Monday 29 January 2018

Tree Sparrow Project

This is a summary of  my new Tree Sparrow project.
I discuss the development, preparation and siting of the nest boxes followed by my monitoring effort last year 2017. Though the results were disappointing, I am looking forward to the new breeding season.

The last time Tree Sparrows were monitored in the Tywi meadows around Dryslwyn was in 2008. Lying between Llandeilo and Carmarthen this part of the Tywi valley is absolutely stunning. I was encouraged to take on this project over two years ago but it wasn't until January last year that I felt the time was right to explore what was involved and what I needed to do to get this exciting project off the ground. We held our AGM in February and all members of the Teifi Ringing Group gave me their full support. Whilst I am a Teifi Ringing Group member I actually live only 6 miles away from the Tywi meadows which is very convenient.

In any project, permission is required from the land owners if you are going to work on their land. I therefore needed to find out who these owners were. When Tree Sparrows were being monitored up to the period of 2008 Isabel Macho the Biodiversity Officer of Carmarthen Council was involved in that project, so I felt a meeting with her was the way to proceed. I already knew Isabel from a previous project and knew she is very helpful. 

I managed to get permission to work on the land of three farmers and the fourth was land belonging to a residential property. All four sites border the River Tywi which is important during the breeding season and is discussed further in the Press Release below.

The picture above shows some of the boxes I made ready to be erected with the help of Chris Jones and Wendy James from the Teifi Ringing Group. BBC Radio Wales presenter Rachael Garside who presents "Good Morning Wales" and "Country Focus" took the picture above when she came to interview me about the Tree Sparrow project which went on air on 4th April.
 From the wood donated by LBS Building Merchants in Llandeilo I manufactured  66 boxes for the 4 sites, there were a further 16 boxes that I found left over from when the project was run before. From these I was able to repair 9 of them giving me a total of 76 to erect. All boxes were up and ready for monitoring from the second week of April.

Box number 1 at Ro-Fawr on one of the weekly checks made on all 76 boxes over the 4 sites. Thanks for the photo Dawn Jay

Press release
LBS Builders Merchants are helping a local British Trust for Ornithology volunteer to provide nesting boxes for one of the country's rarest breeding birds. The Tree Sparrow may be mistaken for its more common cousin the House Sparrow (Tree Sparrows have a distinctive brown cap and black spot on their cheeks) but the Tywi Valley now appears to host the largest population in Wales of this" red-listed" species.
The Tree Sparrows do not wander far from the valley floodplain. Here around the still or slow-flowing water found on the floodplain they can find the preferred insects that adults feed to their young during the summer. Nest boxes at key sites will benefit the Tree Sparrows, helping to supplement their preferred nesting sites in tree cavities, and provide a good opportunity to ring and monitor the birds. The project is being run by Charlie Sargent, who is a member of the Teifi Ringing group and a licensed bird ringer.
Outside the breeding season, Tree Sparrows are dependant on seeds for food. Today natural sources of seed are less common and local residents in the Tywi Valley who feed the birds are helping the population survive through the winter.
The Council's Biodiversity officer Isabel Macho said "often the action required to help a species is not complicated - here the generosity of LBS, by supplying material for nest boxes, will enable new and replacement boxes to be erected which will help ensure that this key population survives in the Tywi valley."
BTO Welsh Officer Kelvin Jones said "this is an excellent example of local communities working together for the benefit of our wildlife, not only for this generation but for the next"
If you ever see a Tree Sparrow please e-mail

These three pictures above were taken in May when the river levels were perfect and Little Ringed Plovers could be seen on the shingle banks pairing up and no doubt were going to breed. Sand Martins were also in and out of the nests in the river banks.

What difference a couple of weeks can make. The beginning of June last year brought torrential rain for a few days. The result was water rising over the river banks and flooding the fields. All the Little Ringed Plover nests were washed away. Any Ground nesting birds in the river meadows had their nests destroyed and there was only one high  bank I could see where the river had not flooded into Sand Martin holes. My nest boxes were not flooded but access was very precarious.

Throughout the  nest box monitoring period it became apparent that the results for the year were going to be disappointing as the results in the table show. There were two boxes occupied by Tree Sparrows and 26 boxes occupied by Tits, 2 Great Tit and 24 Blue Tit. However the Tree Sparrow boxes failed and 16 Tit boxes failed, some nests not even being completed.

Twyi boxes 2017 occupation













Not used




25 boxes

21 boxes

13 boxes

17 boxes

- All tits

- 16 tits,
2 Tree

Not used

76 boxes

There were probably three main reasons for this:-

1. The season got off to a late start because permission had to be sought, boxes had to be made and erected. In particular Tree Sparrows can have 3 broods a year, prospect early and probably had already found suitable nesting sites.

2. It was noticeable that both Tree Sparrows nested in old nest boxes and most of the Tits did the same. Hopefully now that the boxes have weathered for a year prospecting birds will use more boxes than last year.

3. Talking to others who run similar Tree Sparrow projects the feeling is that it is not unusual to have a poor first year and this could have been predicted. We hope to have a better nesting season this year, 2018.

Since the season ended I have talked to many people expressing the need for seed to supplement the Tree Sparrows food over the winter months. I am delighted to report that the Carmarthen Bird Club have made a generous donation of 6 large sacks of Red Millet and towards the end of the year a second donation of another 6 sacks. They also promised an annual donation of 6 sacks for the future.
Residents on 3 of my 4  nest box monitoring sites feed Tree Sparrows in their own gardens and at their own expense, this is another excellent source of food for birds during the winter months. Tree Sparrows have been seen on residents feeders by myself and other ringers when helping to check the boxes on numerous occasions.

An example of one of the old boxes on the left and a new box on the right. The old box had a nest part made but unfortunately later abandoned. The new box remained empty for the full season

Finally I tried two boxes closer together having learnt earlier in the year that sometimes a pair of Tree Sparrows will occupy both boxes over the full season. No luck other than Blue Tit in the right hand box.

If any readers have any comments to move this new project forward I would love to hear them.


  1. I run a nest box scheme in an Abergavenny wòod and found that nest boxes to be taken up in number in the first year have to have been put up by December/ January. You will get some results as you have, and the main thing is now that they are up, (well done !). I am certain this year will be great for you. I have had,as well as Tits pied and spotted flycatcher in mine. Some results are on my twitter here @kenvisionbirds if you would like to look. Looking forward to your news this year. Ken

  2. Thanks Ken. I do hope you are right and this season gets me on the way. I suspected new boxes may have been a problem and also erecting them a little late. I was looking for the results on your twitter account but could not locate it. I will start checking my boxes probably the 2nd week in April and make this a weekly event thereafter. How does this fit in with what you do. Would you mind if I occasionally make contact if I have something of interest to say.
    Thanks for your comment, always nice to know there are like-minded people about. Just one thing, on one of my TS sites the land owner told me today that he saw one Tree Sparrow on his feeders on the 14th and 28th February. Charlie


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