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A Bird in Hand

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Photo by Nathan Rupert, used under Creative Commons. Photo by Nathan Rupert, used under Creative Commons.

Cockroaches, house sparrows and the Apocalypse

Humanity’s days are numbered. Sometime in the future, tomorrow or years yet to come, this world will end. Whether a stray comet, a virulent pandemic, or the Second Coming, an apocalypse is inevitable. And what will survive? What organisms will continue on to seed the globe with new life? Undoubtedly two of the most indomitable animal species on earth: cockroaches and house sparrows. Life will continue. Hey, where’s my bug spray?

 The house sparrow, formerly the English house sparrow, is the bird that will survive, even thrive, after the Apocalypse. This specie is virtually invincible. It prospers in more parts of the world than any other avian specie, in areas as diverse as Alaska from South Africa. It is so dominating that even the hallowed Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology—the high priests of all things related to birds—recommend that people actively “discourage [them] from breeding in nest boxes.” Why? House sparrows are so aggressive and successful, that they tend to push out and dominate native species. And you thought white males were the source of all evil in this world! 

The house sparrow is probably the first bird most children ever see. It loves urban areas; any place where people are. Its chatter is the stock of most people’s experiences with birds, from Paris to Djibouti to Buenos Aires. Perhaps that is its only endearing quality. It provides avian life to even the most polluted city environment. If the house sparrow cannot live in a particular city, no bird can. I bet they are the dominate bird variety in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. 

How can a person separate the house sparrow from native species? This is not too difficult if you look for the field marks. The male house sparrow is marked by a gray and brown head, a black beak, and a distinctive black chin and bib. The breast is white to drab gray and the back and tail are brown. Indeed, brown is the dominate color associated with these birds. 

The females might be a bit more difficult to identify as they can resemble other sparrow species. She is brown and gray, with a faint yellowish eye stripe that flows toward the back of the head. The female is probably best identified by its association with the male, as these birds of feather tend to flock together. If you can conclusively identify a male, any females hanging about him will also be house sparrows. These folks do not celebrate diversity. 

So how do you stop house sparrows from taking over your backyard? Good question. I do not have a single solution. Perhaps this is a problem that will require your own research to answer. For me, I use the alphabet method, which has never failed. The most important letters with this solution are “B” and “B.” As in BB. You know, BB gun. Works every time. Now, I am not heartless. Once these lowbrows begin to breed I leave them alone. But, until that happens I am on the prowl. For house sparrows, my backyard is a no-fly zone. 

House sparrows, love or hate ‘em. It is hard to be neutral. By encouraging them, we ensure the demise of native species. But to expand the breeding success of native species, we need to discourage the reproduction of house sparrows. You pick. But I assure you, you probably won’t like either choice. But until you make up your mind, happy birding!

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Author info

Michael Turnlund Michael Turnlund is a Sandpoint resident who teaches at Clark Fork High School. An avid birder, he's happy to share his knowledge of the area's avian wildlife

Tagged as:

birding, apocalypse, house sparrow, English house sparrow

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