Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GRATEFUL OBLIGATION

I’m apparently one of the few bird enthusiasts who doesn’t mind house sparrows…which is the more correct name for what everyone usually calls an “English” sparrow. In fact, I’ll go a step farther and come right out and say I rather like these jaunty little birds. A few years back, health and related circumstances pretty much confined me to spending a summer at the condo where I then lived. Outdoor time meant taking Moon the dog on short walks, or sprawling on a chaise longue on the small rear patio. A weathered board privacy fence divided this postage-sized concrete pad from those of the neighbors. I had a few flowers in pots and a swath of grass 18 inches wide and 10 feet long on either side of a single stepping stone—my “walk”—separating the patio from the blacktop parking lot and the garages beyond. A paltry bit of greenery which sufficed for a yard. It was a horrible plight for a fellow who usually spent most of his time afield—fishing, camping, hiking, traveling, and taking photographs—then writing about his adventures afterwards. I would have spent more time feeling sorry for myself if I hadn’t been so busy struggling to live…and grateful when each new day dawned and I turned out to still be around. One of the real pleasures that year was a pair of house sparrows who decided to nest in a box I’d affixed to the patio fence. As the weeks progressed, those dooryard sparrows and I grew close. The jaunty little birds became relaxed to my presence—going about their daily business with only an occasional speculative glance in my direction. The male tamed to where he’d pluck at leftover sandwich crumbs from the table at my elbow. Or sip from the dog’s water bowl sitting inches from my feet—even extending his trust to the point of hopping within a foot of Moon’s recumbent form when she stretched out on the patio to cool her belly on the concrete. House sparrows are monogamous. Their strong pair-bond commitment is established for the long haul, not just a breeding season fling. Moreover, they seem to enjoy each other’s company. Often they’d take time from feeding and housekeeping chores to chirrup back and forth, as if in intimate conversation, or regularly preening and nuzzling like Parisian lovers atop the fence. I watched how the couple tirelessly fed their young, from dawn to dusk, hustling all the way—taking turns bringing the newly hatched youngsters a running smorgasbord of tidbits. Everything from seeds and bits of grain, to worms and bugs of all sorts and sizes. Occasionally the male would perch atop the cedar fence and sing a few bars of his familiar, albeit simplistic and somewhat unmusical, song. And I thought him quite handsome in his gray cap and lighter undercarriage, brown back streaked with black, black chin, throat, and bib, white cheeks, and especially the rich chestnut bordering his crown and extending down the back of his neck. House sparrows are not natives. A hundred or so were brought to this country and released in Brooklyn in the fall of 1851. Historical immigrants, just like most of us…which I think the bird’s detractors too easily overlook. They like to live around us, even with us, preferring the human company of cities, suburbs, farmlands. No wide open spaces or endless dark forests, but dooryard birds who want to be part of the family. If they happen to be a little on the messy, noisy, and occasionally temperamental side…so what? We are, too. In truth, the house sparrow population worldwide appears to be dwindling, though no one seems to know why. And I can’t help but wonder if our lack of concern, the missing urgency necessary to solve the mystery and, if possible, reverse its course, isn’t rooted in the disrespect so often shown this ubiquitous species. Personally, I’ll continue to defend them, feed them, and enjoy them—because I’ve come to know them. They provided company, amusement…and something awfully close to friendship when they trusted and allowed me to be such a close observer of their life and world during a summer when mine seemed to be filled with darkness and despair. I appreciated it then and I'm grateful still today.

24 comments:

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I love house sparrows too. The way they chirrup and play, (I wonder if that fits into Solitary Walker's recent blogging theme of play?), chasing each other around, always seems cheerful. Sometimes there seem to be dozens of them in a large bush all chirping madly at once - a real raucous racket - but I love it!

I'm glad you've got a lovely environment now and your health - and more house sparrows!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I'm pleased you also lite these jaunty little birds. I have no problems whatsoever with house sparrows. In fact, I seldom have many around—even at the winter feeders. A handful or two at the most; certainly not enough to get all bent out of shape about.

I think they'd fit exactly into Solitary's recent blog theme.

And thank you, too, for the health and home comment. I'm grateful beyond words for all I do now have. Whenever I get to wishing for more, I look around and hope God will overlook my grumblings, given all my current blessings.

Photos 01 said...

to me, birds are birds. They breathe air and they feel pain. They deserve to be protected as much as possible. I really don't like sparrows that much because they are so common. (Yet, I love to photography the common flower.) But that's it. I believe we would rather call sparrows "weeds." Yet they have a right to live as much as any other living creature.

Sydney said...

I like sparrows too - hey they are super smart -- they know they're cute and the alight right on any cafe table in every city I'm in to get a bit of my bread. I have even held a crumb in my hand and they hop over (charmingly so) and take it right from my fingers. They are small, much smaller than Grackles or Pidgeons who might want the same bread, but they are quick and bold. I respect them.

Thanks so much for your comments on my blog and for following! And you are dead right, I think you and my father would have liked each other.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Photos…

Yes, they are common—feathered peasants; like the street urchins in a Dicken's novel. But they're survivors, and seem to behave to an avian code of ethics. They're brash and noisy and tousled—which is maybe too close to my own undignified self for comfort, but lets me understand the milieu completely.

And you know what they say about weeds…that they're just wildflowers lacking a good press agent. :-)

I like a lot of weeds, too.

Lynne said...

Don't turn me in but I like them too. They're cheerful twittery song makes me smile. They're one of the few yardbirds that stay through our nasty Minnesota winters. That sturdy quality reminds me of makes me an admirer.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sydney…

I always get a kick out of feeding and watching café sparrows. And have you noticed…there are now sparrows inside a lot of malls? They'll also share your sandwich crumbs.

I meant what I said. Your dad sounds like a great outdoorsman and a dandy guy. I'd say he had a good balance in life, too—though I know nothing other than what you wrote there about him. But he sounded to me like a pretty fine man.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

Hey, I'll not give your dirty little secret away. Especially not since you're about to hie yourself off to a birding festival. But now, really…there's just you and me here and I won't tell anyone…didn't it feel kinda good to sneak out of the closet and confess your suppressed fondness for house sparrows?

Deb said...

It's a shame that in our society it's perfectly acceptable to value some forms of life more than others. I admire house sparrows, rock pigeons, and starlings for their adaptability, but even so I still catch myself saying things like "it's JUST a house sparrow!" And I think the war on "invasive" non-native species is a bit misguided. Thanks for reminding me to be grateful for life in all its wonderful forms.

Lynne said...

OK. I was a bit liberating.
Just don't let it get out that I think grackles are pretty too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Deb…

If I were the ranting type (being Irish, I am sometimes…and sometimes I just want to lop off heads and be done with yammering) I could go on a real tear about how we only like things that please us or do things for us. No house sparrow ever asked to be imported. No, dandelion, or honeybee, or carp, brown trout, or…well, I don't have to tell you. Especially coming from us, an invasive species if ever there was one!

Ironic, to say the least.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

Won't tell a soul…they are pretty; bullies, but pretty bullies.

KGMom said...

It wasn't until I began reading various blogs that I learned how territorial and aggressive house sparrows are. Prior to that, I thought of them as cute perky little birds. SO, now I am educated--but confess to the same weakness (if it is that) that you have written of.
If only they didn't drive out bluebirds.
I suspect if some in the birding community learn of your tolerance, they will happily ship truckloads of house sparrows to you.
Glad you came through whatever laid you low several years ago. Always good to survive, no?

The Solitary Walker said...

I used not to 'see' sparrows as they were so common and brash. Now I appreciate them - especially since they are not quite as common as they used to be in some parts of the country.

Funnily enough, I was thinking about sparrows just before I read your post - and only yesterday observed one closely from our front room window as it perched and chirruped on the top of the hedge. House sparrows are nesting under the eaves again - and I welcome them.

I love Bob Dylan's lines: 'I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man/Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand' from his song 'Every Grain Of Sand'.

Play on, sparrows!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I've read those blogs—too many, frankly—and simply see their intolerance as bigotry in disguise. I know all about the "bad" habits of house sparrows. And I don't say those habits aren't true. I also like bluebirds, and if I lived to where I had the sort of habitat handy for installing and watching bluebird boxes, I'd put them up. And I'd be mightily hacked if a house sparrow came along and ran my invited bluebirds off.

But I'd be similarly angry if the offending culprit was a cowbird. And when it comes to being a threat to many species—particularly various neotropical species—cowbirds are worse than sparrows. Some birders also despise cowbirds—though seldom to the degree they despise house sparrows. Isn't this bigotry-by-origin, or provincial bigotry, cowbirds being natives and all?

Nope, I've watched those house sparrows care for one another and their young, watched them defend their nests. I admire looks and their pluck. "They have their ways…" as some of the countryfolk put it. But I can't dislike them simply because they behave like sparrows.

I rarely saw a house sparrow here throughout the winter feedings. When they did appear it was 5–10 and they stayed no more than a half hour. Right now there are perhaps a half-dozen in the yard, poking about the seeds and grain along with about that many chipping sparrows, a field sparrow or two, and at least one song sparrow. The house sparrows are behaving.

Survival is indeed good…up to a point. Not, however, at any cost. However, I'm satisfied with the terms I received and am grateful to be around.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Play on, indeed! When we reach that day where we fail to find value in such things as sparrows—when we see only the bad in things and never the good—then the human race has truly washed up on an ignominious shore.

I'm not surprised you welcome sparrows, for I think you've learned—and strive—to listen closely to the throb and mewl of life.

Personally, I'll cast my lot with the sparrows…and those who appreciate them.

gleaner said...

Sparrows are totally absent here now - haven't seen any for years. Although our common house sparrows were slightly different to the one in your photo - ours were all varying shades of light brown.
I love wagtails, they too are common.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gleaner…

I don't see large flocks of sparrows here anymore. Not too long ago it wasn't uncommon to see flocks of 50-100 birds; now, 5-20…and quite honestly, I can remember when I the last time I actually saw 20 at once, even behind the feed store where they always hang around the sacks of grain in a big shed.

The times they are a'changin'.

giggles said...

Well, I learned something new today.... I'll go a bit easier on them...but they.are.not.allowed.to.nest.in.the.bluebird.boxes! And .that.is.that!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hey, a bluebird nest-box guard's gotta do what a bluebird nest-box guard's gotta do. I didn't say you couldn't rout 'em out of a nest box…just don't disparage them for being (and acting like) sparrows.

The Weaver of Grass said...

A delightful post Scribe - I too think that the house sparrow is much maligned - if a cat catches one people tend to say "Oh it's only a sparrow" as though that is not as bad as if it were a goldfinch, say.
Because we have hens which roam freely through our meadows, we also have lots of sparrows - attracted by the corn we scatter. I love the noise they make when they gather in the holly tree in our veggie garden - it is deafening. They seem so full of life.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Amen to that! They are lively, boisterous birds.

Over here, of course, besides saying, "Oh, it's just a sparrow…" we can also be additionally derogatory by say, "Oh, they're just an invasive species," as if the sparrows "invaded" us instead of us bringing them over. Not that it makes a difference in terms of their life value.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

First, thanks SO much for visiting me at my place. And your heart-felt comment is much appreciated. And also, your black tea was getting cold. :-)

I am amazed at the sparrows that enjoy our back deck and are rarely scared off by us. In fact,like you said they seem to appreciate being part of our family.

I read with keen interest the reasons why and how you came to love the sparrow. I am equally glad, no more glad, that your darkness came to 'light'.

I first came to know of the habits and joy of the humming bird a few summers ago after a 'set-back' with my illness. They were and are a source of great joy and healing for me. I wsa pretty much home-bound as I fought back to wholeness and they were my "Broadway Show".....so close I could almost touch them.

I also like/love that you are where you are now - in your cottage at the river surrounded by all things great and small - alive with hope.

Love Gail
peace...........

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

You've obviously been there and know first-hand how much such a small thing as a bird can come to mean to your days…and your life.

Don't worry…I'll return for more visits, and likely be mouthy as ever.

Do take care of yourself…