It's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, so for this week's collective nouns blog I'm featuring one of our most familiar garden birds. Since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979, RSPB scientists have been able to identify some obvious trends in the populations of our garden birds. Some species have been much more frequent visitors to our gardens, such as long-tailed tits, goldfinches, great spotted woodpeckers and woodpigeons. Others, however, have become worryingly scarce, with song thrush now barely featuring in the top 20 and greenfinch and chaffinch showing recent big declines. Even the top two species, house sparrow and starling, have declined considerably.

In fact, this huge decline in house sparrow populations makes two of their collective nouns seem almost redundant. It's certainly been a long time since a ubiquity of sparrows could be really said to apply. Where once house sparrows would have occurred in flocks throughout towns, cities and countryside, they are now completely absent from many areas, especially in southern and eastern England.

Similarly, many people would be hard pushed to find a host of sparrows, as that term also suggests a large, noisy group.

While neither of those terms seems to fit the bill (sorry!) any more, the third collective noun does still apply. Wherever you do still find a large group of sparrows, there is no doubt that a quarrel of sparrows is a good description. Many is the time I've walked past a thick garden hedge and heard the distinctive chatter of a large flock of sparrows, sounding much like the noisy chatter of school children at break time.

In fact, this collective noun is also widely used for that other once widespread but declining garden bird, the starling. A quarrel of starlings is perhaps even more apt, and I love nothing more than watching "my" starlings quarrelling over the feeders.

If you haven't had a chance to do your count yet then don't worry. The Big Garden Birdwatch continues tomorrow, so why not sit, watch and count your garden birds whilst enjoying your morning cuppa. You can find out more and submit your sightings at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch 

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