Number 3 Oakfield Terrace

A row of four small, wooden boxes line the wall of the house, high up just under the eaves. Each looks out over an undulating patchwork of fields, woods, houses and roads, snaking across the valleys like silver ribbons. Leaves, innumerable shades of green, coat the trees of the woods nearby, while the grass of the meadow is growing long and lush. Dotted amongst this wash of green are bright yellow dandelions, and a delicate white that looks like a dusting of snow of the hawthorn bushes. The boxes are a little worn having faced the Welsh elements for years. The paint is peeling and faded, there are cobwebs under the bottom, the wood of the roof is splitting and bowing. But it is what is on the inside that counts. A small brown bullet shoots from Number 3; a short wait and a small brown flash returns, disappearing into the dark hole. Throughout the whole day both male and female dash back and forth.

Oakfield Terrace

Many birds will nest in boxes, blue tit, great tit, robin and given the right location even pied flycatchers and redstarts. In most cases you need to space the boxes out, so that each one is within one bird’s territory in order to avoid fights. There are however some species that really don’t mind, even prefer, being close together and will nest in colonies. House sparrows are one, although they prefer loose colonies rather than being one of top of the other but you need to provide options and Oakfield Terrace does just that.

A careful squint into the box reveals a tightly woven ball of grass within its confines, with a small hole near to the entrance. Even closer inspection reveals four rather fluffy chicks.

Checking the boxes

House sparrows, a ubiquitous species that we seem to see everywhere, it feels like you cannot walk past a hedgerow, garden or house without hearing their characteristic cheeping. But this little bird, that always seems to be there, has under gone a dramatic decline in numbers, and the fight is on to understand why and to change their fortunes. Recent studies have shown that gardens are leading the fight back. Here in Wales we want to know where the birds that inhabit our garden move to; do they just stay within the confines of our garden or do they move to other gardens? Now sparrows learn quick, catch ‘em once and they ain’t gonna fall for the same trick again. Of course that means it is hard to get repeat information once you have ringed one. The solution? Colour rings. That way you can recognise individuals via the unique combination of colour rings on the leg without having to catch the bird again. So for the last few years we have been colour ringing the house sparrows in Garth, not only those caught free flying but all those raised in the nest boxes of Oakfield Terrace.

One of four colour ringed chicks

While the project is ongoing we have found that most of our house sparrows remain within the garden, with a few venturing a little further to the surrounding local area. And this kind of information is important when it comes to establishing how we conserve the population of this charming species.

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