A project to monitor one of the most common birds in Shetland has been launched in the West Side.
The house sparrow is under threat in many parts of Britain and has been added to conservationists’ “red list” of concern.
Naturalist and bird ringer Graham Uney set up the Shetland House Sparrow Project last month to monitor the species’ survival from one year to the next.
He said: “I’ve seen the house sparrow vanish from many parts of Britain, and when I moved to Shetland and found good numbers here, I knew that studying this healthy population could give us some answers as to what has gone wrong elsewhere.
“Watching and monitoring sparrow movements and survival might even reduce the risk of them becoming extinct in Shetland in the future.”
While there might seem to be little risk of this now, it has occurred in many counties throughout Britain. Sparrows used to be the most common farmland bird, but they have been extinct from a number of farms for several years. Graham said: “I worked on a farm in Suffolk where I was told thousands used to forage around the yard and grain stores. In all of my survey work on that farm, I never saw a single sparrow”. He also worked for the RSPB at their Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, and it was the same there.
Those running the Shetland House Sparrow Project believe monitoring is the first step to conserving a species and are using ringing methods to establish what percentage of the population survives on a yearly basis. A metal ring can be fitted to the bird’s leg, each ring with a code identifying that bird.
As this requires the bird to be caught again in order to read the number, an alternative to the usual metal ring is a plastic, colour ring with a code. These can be read in the field by an observer using binoculars and anybody with sparrows in their garden can help with the project by having a look and reporting to the project if they see a bird with a coloured ring.
Mr Uney added: “Each colour ring has a two digit code. The code, the colour of the ring, and the colour of the lettering are all important to identify the bird. At present all birds we catch have a black ring, with white lettering, so all we need to know is the actual code. The code can be numbers, letters, or a combination of the two. If you see a bird with one of these and can read the code, please let us know where and when, and the code itself.”
A colour-ringed house sparrow can be reported by emailing email@example.com or calling Mr Uney on (01595) 860399.
The project is supported locally by the Shetland Ringing Group, the Shetland Wildlife Fund, and the Plantiecrub Garden Centre.
Birds are only being colour ringed in Skeld, but as the project expands, you may see birds elsewhere with colour rings.
The project has a website where anyone interested can stay in touch with the latest findings.