Information on food habits of particular species is fundamental for the understanding of its ecology, particularly in species with an impact by human activities. Diet affects a variety of biological, physiological and behavioural characteristics, and is in turn indicative of any biodiversity and environmental changes.
Birds are recognised as excellent indicators of the state of the environment. They are often selected as bio-indicators because they are found in many habitats, are sensitive to habitat change, and they even consume a variety of food. Birds also provide numerous ecosystem services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, they act as agents of biological control and more. They can indicate deteriorating habitat quality, environmental pollution, invasive species impacts and changing climatic conditions.
The Spanish sparrow (, is perhaps the most familiar type of bird in the Maltese Islands, often found nesting in inhabited areas – ventilation holes, drain pipes, window sills and electricity poles. This bird lives in close association with man, often even depending on man for their food.
It is a norm that sparrows eat fruit, especially during the summer months, however recently, unripe loquat fruits (Eriobotrya japonica, Naspli) were found damaged by Spanish sparrows at Dingli Cliffs. Such occurrence is not normal, and may be indicative of a secondary impact caused by changing diet of this bird species.
Human activity also has a role to play in determining changes in feeding behaviour. Studies have recorded that shortage of food can cause birds to change their feeding habits. It is well-known that food scraps leftover by us is one of the main constituents of the diet of the Spanish Sparrow.
Time will tell if the recent restrictions imposed to safeguard people’s health from COVID-19 infection, may have an indirect secondary impact on the availability of food for such type of birds, considering that less people are spending time outdoors? If this is the case, farmers can face an additional challenge this summer.