Bird Watcher's General Store

Song Sparrows Fun to Have - 12/13/02


Dear Bird Folks:

A friend of mine is constantly whining about the sparrows at his bird feeder. I'm afraid to tell him that I like sparrows. The sparrow that lives in my yard is a shy, little bird. Why would he or anyone else not like sparrows?
-Janet, Dennisport

Because Janet,

You and your friend are talking about two different kinds of sparrows. There seems to be a definite lack of communication going on here. This question should probably be sent to Dr. Phil, but I'll see what I can do. If your friend doesn't like sparrows, he probably has House Sparrows. You, on the other hand, more than likely have a Song Sparrow.

Like pigeons, the imported House Sparrows, aka English Sparrows, are birds that most people don't like, except the English. But what do you expect from a country that worships tea? House Sparrows were introduced into the this country in 1851 by a guy named Nicholas Pike, no relation to Saint Nicholas or Northern Pike. There are lots of theories why old Nicholas brought over the House Sparrows. Some people think he was just homesick for England. I think buying a fog machine might have been a better choice.

Others think it had something to do with Shakespeare. Huh, Shakespeare? I'm not even going to try to figure that one out. The more probable explanation for the introduction is that many of our native birds were wiped out as cities sprang up and clear cutting took place. The loss of birds meant the loss of natural insect control, so the adaptive House Sparrows were brought in. As usual, short sighted solutions caused more problems than they solved. After a slow start, the House Sparrow population exploded and the species quickly spread throughout North America, displacing native songbirds as it went.

The Song Sparrow, on the other hand, is just like you said, Janet, a shy little bird. They can be found just about any where on Cape Cod. Song Sparrows are happy to live in fields, on the beach and in your backyard. They do come to feeders, although their shyness prevents them from being a constant presence. You can keep them coming around by tossing a little mixed seed on the ground near brush piles or thickets. House Sparrows, in comparison, will attack and ravage a bird feeder like mosquitoes on a bald guy's head.

Like their name implies, Song Sparrows like to sing. From late winter to late summer, the male can be seen on an exposed branch singing in defense of its territory. Learning the distinctive song will help you identify the Song Sparrow. Some people feel that the sparrow's song sounds like it is saying, "Hip, hip, hooray, boys! Spring is here!" I don't know who came up with that idea. Probably some bird watcher who was also the captain of the pep squad.

The House Sparrow really has no song. It only gives off a series of monotonous high pitched chirps, like a rapper who hasn't reached puberty yet.

If you have a Song Sparrow in your yard now, it will probably remain there all year. Some Song Sparrows do migrate, but many of them think migration is for cowards and stay here along with the true Cape Codders. Which is lucky for us, because even though their plumage is dull, their mousey personality makes them enjoyable to watch on a snowy winter's day.

As for House Sparrows, they are victims of their own success and population growth. Not that I'm defending House Sparrows, but most of us would even tire of cardinals if we had fifty of them fighting at our feeders 24/7.

Enjoy your Song Sparrows, Janet, like all of our native sparrows, they are fine birds and are a welcome addition to our landscape. And best of all, they have nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Artwork by Catherine Clark




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