Ganz Köln im Spatzenfieber (Saving Sparrows in Cologne)

The house sparrow population (Passer domesticus) has declined significantly in recent years. This Cologne-based ‘save the sparrows’ project involves specially devised activities and a call for citizens’ initiatives to create habitats primarily for house sparrows while ensuring that they will also benefit biodiversity as a whole.

Promoting sparrow populations

The gradual decline of the house sparrow, one of the most widespread species in the world, is the result of increased habitat loss due to land development and intensive maintenance of gardens and green areas. Given their tendency to populate areas which are also populated by humans and their minimal demands regarding habitat, sparrows can be used to illustrate environmental trends and to demonstrate easy-to-implement options to protect them.

Because the sparrow is a popular bird, people show a great readiness to become involved in measures to protect them and huge successes are being achieved with the design of near-natural green areas in housing developments. As many other native species also benefit from these initiatives, the sparrow has become something of an ambassador for more nature and increased biodiversity in cities.

Cooperation partners in implementing the house sparrow project include the Naturschutzbund Stadtverband Köln, the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland Köln, Cologne University Biology Department, Stiftung Rheinische Kulturlandschaft (Foundation for Rhineland Cultural Landscapes), Cologne Zoo, various Cologne-based waste management organisations and the Victor F. Rolff Stiftung.

Saving the sparrow

To raise awareness for the sparrow, a dedicated website provides information about the bird itself and ways to protect it. In 2016, a sparrow-themed calendar was created using the best pictures from a photographic competition along with informative text. The 4,000 calendars which were distributed proved highly popular, as has a free lending exhibition of the photos. The exhibition includes an introductory presentation on the save the sparrows project.

Using an online form, citizen scientists can report their sparrow sightings. The data is collated and used to create a map. Information on the occurrence of sparrows helps in developing targeted conservation measures. To aid this process, the Stiftung Rheinische Kulturlandschaft (Foundation for Rhineland Cultural Landscapes) provides local people who want to get involved with nesting boxes, informational flyers on sparrow conservation and bags of seeds which they can use to sow sparrow-friendly meadows.

All primary schools in Cologne were sent class-sized sets of an illustrated reading book on the world of sparrows. Project days on designing sparrow-friendly playgrounds were also held at 10 of the city’s schools. Once they had learned the theory behind the project, the children created sparrow habitats (bushes and shrubs, feeding grounds, nesting boxes and watering places) within the school grounds. Biologists at the University of Cologne used the experience gained with these activities to create a project handbook. Over the course of a year, additional sparrow habitats were created at a woodlands school (Gut Leidenhausen) and at a social housing estate in Kottenforststraße.

In future, Cologne’s zoo and botanical gardens are to have near-natural flower beds as demonstration objects for replication in private gardens and will also provide visitors with an associated flyer which lists native bushes that can be planted to make gardens more attractive for native fauna. A regular bulletin is used to inform sponsors of urban green areas about the usefulness of near-natural planted areas on public pavements. At several locations throughout the city, private initiatives plan to create yet more sparrow habitats with support from the local council. The city administration will also promote near-natural green areas and will attempt to meet biodiversity needs in its urban planning.


Stadthaus Köln

Willy-Brandt-Platz 2

50679 Köln

Opening times: 9 am to 4 pm

Contant: Betina Küchenhoff




Umwelt- und Verbraucherschutzamt der Stadt Köln; NABU Stadtverband Köln; BUND Köln; Stiftung Rheinische Kulturlandschaft; Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald; Zoo Köln

©Photo: Betina Küchenhoff
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