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Starlings – beautiful, clever birds that are disappearing fast. c. Paul Barclay/TCV Scotland

We have a biodiversity crisis on our hands, and it’s shared centre stage with the climate crisis for much of COP26. And we may think most of the crisis is happening in the rainforests or oceans of the world – but it’s also happening on our doorsteps.

For example I realise that I saw two red-listed, and one amber-listed bird this morning. This means they are of high conservation concern because they are declining so sharply in the UK – disappearing before our eyes. They were starling, house sparrow and dunnock. All watched absent-mindedly from my living room window while I sat sipping my second coffee of the morning.

The starlings were perched on the telegraph wires that cross our garden, impersonating curlew, tawny owl, and dog whistlers. Not rough approximations, but perfect copies. I should have been amazed. They were silhouetted against the sky, so I couldn’t pick out their smart, purply-black speckled plumage, just their slim, almond-shaped outlines and their thorn-sharp beaks.

The house sparrows came in twos and threes, their grey and dun plumage reflecting the colours of the morning. They arrived in the hedge at the bottom of the garden and gradually worked their way up to the bird table, calling encouragement to each other. After a quick snack they moved on to see what the next garden had to offer.

The dunnock comes regularly to feed on the seeds we put out (I assume it’s the same bird). Usually ground feeders, this one seems to have learnt to avoid the easy pickings that fall from the plastic seed hopper – we have two cats. Instead it perches on the wide plastic skirt we have installed below the table to discourage our nimble grey tabby from jumping onto the platform. The bird teeters over the edge, leaning out as far as it can reach to grab a single seed. It scuttles round the rim with its prize, scanning the garden for danger before returning for another titbit.

Now I know their status I will of course look at the dunnock, the house sparrow and the starling with new appreciation – they’re threatened, they might be on their way out. But what about the other ‘common or garden’ birds – the blue tits, robins, blackbirds et al that I also see most days. Let’s make sure that we start realising the value of all our wildlife before it’s threatened – our lives, as well as theirs, depend on it.


Sue Walker