Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 161–178 | Cite as

Analysing Population Numbers of the House Sparrow in the Netherlands With a Matrix Model and Suggestions for Conservation Measures

  • Chris Klok
  • Remko Holtkamp
  • Rob van Apeldoorn
  • Marcel E. Visser
  • Lia Hemerik


The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), formerly a common bird species, has shown a rapid decline in Western Europe over recent decades. In The Netherlands, its decline is apparent from 1990 onwards. Many causes for this decline have been suggested that all decrease the vital rates, i.e. survival and reproduction, but their actual impact remains unknown. Although the House Sparrow has been dominant in The Netherlands, data on life history characteristics for this bird species are scarce: data on reproduction are non-existent, and here we first present survival estimates based on live encounters and dead recoveries of marked individuals over the period 1976–2003, 14 years before and 14 years during the decline, reported to the Dutch Ringing Centre. We show that there is an indication that both juvenile and adult survival are lower during the period of decline.

Secondly, to be able to analyse the relative impact of changes in the vital rates, we formulated a general matrix model based on a range of survival values between zero and one with a step size of 0.01 (both juvenile and adult yearly survival) and a range of realistic reproduction values (one, three or five fledglings per pair per year). With the matrix model, we calculated the finite rate of population change (λ) and applied elasticity analysis. To diagnose the cause of the decline in the Dutch House Sparrow, we parameterised the model with estimates of survival values before and during the decline and present the resulting λ. With the survival estimates from the declining period, λ < 1 only if reproduction is relatively low. We discuss this result within the light of available literature data on survival in the House Sparrow. Finally, we evaluate which of the suggested causes of population decline should be reversed to mitigate the decline and how this can be achieved.

Key Words:

conservation MARK matrix model survival 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agresti, A. (1990). Categorical Data Analysis. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Beissinger, S.R. and M.I. Westphal (1998). On the use of demographic models of population viability in endangered species management. Journal of Wildlife Management 62: 821–841.Google Scholar
  3. Benton, T.G. and A. Grant (1996). How to keep fit in the real world: Elasticity analyses and selection pressures on life histories in a variable environment. American Naturalist 147: 115–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergtold, W.H. (1921). The English sparrow (Passer domesticus) and the motor vehicle. Auk 38: 244–250.Google Scholar
  5. Bressers, M., E. Meelis, P. Haccou and M. Kruk (1991). When did it really start or stop: The impact of censored observations on the analysis of duration. Behavioural Processes 23: 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brownie, C., D.R. Anderson, K.P. Burnham and D.S. Robson (1985). Statistical inference from band recovery data – a handbook, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C., US Fish and Wildlife Service.Google Scholar
  7. Buijs, R.J. and D.L. Thomson (2001). Van 1911 tot en met 2000: Een overzicht van geringde en teruggemelde vogels in Nederland. Op Het Vinkentouw 95: 1–88.Google Scholar
  8. Burnham, K.P. (1993). A theory for combined analysis of ringrecovery and recapture data. In: J.D Lebreton and P.M. North (eds.), Marked Individuals in the Study of Bird Populations. pp. 199–213. Basel, Switzerland, Birkhauser Verlag.Google Scholar
  9. Burnham, K.P. and D.R. Anderson (2001). Kullback-Leibler information as a basis for strong inference in ecological studies. Wildlife Research 28: 111–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burnham, K.P. and D.R. Anderson (2002). Model Selection and Inference: a Practical Information-Theoretic Approach. Springer, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Caswell, H. (2001). Matrix Population Models, 2nd edition. Sinauer Assiociates, Inc, Massachusetts, Sunderland.Google Scholar
  12. Caswell, H., R.J. Naiman and R. Morin (1984). Evaluating the consequences of reproduction in complex salmonid life cycles. Aquaculture 43: 123–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Charlesworth, B. (1980). Evolution in Age-Structured Populations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  14. Churcher, P.P. and J.H. Lawton (1987). Predation by domestic cats in an English village. Journal of Zoology London 212: 439–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Claessen, D. (2005). Alternative life-history pathways and the elasticity of stochastic matrix models. American Naturalist 165: E27–E35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooch, F. and G.White (2005). Program MARK A Gentle Introduction. 4th edition.
  17. Cramp, S. and C.M. Perrins (1994). Passer domesticus House Sparrow. In: S. Cramp and C.M. Perrins (eds.), The Handbook of the birds of Europe and the Middle East and North Africa; part VIII: Crows to Finches. pp. 289–308.Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  18. Crawley, M.J. (1993). GLIM for Ecologists. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.Google Scholar
  19. Crick, H.Q.P., R.A. Robinson, G.F. Appleton, N.A. Clark and A.D. Rickard (2003). Investigation into the Causes of the Decline of Starlings and House Sparrows in Great Britain. DEFRA Publications, London.Google Scholar
  20. Crouse, D.T., L.B. Crowder and H. Caswell (1987). A stage-based population model for loggerhead sea turtles and implications for conservation. Ecology 68: 1412–1423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Deckert, G. (1969). Zur Ethologie und Ökologie des Haussperlings (Passer domesticus (L)). Beitrage zur Vogelkunde 15:1–84.Google Scholar
  22. Doak, D.F., K. Gross and W.F. Morris (2005). Understanding and predicting the effects of sparse data on demographic analyses. Ecology 86: 1154–1163.Google Scholar
  23. Doak, D.F., P. Kareiva and B. Kleptka (1994). Modeling population viability for the desert tortoise in the western Mojave Desert. Ecological Applications 4: 446–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dyer, M.I., J. Pinowski and B. Pinowska (1977). Population dynamics. In: J. Pinowski and S.C. Kandeigh (eds.), Granivourous Birds in Ecosystems, pp. 53–105. University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  25. Freeman, S.N. and H.Q.P. Crick (2002). Population dynamics of House Sparrows Passer domesticus breeding in Britain: an integrated analysis. In: H.Q.P. Crick, R.A. Robinson, G.F. Appleton, N.A. Clark and A.D. Rickard (eds.), Investigation into the Causes of the Decline of Starlings and House Sparrows in Great Britain. BTO Research Report No 290. pp. 193–212Bristol, DEFRA.Google Scholar
  26. Gibbons, D.W., W.J.B. Reid and R.A. Chapman (1993). The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland: 1988–1991. Carlton, Poyser.Google Scholar
  27. Gramet, P. (1948). Investigations on the feeding habits of the House Sparrow Passer domesticus and the Tree sparrow Passer montanus. Danish Review of Game Biology 1: 1–59.Google Scholar
  28. Gregory, R.D., D.G. Noble and J. Custance (2004). The state of play of farmland birds: population trends and conservation status of lowland farmbirds in the United Kingdom. Ibis 146 (Suppl. 2).Google Scholar
  29. Heij, C.J. (1985). Comparative ecology of the House Sparrow Passer domesticus in rural, suburban and urban situations. Thesis, Free University of Amsterdam. 175 pp.Google Scholar
  30. Heij, C.J. (2001). Mussen in de knel. Natura 3:76–78 (in Dutch).Google Scholar
  31. Heppell, S.S., H. Caswell and L.B. Crowder (1995). Life histories and elasticity patterns: perturbation analysis for species with minimal demographic data. Ecology 81: 654–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hole, D.G. (2002). Adult and first-year survival in the house sparrow Passer domesticus. In: H.Q.P. Crick, R.A. Robinson, G.F. Appleton, N.A Clark and A.D. Rickard (eds.), Investigation into the Causes of the Decline of Starlings and House Sparrows in Great Britain. pp. 157–161. British Trust for Ornithology Research Report No 290. Bristol, DEFRA.Google Scholar
  33. Hole, D.G., M.J. Whittingham, R.B. Bradbury, G.Q.A. Anderson, P.L.M. Lee, J.D. Wilson and J.R. Krebs (2002). Widespread local house-sparrow extinctions. Nature 418: 931–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kipps, C. (1953). Sold for a Farthing. London.Google Scholar
  35. Kjellen, N. and G. Roos (2000). Population trends in Swedish raptors demonstrated by migration counts at Falsterbo, Sweden 1942–97. Bird Study 47: 195–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kroon, H. de, A. Plaisier, J. van Groenendael and H. Caswell (1986). Elasticity: the relative contribution of demographic parameters to population growth rate. Ecology 67: 1427–1431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lack, D. (1986). The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. Carlton, Poyser.Google Scholar
  38. Lebreton, J.D. and J. Clobert. (1991). Bird population dynamics, management, and conservation: the role of mathematical modelling. In: C.M. Perrins, J.D. Lebreton and G.J.M. Hirons (eds.), Bird Population Studies: Relevance to Conservation and Management. pp 105–125. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  39. Lebreton, J.D., K.P. Burnham, J. Colbert and D.R. Anderson (1992). Modelling survival and testing biological hypotheses using marked animals: a unified approach with case studies. Ecological Monographs 62: 67–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marchant, J.H., R. Hudson, S.P. Carter and P.A. Whittington (1990). Population Trends in British Breeding Birds. British Trust for Ornitohology, Tring, England.Google Scholar
  41. Morris, W.F. and D.F. Doak (2004). Buffering of life histories against environmental stochasticity: Accounting for a spurious correlation between the variabilities of vital rates and their contributions to fitness. American Naturalist 163: 579–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Newton, I. (2004). The recent declines of farmland bird populations in Britain: an appraisal of causal factors and conservation actions. Ibis 146: 579–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peach, W.J., G.M. Siriwardena, and R.D. Gregory (1999). Long-term changes in over-winter survival; rates explain the decline of reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 36: 798–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Robinson, R.A. and W.J. Sutherland (2002). Post-war changes in arable farming and biodiversity in Great Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 39: 157–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Saether, B.-E. and O. Bakke 2000. Avian life history variation and contribution of demographic traits to the population growth rate. Ecology 81: 642–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Saether, B.-E, T.H. Ringsby, O. Bakke and E.J. Solber (1999). Spatial and temporal variation in demography of a House Sparrow metapopulation. Journal of Animal Ecology 68: 628–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Seel, D.C. (1968a). Breeding seasons of the House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow Passer spp. at Oxford. Ibis 110:129–144.Google Scholar
  48. Seel, D.C. (1968b). Clutch-size, incubation and hatching success in the House Sparrow Passer spp. at Oxford. Ibis 111: 270–282.Google Scholar
  49. Seel, D.C. (1970). Nestling survival and nestling weights in the House Sparrow and tree sparrow Passer spp. at Oxford. Ibis 112: 1–14.Google Scholar
  50. Silvertown, J. and D. Charlesworth (2001). Introduction to Plant Population Biology. 4th ed. Oxford, Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Siriwardena, G.M., S.R. Baillie, S.T. Buckland, R.M. Fewster, J.H. Marchant and J.H. Willson (1998). Trends in the abundance of farmland birds: a quantitative comparison of smoothed Common Bird Indices. Journal of Applied Ecology 35: 24–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Siriwardena, G.M., S.R. Baillie and J.H. Willson (1999). Temporal variation in the annual survival rates of six granivorous birds with contrasting population trends. Ibis 141: 621–636.Google Scholar
  53. Summers-Smith, J.D. (1956). Mortality of the House Sparrow. Bird Study 3: 265–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Summers-Smith, J.D. (1963). The House Sparrow. Collins, London.Google Scholar
  55. Summers-Smith, J.D. (1988). The Sparrows. Carlton, Poyser.Google Scholar
  56. Summers-Smith, J.D. (1999). Current status of the House Sparrow in Britain. British Wildlife 10: 381–386.Google Scholar
  57. Summers-Smith, J.D. (2000). Decline of House Sparrow in large towns. British Birds 93: 256–257.Google Scholar
  58. Tuljapurkar, S.D. (1990). Population dynamics in variable environments. Springer-Verlag, New York, USA.Google Scholar
  59. Van der Hoeven, N., L. Hemerik and P.A. Jansen (2005). Balancing statistics and ecology: lumping: experimental data for model selection In: T.A.C. Reydon and L. Hemerik (eds.), Current Themes in Theoretical Biology: A Dutch Perspective, Springer, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  60. Van Noordwijk, A.J., G. Speek, J.A. Clark, Z. Rohde and R.D. Wassenaar (2003). The EURING exchange code 2000. Journal of Ornithology 144: 479–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vidal, A. (1997). Bestandsentwickling der brutvogel in der kultuurlandschaft nordlich Regensburg. Ornithologischer Anzeiger 36: 185–196.Google Scholar
  62. White, G.C. and K.P. Burnham (1999). Program MARK: survival estimation from populations of marked animals. Bird Study 46 (Suppl.): 120–138.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Klok
    • 1
  • Remko Holtkamp
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rob van Apeldoorn
    • 4
  • Marcel E. Visser
    • 5
  • Lia Hemerik
    • 2
  1. 1.ALTERRA, Department of Ecology and EnvironmentWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Biometris, Department of Mathematical and Statistical MethodsWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Innovation and Environmental Sciences Copernicus InstituteUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.ALTERRA, Department of Ecology and SocietyWageningenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)Centre for Terrestrial EcologyHeterenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations