Saturday, 24 September 2011
House Sparrow: Pest or Friend?
The answer to the question partly depends upon whether the House Sparrow is native or introduced, although people all around the world are learning to appreciate the House Sparrow as another admirable species with an array of tenacious survival skills.
In the USA, the House Sparrow is often regarded as "a foreign European invader" having first been introduced in 1851 on the East Coast. Releases of breeding pairs took place throughout the 19th Century across the nation and by 1910 House Sparrows were thriving in California.
While they enjoyed popularity in the 19th Century, they are now often seen as unwanted competition with Native American birds, such as Bluebirds, who share the same diet and habitat. The House Sparrow is sometimes blamed for reducing the food supply and availability of nesting sites native birds used to enjoy.
Many accounts of the House Sparrow written for American audiences suggest ways to control and decrease their populations. Traps are often promoted as an effective control, but they run the risk of killing native birds. Organisations, such as the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology, list other ways such as not feeding or providing nest sites for them.
While they are considered pests in the USA, the House Sparrows is looked more kindly upon in their native countries such as the United Kingdom and India where their populations are currently in decline. The House Sparrow is on the endangered species red-list in the United Kingdom where it enjoys legal protection against hunting, trapping and the destruction of nests.
House Sparrows can be considered as friends when their familiar chatter reminds people of 'home'.
House Sparrows do not migrate and their daily appearances throughout the winter provide a source of entertainment and event in an otherwise dull season in residential gardens, particularly in the United Kingdom where winters can be harsh and only a few birds remain to battle through the storms.
They also draw admiration for their nesting determination and raising of up to three broods a year. Adult pairs are often seen as 'heroes' for the way they marshall the increasing flock during hectic breeding and fledgling seasons.
When they leave urban areas for weeks to a month after the fledglings can fend for themselves, they are often missed and people look forward to their return.
And when they do not return, people look for ways to entice them back. When they were nearly eliminated in China under Mao's government because they were seen as pests that destroyed food crops for people, farmers found their crops had been destroyed by the insects the House Sparrows kept under control. They were reintroduced.
If the House Sparrow does not respond to current efforts to increase native populations, the solution might be to import breeding pairs from the United States, a solution that just might make everyone happy!!
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (www.rspb.org)
Introduced Summary Project, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus