photo by nottsexminer (Flickr CC)Sparrows are the most widely distributed bird in the world and found virtually everywhere. They are endemic to most of Europe and much of Asia, but have been spread around the world by human intervention.

House sparrows originate in the Middle East and are known for their habit of often nesting on houses and other buildings and even inside large structures like factories and barns.

Though house sparrows exhibit a fondness for – or at least a tendency to take advantage of – man made constructions, some aspects of human civilization are in fact detrimental to their health.

Research has shown that sparrow chicks in cities have a tougher time staying alive.

Though sparrow chicks who grow up in a quiet environment have an already slim chance of survival (25%), those living in noisy situations have an even harder time – a survival rate 4% less. And those that survive in noisy environments tend to weigh less than their counterparts from quiet habitats.

One study suggests that the noises of industrial civilization, mainly loud machinery, affect sparrows in negative ways, sometimes even contributing to their deaths.

Co-author of the University of Sheffield study, Julia Schroeder, is quoted by the BBC:

In our case, we saw that the birds did not feed the chicks as well as the birds in the quiet area – this was a novel idea that had not been shown before. Obviously, chick provision is strongly linked to chick survival because if they do not get fat then they die.

Between the mid 1970s and 2008 the sparrow population in the UK declined by 71%, especially in urban areas.

Another University of Sheffield study showed that robins were singing to each other at night in order to avoid daytime urban noise. So our feather friends can adapt to noisy humans, but how well?

For more on the story see this piece in Discover Magazine.