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House Sparrow in shrub

A jaunty male House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, peers at your blogger from the thorny depths of a Multiflora Rose bush. His bright, inquisitive chirps gave him away, and I paused to admire him.

I know that House Sparrows are much despised. There's no need to lecture me on their propensity for destroying bluebird nests and comandeering that gentle thrush's home. I still like them.

When I was a little kid, and largely confined to home and its immediate environs, I watched House Sparrows a lot. The males, especially, are quite striking and were they great rarities, we would all ooh and aah over them.

But it was their personalities that I mostly admired, and still do. For an animal that is so intimately tied to people and our offal, good ole Passer domesticus seems to know of our inherent dangers and keeps a respectful distance. It's as if they don't trust us, in spite of being completely in our debt. You'll never run across House Sparrows in the wilderness, far from our inhabitations.

And whether we want to admit it or not, the House Sparrow probably has one of the highest IQ's in the bird world. They've figured out how to hang upside down and extract suet from woodpecker feeders. They know where the warm sheltered buildingside thickets are, to make a frosty winter night more bearable. House Sparrows can live in the subterranean depths of coal mines, never seeing the light of day. They've figured out how to survive in massive box stores - a fitting mascot for Walmart - roosting in the rafters and dropping to the floor for a Cleanup in Aisle 6!

And they're wary and uncannily clever. How many road-killed House Sparrows do you see? And try sneaking up on a pack of them sometime. Bet you don't get very close.

I'd be tempted to say that the House Sparrow is an avian cockroach, destined to survive Armageddon and outlast us all. But unfortunately for the sparrow, its fortunes are intimately linked to ours, and as we go, so goes it. Developing that relationship is probably the only mistake it has ever made.


I like the House Sparrows too. Without them my garden wouldn't be nearly as lively. I would miss seeing the Cooper's Hawk from time to time if they didn't announce its visit. Or the neighbors cats that stroll through the garden. They are becoming rare in the UK. I wish I could send a large flock ot them back over there. I often wonder if it is like the canary in the mine syndrome. A little scary when they can't survive.
Shina Willson said…
very informative and interesting blog.
Thanks for sharing:-)
pambirds said…
I didn't realize house sparrows could live in caves - interesting. They do love the big box stores. I've seen them in Home Depot or Lowes, making holes in bags of bird seed and eating it.
Jim McCormac said…
Yes! An excellent observation, Pam! Thuggish house sparrows breaking into and ripping off the bird seed right at the source! I said they were smart!
Scott Namestnik said…
Nice post, Jim. It is difficult for me to hate the bird... it didn't introduce itself into North America...

My only disdain for the species is a result of what you mention in your second-to-last paragraph. Counting feeder birds can be a real pain when there is a subdivision of House Sparrows present, as any noise, movement or breath will send the House Sparrows (and subsequently all other species) into a seemingly panicked departure.
Randy Kreager said…
I have always found them to be a strikingly handsome bird!
Cathy said…
Nature writing at its best.

To take our common little House Sparrow and spin this engaging piece, is . . well,
simply delightful.


I'll stop now, but really . . . :-)
Jim McCormac said…
Thanks all for the nice comments. I, and the sparrows, appreciate it!
Danielle said…
My first bird of the new year was a male house sparrow in a Wal-Mart, apparently with a taste for blood, because he was pecking at some cuts of meat...maybe he just hadn't found where they kept the seed yet, and that is not the sign of a coming slaughter...
Birding is Fun! said…
The Boise Idaho Airport has an indoor family of House Sparrows on concourse B. They often flit down to the drinking fountain for a sip.
Danusha Goska said…
I hate house sparrows, because of what they do to native birds like blue birds, but I loved your blog. Thanks.

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