutter board and a slate at the right-hand side of the window.
That’s when tradesmen thought nothing of leaving the odd slate loose – as long as the water didn’t get in, who cared? They probably didn’t set out to help the local birds find a nesting site, but what harm if they did?
And the birds had no interest in flying into an attic. They just wanted a safe corner to protect them from the elements so they could lay their eggs and bring up a brood once a year.
Someone important along the line must have complained about these birds. Because it seems that suddenly, site foremen must have issued an edict to their workers – don’t leave any gaps – ever – between the roof and the building. Every nook must be filled.
And so these perfect homes were built. Like Dúlra’s. So you won’t have any droppings on your path for three weeks a year while there are chicks.
But you won’t have any birdsong either.
In Dúlra’s estate, that most common of birds – the one that has enjoyed such a close relationship with us over centuries that we gave it the name in both Irish and English – house sparrow, gealbhán tí – is no more.
The bond that helped this innocent, innocuous, vivacious wee bird accompany us from thatch to stone, picking up leftovers from the kitchen or seeds from the garden, chattering as our children giggled, has in many areas been broken.
We cast it out. We don’t want birds nesting in our homes. They’re unhygienic, aren’t they? And they make noise and sometimes there can be even droppings. Uughhh!
In fact, you could have a case if you made those arguments about starlings – they certainly make some noise when they are nesting outside your bedroom window – but the house sparrow is inoffensive and sociable. It should be part of our urban landscape – excluding it from our homes is like planting a flower garden and then banning bees.
So how could we get the sociable house sparrow back where it belongs?
Dúlra weighed his options. He considered taking a hammer and saw, getting a big ladder and making a hole in the facia board under the eaves. But, as you clearly know, his hands were made for a keyboard rather than a carpenter’s bench, and the roof would probably have fallen in. And so for the last few years, he’s just thrown bread into the garden every day in the forlorn hope that one day, a sparrow would appear.
Most people want the colourful finches and tits in their gardens, but Dúlra longs for a plain old sparrow.

Chattering
But this week he spotted an ad. ‘Have house sparrows vanished from your garden? This terrace nestbox will have them chattering once more…’
Dúlra couldn’t believe his eyes. These nestboxes had been developed for house sparrows only, with three separate homes with separate holes for these social birds that like to nest together! A brilliant invention! Next day it was delivered to his door.
The nesting season is over, of course, but this week the terrace of house sparrow homes is going up under the eaves. And next year, he might once again hear chirping outside his bedroom window.
St James’ Reader: Is there a bird that sounds like a machine-gun? It keeps waking me up in the morning and I think I’m under attack!
Dúlra knows what that is – because he regularly hears the same thing in his own garden. It’s a magpie – and that rattling call is as intimating to other birds as a real gun would be. Magpies are continuing to increase in numbers and it’s one of the reasons why the number of smaller birds like house sparrows has fallen.
If you have any nature questions or spotted anything interesting, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.

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