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Tree sparrows breed on Western Isles for the first time in 25 years

Last modified: 04 August 2011

Tree sparrow feeding on seed

Image: Andy Hay

On the British mainland it is one of the most recognisable garden birds, regularly seen at feeders and nesting in hedges, shrubs and trees.


But whilst charismatic tree sparrows might regularly be seen by the majority of the wildlife watching British public, they are almost never seen by inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides.


Now for the first time in a quarter of a century staff at RSPB Scotland have found the small brown bird that favours both suburbs and farmed and woodland areas breeding on the island of Lewis.


The species has seen a large national decline and contraction in range over the past three decades, so it was a huge surprise for RSPB Officer Martin Scott to stumble across them. “I was doing bee surveys and heard the distinctive ‘chup’ call of a Tree Sparrow”, he said. “I looked up and there was an adult feeding a juvenile on the fence in front of me! – I couldn’t believe my eyes. The general lack of trees on the islands hasn’t stopped a flock of birds from establishing a small colony.


Martin continued: “We hope to put up nest boxes in conjunction with local crofters and see if that will hold them on the islands”, said Martin. “It’s a long shot but certainly worth trying. House Sparrows here do well compared with mainland birds, so hopefully its relatives can thrive too”


In an astonishing stroke of luck whilst on his way home from his chance discovery, Martin then discovered the first ever pair of breeding sand martins on the island of Lewis.


He added: “This species normally breeds much further south and east, but recent years has seen the species re-establish breeding on Uist and now Lewis following some warm southerly winds in early spring that have enticed these Saharan migrants further north than normal.”

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