• Redwing
  • Whimbrel
  • Gannet
  • Dunnock
  • Chaffinch
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Spotted Flycatcher
  • Oystercatchers

How the Lundy House Sparrows Contribute to Research

Lundy’s resident population of house sparrows have been monitored by researchers for over 40 years. The Lundy Sparrow Project, although started at the University of Sheffield, has grown to be a collaborative effort, with researchers from both Imperial College and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Through close observations of these charismatic little birds, we’ve been able to better understand their lives, with researchers looking at questions such as how birds choose partners, how the dark markings on the male sparrows might affect their ability to find a mate, and how the friends they have affect their mate choice. In celebration of World Sparrow Day, PhD students who have worked on data collected from Lundy’s population have written a brief overview of how these birds are contributing to their research.

Yuheng Sun (University of Groningen)

My research has been primarily focused on ageing in wild birds. Studying ageing in wild animals is normally difficult because it is nearly impossible to track through an animal’s life to learn about their performance. However, the Lundy house sparrow population provides an ideal case for studying ageing-related questions in the wild. This is because the population is geographically isolated and immigration and emigration rates are extremely low, which allows us to track every individual throughout their life. Systematic monitoring has been running since 2000, providing sufficient data for studying ageing in this population.

My study question is what affects ageing? I am currently working on the effects of early-life environment on the decline in survival and reproductivity later in life. Initial results indicate that individuals reared in a bad environment start to decline earlier and faster, which suggests a “Silver Spoon Effect” on ageing. I am also interested in parental age effects, which can be the next question I am going to explore.

Sophie Wilkins (University of Sheffield)

My research has been primarily focused on looking at the long-term results of an introduction of mainland sparrows to the isolated Lundy population. In 1996 the number of breeding birds on the island dropped to less than 50 individuals. To improve the population’s chances of recovery, 50 birds were bought over from the mainland and released on Lundy. Through analysing the pedigree and whole genome sequencing data, I have established the impacts of this introduction on the native population.

The introduced birds that settled on the island primarily found partners among the native population, producing 43 broods within their lifetimes. By sequencing the genomes of the native and introduced birds, along with their descendants, I have compared the differences and similarities of genes in these three groups, allowing me to establish if the offspring of these introduced birds continued to survive and contribute to the overall population on Lundy.
I’ve also been investigating if this isolated population has experienced much inbreeding. Initial results suggest that the house sparrows of Lundy have maintained a low rate of inbreeding overall. Next, I will examine individual genomes to quantify the effects of inbreeding on individuals' survival and breeding success.

If you would like to know more about our sparrow research, you can read about it here.