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Bird of the Month: Sparrow

Regulars | By John McEwen | December 2017

No bird divides the experience of oldies from the young as dramatically as the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). There was a bounty of a halfpenny a bird (approximately 8p in 2017) in the Second World War, so damaging to food supplies were its numbers considered. Their rampant breeding made them for Aristotle ‘of all birds the most wanton’, also reflected in the 1940 music-hall song ‘Wot’cher Me Old Cock Sparrer’. Hence their traditional reputation as an aphrodisiac, both in their eggs and meat. Now, especially in town, house sparrow numbers have plummeted. In Paris the population has fallen by 200,000 in seventeen years. This the bird so emblematic of the city that Edith Piaf (slang for ‘sparrow’) adopted its name. The decline was famously charted by Max Nicholson, founder of today’s Worldwide Fund for Nature. As a twenty-one-year-old, in 1925, he enlisted his brother Basil to help make a complete...

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