Appreciation and Kindness
text and photos : Norma A. Hubbard (Dec. 2020)
When I moved from Hemmingford to an urban area, I was sad that I would not have access to all the nature I so dearly love. Nonetheless, I do have a backyard and there are some trees; not the acres of forest I once owned, yet enough space to put up my birdfeeders. Amazingly, it didn’t take long for my beloved chickadees, then cardinals, woodpeckers, juncos, finches, nuthatches, and the odd Blue Jay to find the feeders. However, at first, there were only what I used to think of as ‘city birds’, nothing too exciting to watch. These included all those little brown birds that we often see scratching in the dirt, or as my brother calls them, ‘dirt birds’. Most of my ‘dirt birds’ are sparrows, little songbirds that I have come to appreciate as they flutter around my feeders giving me joy.
There are several species of sparrows in our area: Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine); American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea); Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia); House Sparrow (Passer domesticus); Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca). There are so many sparrows, it can be difficult to tell them apart, especially as they dine and dash from the feeders. I know for sure there are House Sparrows at my feeders.
In 1851 House Sparrows were introduced into New York by travelers from Europe; now they can be found all over North America, except in far north locations, such as Alaska. House Sparrows have adapted to urban living and are more common in cities than in the countryside, so it is more likely we will see them in and around the Village, rather than in our forests. These tiny birds are quite comfortable around people. There were always a few types of sparrows around the Shire, but not as many House Sparrows as I have at my urban home.
Many birders consider House Sparrows, as a non-native species, invasive. House Sparrows are fierce competitors for territory, including nest boxes of other birds, such as bluebirds and swallows. Sparrows are opportunists and will nest in any space, taking advantage of holes in buildings, or ledges, or just about any empty space around a house. They seldom nest in trees.
House Sparrows may have clutch sizes of 1-8 eggs with up to 4 broods a season. House Sparrows sometimes build next to each other and share a nest wall, and they often reuse their nests. The oldest House Sparrow on record was almost 16 years old.
Regularly, flocks of House Sparrows will bathe together both in the water and in the dirt, known as dustbathing; hence the reason my brother calls them dirt birds. Male House Sparrows with more black are usually the most dominant in a flock. Mating males will hop and turn sideways and sometimes bow to females, while fluffing up their chests and opening their wings and tail feathers to appear larger. Males tend to dominate over females in the fall and winter, but females rule in the spring and summer.
As this year ends and we reflect upon these times we have been living, I would like to share a Cherokee legend. The story begins with an injured sparrow, unable to fly south as winter approaches. Sparrow tells his family to fly away and not to worry, he would do his best to survive the cold winter. Sparrow goes to the trees for help, asking each one in turn to give him shelter against the cold. The mighty Oak refuses and so does the sweet Maple, along with many other trees. Only Pine with the smallest leaves, just needles, offers to help. Sparrow survives the winter nestled among Pine’s branches. As all nature is considered family, Creator is disappointed in the other trees for not helping a brother and so decrees, from then on, all trees will lose their leaves each winter, except Pine, who would remain evergreen due to its kindness to Sparrow. So as winter begins, let us remember to be extra kind to each other and to appreciate what we have, rather than what we don’t have.
Sources: All About Birds, Cornell University [online]; First People, Legends, Why The Trees Lose Their Leaves-Cherokee [online]