Tuesday 5 March 2013

A report from Des this morning of a male House Sparrow singing in the shrubberies near the bridge brought me out eagerly searching but, despite three tours of the area over three and a half hours, I didn't hear a cheep or see a feather. For those who don't live in Central London, and are wondering why anyone would bother to search for one of the commonest birds in the country, the answer is simple: they have simply disappeared from Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster. The population in the park was gone by 2000, which was also the last time I saw any: three, coincidentally in exactly this spot. One was seen in 2006. The nearest I have seen sparrows to the park myself was in the Portobello Road, just north of the Westway, in 2011.

No one is sure why the sparrows left, but one plausible theory is that they are sensitive to the benzene in unleaded petrol. The statistics for their disappearance and the introduction of this highly toxic fuel show a remarkable correlation, not just in London but in other places that have lost their sparrows.

Three of the Red Crested Pochards that have been hanging around the Serpentine island decided to visit the Long Water, and started behaving cutting up rough. First two males engaged in a long fight.

When a winner had been declared, he came over to join the female near the Peter Pan statue. Soon the loser turned up too, and this time it was the female who saw him off.

It would be good if this behaviour were a sign that they are thinking of breeding. The last time they did this was 2010, and one pair did manage to raise and fledge four ducklings. These beautiful birds are not originally natives, and the population is founded on escapes from ornamental collections. However, they are so well established that they are now recognised as a resident breeding species.

There were plenty of pairs of Long-Tailed Tits all over the park, rather than the large flocks typical of their winter habits.

Several Coal Tits were singing their distinctive song, faster and higher pitched than a Great Tit's and with the stress on the even-numbered notes. They sing perfect iambic pentameters again and again, with an occasional alexandrine by way of variation.

Beside the path, a Grey Heron was waiting patiently for a rat to poke its head out of the shrubbery and achieve the status of lunch.


  1. I am almost sure that Peter and I saw some house sparrows in an old-fashioned privet hedge of a row of houses alonfg the side of Wormwood Scrubs. Stupidly I did not think of telling you as I did not realise quite how rare they were in Central London. Mind you, the Scrubs is a good-sized open space and the vehicles that drive along that road are few and far between.

    1. That would be very likely. I have seen plenty of House Sparrows just the other side of Scrubs Lane, in St Mary's Cemetery, the Catholic cemetery on the west side of Kensal Green Cemetery. But at some point east of here, they are seldom found. On the other side of the sparrow-less centre, I think the nearest colony is on Tower Hill.