The Lowly Sparrow

House Sparrows might be among the most successful bird species. Originating in Europe and Asia, they were introduced to North America in 1851 by Eugene Schieffelin in an attempt to combat a caterpillar-caused tree infestation in New York City. According to lore, he was also responsible for the release of 100 European Starlings in Central Park in the early 1890s as part of the romantic effort to introduce all Shakespearean birds to the New World. Both species took one look around, and decided to stay. It is estimated that today there might be as many as 500 million house sparrows, and 200 million starlings in North America. Ironically, their declining numbers in parts of Europe have been cause for concern.

From New York City, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) conquered the majority of the North American continent, except for Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It has also spread to portions of South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A gregarious, garrulous bird, it nearly always flocks with its confrères and consoeurs. Many dislike the sparrow, consider it a pest, a rival of native species with whom it competes for food and nesting places. I am of the opinion that non-native animals and plants have always followed in the wake of human movement, and that to try to fight this reality is a battle predestined to fail.

Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

I find it hard not to be cheered by this lively, inquisitive, and intrepid little bird that weighs no more than an ounce (30 grams). Despite a limited color spectrum, its white, gray, black, and brown to reddish feathers are arranged in an attractive pattern. What its voice lacks in melodiousness, it makes up for with nearly incessant chattering and chirping. The resourceful species has thrived in many an environment, but as the name suggests, it has a tendency to stay close to human habitation. Its natural diet consists chiefly of seeds, supplemented by insects, but in reality it is an omnivore, and I worry slightly about its appetite for human junk food. Whether at backyard feeders, in city plazas, at train stations (or airports), where there is chow, sparrows abound.

Not so long ago I experienced – and enjoyed – a personal reminder of their ubiquity. While awaiting my departure from Denver International Airport last November, my husband and I were surrounded by sparrows, in the dining area, inside the terminal! They kept a close eye on the goings-on and were quick to swoop down for any sign of dropped or discarded food, fluttering from roof to floor, from floor to chair, from chair to table, from table to roof, where they must have found openings that allow in- and egress. Despite all the valid and valuable arguments against this type of scenario, I simply smiled, and clicked away with my camera.

Cheers to the omnipresent, adaptable, and always-in-a-good-mood house sparrows who have made my day more than once!

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