London Sparrows in Decline

BBC report

COCKNEY SPARROW, the once ubiquitous London bird, is brown bread (dead).

The cheerful chirps and twitters of the common house sparrow can no longer be heard in many parts of London, according to a new survey.

The house sparrow, or passer domesticus, is one of Britain's best-loved native birds; a gregarious creature with a penchant for dust baths and feasting on insects.

Cockney is survived by house sparrows outside the capital and wider kin such as the hedge sparrow, swamp sparrow, field sparrow and mountain sparrow.

The Cockney sobriquet came about in the 19th Century when the gregarious creature was a fixture of the capital's parks, gardens and squares.

Its first decline in numbers came between the wars, as horse transportation gave way to the motor car. The birds had enjoyed feeding on grain spilt from nosebags or undigested in dung.

The recent fall has been more drastic. There was a 59% drop in house sparrows in London between 1994 and 2000, according to the British Trust for Ornithology.

Fuelling speculation

New figures for the year 2000/01 show dramatic acceleration in the downturn - numbers fell by 25% in just 12 months.

Various theories abound, although the car has again been a target.

Expert Denis Summers-Smith speculates a chemical additive in "environmentally-friendly" lead-fuel petrol is what finally did for Cockney.

Others blame Cockney Sparrow's numerous predators, including cats, magpies and sparrowhawks; the loss of nesting places because of tidier gardens and the possibility remaining birds abandon their colonies when numbers become critically low.