May 2018

Nothing Proper About the English Sparrow

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Photo by Joan Heffernan

The House Sparrow, a.k.a. English Sparrow, was imported into Brooklyn, N. Y., in 1851.

Like any decent anglophile, I’m pretty attached to all things British. What’s not to love about their polite queuing, scones and clotted cream, the royals, the BBC, a good block of Stilton and, of course, the Beatles. In fact when I am listening to the voice in my head which narrates my days, it is none other than that of David Attenborough. So it would make sense for me to embrace another export from the Motherland, the English Sparrow. But this little bird boils my blood and does not hold any affection in my heart.

The English, or house sparrow, is a brown nondescript bird which is the most common wild bird on our planet. Sparrows are very adaptable and can be found in just about any environment. They are opportunists who eat mostly seeds, and grain and nest just about everywhere including in eaves of barns, on street lamps and in crevices. Their nests are messy with layers of grasses and stems lined with feathers, and they lay 4-5 eggs in each clutch and may have several clutches a year. Now, this all does not seem that bad until you witness how they interact with our native bluebird. They compete tooth and nail for nest sites and will kill bluebirds. They will trap bluebirds in their houses and decapitate them. They destroy bluebird eggs and young too. So, when we head out back to check the bluebird houses, and we see what looks like the Guyana tragedy, not only are we heart-broken but we know that the sparrows are back at it. No wonder we are waging war on this bird, by closing up our barn, watching what we feed the birds and removing their nests from the boxes. The English sparrows do have other annoying habits such as excessive chirping, communal roosting, harassing other native birds and excessive mating (if you don’t think excessive mating is possible, carve an hour out some afternoon and watch a couple of sparrows).

A while back we needed to do some work on our dilapidated barn. As the walls were exposed we saw evidence of a huge stockpile of rotting grasses and roots thanks to generations of sparrows that set up shop in our barn. We decided to fix their wagon by sealing up the eaves in the barn making it difficult to access from the outside. One night shortly thereafter, when we were gnawing on some haggis and washing it down with cider, we realized that these crafty sparrows had found one small opening in the hay loft. They were madly coming and going with beaks full of grass and vegetation getting ready to build nests and bring more sparrows into the world. Hubby got the order to seal up the hole and by the time he climbed down the ladder, the sparrows had started to build a nest on the piece of screen that he used to block the hole. Over the next few days the nest got bigger and bigger resembling some huge tumbleweed. The excessive chirping and mating got under our skins, and we’re no Puritans.

But we were glad that they could not get in the barn, at least, and we amped up our vigilance as we checked our bluebird houses on the back forty. It’s a losing battle, but each time I spot a bluebird, I am energized to keep on the course. And, when I can’t take the English sparrows anymore, clogged arteries or not, I find that a big block of Stilton does soften the blow, but only temporarily.


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