Peter James has recently completed a year-long internship with the RSPB Scotland’s Giving Nature a Home team, during which he has been heavily involved in the Glasgow House Sparrow Project. In this blog, he reflects on the importance of volunteers in the project and how its many successes demonstrate the value of citizen science in urban areas. 

Volunteers Week: The Glasgow house sparrow project

Although house sparrows remain a common species across the UK (having topped the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for 16 consecutive years) their numbers have declined dramatically since the 1970s. Research has shown that this decline is most punctuated in urban areas like Glasgow, where the population is thought to have fallen by 90% over the past 40 years.

In 2014, the Glasgow House Sparrow Project was established to better understand the species’ dramatic urban declines and support existing colonies within Greater Glasgow. As a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and RSPB Scotland, the project looked to identify the preferred habitats of urban house sparrows and implement effective conservation strategies across the city using that information.

The people power of citizen science

The project has continually looked to harness the ‘people power’ of citizen science to ensure the greatest coverage of urban house sparrows in Glasgow. Since 2014, volunteer surveyors have worked tirelessly to record the baseline population of Glasgow and monitor annual changes in breeding performance. Volunteers have also been integral in the coordination of surveying, responsible for training new surveyors, organising records and providing a link with University of Glasgow researchers.

In 2018, the project looked to increase the recording of house sparrows through the release of a web-app. Once again, volunteers made their mark in the development of this web-app, providing useful feedback and ensuring the final version was user-friendly to those of a non-academic background.

Showcasing the true power of citizen science, the efforts of volunteer surveyors and users of the project’s web app have resulted in 2700 records of house sparrows across Greater Glasgow!

Findings of the project

The substantial dataset gathered from volunteer surveyors has enabled researchers to better understand the habitat preferences of urban colonies. The main trends identified in survey records are:

  • 85% of gardens containing house sparrows had high, dense cover in the form of hedges or bushes.
  • The best hedges are those with a loose structure (those that aren’t trimmed very often).
  • House sparrows show a year-round preference for gardens containing bird feeders, particularly areas where feeders are within 1 metre of bushes.

Giving house sparrows a home in Glasgow

Using the findings of surveys and background research, the project has looked to support existing house sparrow colonies using conservation measures. Volunteers and members of the public, who have provided their time, resources and space to help give house sparrows a home in Glasgow, have been integral to the success of the project.

Nest boxes

Housing design have resulted in reduced nesting opportunities. So, over 40 nest boxes have been placed in sites across Glasgow to compensate for this. Research has shown that house sparrows prefer to have neighbours, and so nest boxes work best when clustered together.

Credit: Karen Hotopp


Hedge rows have been planted in several greenspaces across Glasgow to provide more suitable vegetative cover for colonies, ensuring that they are less vulnerable. In a couple of years, it is hoped that these hedges will ‘grow out’ to provide house sparrows with the dense cover that they seem to favour.

Credit: Peter James

Wildflower meadows 

Wildflower meadows have been planted in 10 urban greenspaces since 2014. We hope this will enhance invertebrate populations and provide a sound protein base for breeding colonies. Some of the plants included in the meadow plots will also provide seed reserves for house sparrows during the winter, ensuring that there is a greater food supply for these harsher months. 

Credit: Peter James

How you can help house sparrows in Glasgow

One of the best things about this project is that anyone can get involved in helping house sparrows – and you don’t have to sacrifice lots of time to do so! There are many simple (yet effective) ways in which you can help house sparrows in gardens and local greenspaces: whether it is scattering bird seed, letting hedges grow out, installing nest boxes or planting wildflower meadows, all of these things will help to boost the species’ presence in Glasgow and (most importantly) give nature a home in the city!


If you are still unsure as to how you can help local house sparrow colonies, why not visit our website or read this blog for inspiration.

Header image credit: Ross Macleod