For the Birds Radio Program: Starlings and House Sparrows

Original Air Date: Feb. 22, 2005 Rerun Dates: July 13, 2007; July 20, 2006; Feb. 28, 2006; Aug. 29, 2005

Laura talks about a recent news story about European Starlings and House Sparrows, which are gaining some legal protections in Britain even as Canada Geese there are losing protections.

Duration: 3′59″


Here in North America, where one serious problem facing native wildlife and plants is the plague of invasive exotic species, it’s hard to believe that House Sparrows and European Starlings could be anything but pests. Actually, I have a soft spot for both species, especially House Sparrows, which gathered in the bushes below my bedroom window when I was a little girl. Their happy cheepings at bedtime gave me a lovely comforting feeling. But ecologically, these two cavity nesters have caused serious, even devastating problems for some native birds, especially bluebirds, Prothonotary Warblers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, flickers, and other wonderful species that can’t match a sparrow or starling’s aggressiveness.

But where they are native, House Sparrows and starlings are actually in trouble, and so farmers and landowners are no longer going to be allowed to shoot them, according to a February 11 article in The London Times. One of their correspondents writes, “Until now the two species have been exempted from a blanket ban on harming wild birds if they could be considered a pest. But both have been placed on the “red list” of species most at risk of extinction and will gain extra protection starting next month.”

Here in America, Canada Geese are a game species, and except in special circumstances can only be killed by hunters with a valid federal Goose Stamp as well as a state license. But in Great Britain, where they’ve been introduced, ther droppings are blamed for causing a serious environmental nuisance in parks. And so they are to lose protection at the same time the House Sparrow and starling gain it. Ten more species, including crows, some gulls, rooks, and starlings, will also lose protection where they are thought to pose a risk to aircraft safety.

In Britain, the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 protects all wild birds, but the law allows licenses to be issued for certain species to be killed where they are a pest.

Some general licenses allow landowners to destroy certain birds. The House Sparrow and starling will now be removed from that list. Anyone who believes such birds are causing a problem—for example, destroying crops or nesting in a restaurant—will have to seek permission to get rid of them.

Officials will then visit and try to find a way to solve the problem without killing the birds, although shooting will remain a possibility.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds welcomed the “long overdue” move to protect the species but criticized the failure to include other endangered birds.

A spokesman said, “We are disappointed that the opportunity to remove other species (from the list) has been missed: jackdaw and rook where evidence of damage to agriculture is unconvincing; and Herring Gull which ahs declined by nearly 50 percent in recent years.” “We have always held concerns that general licenses permit the killing of wild birds when they are not causing serious damage and when alternatives to lethal control are readily available and effective.”

And that’s today’s Birds in the News. You can find a link to the original Times Online article, and links to other related websites, as well as a transcript o today’s For the Birds at