Tree sparrow advisory sheet - RSPB

Tree sparrow advisory sheet - RSPB

Andy Hay (


Tree sparrow

This scarce relative of the house sparrow is best distinguished by its chestnut crown and black patch on the cheek.

The tree sparrow is now generally found

on river valley farmland with arable or

mixed farming systems. The Welsh

population of tree sparrows has declined,

but not as much as the entire UK

population – 95% over the past 25 years.

This decline is probably because fewer

seeds and insects are available on

farmland. Tree sparrows nest in holes in

old trees, hedges or buildings. Protecting

these nest sites is vital.


Lots of seeds

throughout the year

Adult tree sparrows feed

mainly on seeds. They seek

places where they can find

lots of seed food. Such areas

include rotational set-aside,

winter stubbles, root crops,

wildlife cover crops, weeds

in the crop margins or areas

of spilt seed (such as feeding

areas for outdoor stock).

Insects and spiders to

feed to chicks in the

spring and summer

Tree sparrow chicks are fed

on insects for the first two

weeks of life. These insects

come from a wide range of

habitats, including hedges,

crops and waterside


Holes for nesting

Tree sparrows nest in

colonies in holes in trees,

farm buildings and

nestboxes. Occasionally they

build nests in dense bushes.

It would be easy to remove

or destroy vital nesting

habitats inadvertently

without being aware of a





● Introduce arable fodder crops or small plots

of wildlife cover crops to provide a seed-rich

habitat in pastoral areas. Note that maize is

probably not of value to tree sparrows

unless it is undersown with a seed-bearing

crop such as linseed.

● Fence off margins of up to six metres around

improved grassland and leave these

unfertilised, uncut and ungrazed. Graze or

cut in September every two to three years.

Select margins that have thick hedges.


● You could ask a local birdwatcher, your

county bird club or an RSPB Volunteer

& Farmer Alliance volunteer to find the

nesting area of your tree sparrow colony.

This will ensure the colony is safe from

accidental damage.

● Maintain large thick hedges on the farm

and retain any old bushes, trees or farm

buildings that may contain nesting holes.

● Continue to manage old pollard trees and

re-pollard neglected trees, as these provide

nest sites.

● Use nestboxes to supplement the number

of nest sites. Boxes should have a 2.8 cm

diameter entrance hole and an internal box

depth of 20 cm. Tree sparrows nest in

colonies, so place several boxes on each tree,

close together and above head height.


● Only use pesticides when the infestation

exceeds the economic threshold. Try to

avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides

after 15 March. These remove beneficial

insects and spiders that move into the crops

in the spring. The loss of this food source is

particularly damaging to tree sparrows.

Unsprayed cereal, rape and linseed crops

can be funded by Tir Gofal.

● Spray and cultivate stubbles as late as

possible. This provides important winter

feeding habitat. Tir Gofal can fund

management of winter stubbles for wildlife.

● The set-aside options described below are

very important on farms where overwinter

stubbles are not a viable option.

Alternatively, wildlife cover crops can be

funded by Tir Gofal.

● Provide a food supply for tree sparrows by

creating grass margins around arable fields.

Select margins that have thick hedges. These

can be funded by Tir Gofal.


● You can provide seed food throughout the

winter at a low cost with small plots (eg one

acre) of wildlife cover crop. Establish a

seed-rich crop in the spring and maintain it

for two years. Kale and quinoa are

particularly useful components in the mix.

● The natural regeneration of rotational

set-aside provides more seed food over

winter than non-rotational set-aside.

● Delay the use of a broad-spectrum herbicide

for as long as possible. This will prolong the

benefits into the breeding season.


Each dot represents 10 km 2 . Action in

these areas would be most beneficial.

Tree sparrow possible breeding

Tree sparrow confirmed breeding

Data provided by:

The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland


British Trust for Ornithology, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club

and Irish Wildbird Conservancy.


Manage set-aside and field

margins to provide food


Don’t spray crops, so there

will be plenty of insects.

To give seed supplies

throughout the year

consider wildlife cover

crops, rotational set-aside,

winter stubbles, unsprayed

root fodder crops and

converting grass to arable.

Maintain hedgerows and put

up nestboxes so there are

plenty of places for tree

sparrows to nest.

For details of the options above,

please refer to the Tir Gofal

information pack (available

from CCW offices).

Many of these guidelines may

be funded by Tir Gofal, the

agri-environment scheme for

Wales. Get further info from:

Farming Connect, Y Lanfa,

Trefechan, Aberystwyth,

Ceredigion SY23 1AS.

Tel: 08456 000 813

Advisory Officer, The RSPB, North Wales

Office, Maes Y Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd,

Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW.

Tel: 01248 363800

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group

Cymru, Ffordd Arran, Dolgellau,

Gwynedd LL40 1LW.

Tel: 01341 421456

Sponsored by:

The Game Conservancy

Trust, Fordingbridge,

Hampshire SP6 1EF.

Tel: 01425 652381

Countryside Council for Wales,

Maes Y Ffynnon, Penrhosgarnedd,

Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DW.

Tel: 01248 385500

RSPB regd charity no 207076. Line drawing by J Busby


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