Flanders wants you to count the birds – sparrows, specifically
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Flanders wants you to count the birds – sparrows, specifically

Photo by Lia Maaskant on Unsplash.

This weekend may be Easter weekend to most people, but it’s also ‘House Sparrow Counting Weekend’ to conservation enthusiasts at the Flemish organisation for bird protection, Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen vzw.

On 3, 4, and 5 April, the 20th edition of House Sparrow Counting Weekend will take place, wherein residents of Flanders are asked to do exactly that: count sparrows.

Last year’s count was a great success, in part due to coronavirus measures that required everyone to remain home. Counting the number of house sparrows that could be spotted from the garden added meaning to time spent enjoying the spring sunshine.

“For many families, it was a fun and fascinating activity. We received data from almost nine thousand locations,” said the organisation. They’re hoping for similar success this year.

During the Easter weekend, we’re organising our #mussentelweekend. Do you count 5 to 10 minutes of chirping sparrows, too? Marc De Bel explains how to do it. 

The count has been taking place since 2002 when a lack of data regarding the birds led Flanders to call upon its residents for help in solving the mystery of why – and how badly – the species has been declining in European cities.

“Results indicated that house sparrow populations have been decreasing in Flanders over the past decade,” a study on the annual count found. “Contrary to several other European regions, the decline appears equally strong in rural and urban areas.”

The study cites encroaching urbanisation and the reduction of green space in Flanders as a cause for the decline of house sparrows. Researchers also found that the count was helpful.

“Data collection by volunteers can be a useful approach to obtaining large-scale and long-term data in a relatively easy way, in addition to raising public awareness of the natural environment,” said the study.

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So how can people in Flanders help? Participating in House Sparrow Counting Weekend involves just three steps:

Step One: On either this Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, sit or stand outside for five to ten minutes, preferably in the morning (that’s when house sparrows are most active). It isn’t necessary to count sparrows on all three days – just one will do.

Step Two: Listen very carefully. Count how many house sparrows you hear chirping at the same time, including the ones in the neighbour’s bushes. You don’t hear any house sparrows? That’s important information, too.

Step Three: Fill in the digital counting form and answer the additional questions. The form only takes a few minutes to complete, and the information helps researchers looking to protect the dwindling population.

“You will be doing us and the house sparrow a great service,” says Vogelbescherming, adding that the saying “to measure is to know” applies well, in this case.

Some tips they offer include counting as soon as possible after sunrise when the birds are most active. In the event of bad weather (like rain, or heavy winds), it’s best to wait until it passes before trying to count.

The results of the count will be published on the organisation’s Facebook page.

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times