Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Report from USA on Sparrow Decline and How One Man Learned to Love the 'Dirt Bird'

Al Clark, The Daily Reflector

Sparrow Decline

In addition to the pollen, some of us might have noticed during these early spring days small brown birds flittering into scraggly nests stuffed behind the letters of the grocery store sign, or swirling near the ceiling at the large garden center store or grabbing a French fry in the McDonald’s parking lot.

Some of my colleagues here have told me how they find these birds annoying and unsettling: “They freak me out,” is how one put it. Another one is bothered by their dinosaur-like feet. My wife, too, is not exactly a fan, mainly since one landed in her hair once at the St. Louis Zoo.

Now I’m not exactly a “bird nerd,” although some who know me might call me a “near bird nerd,” but I have to say that these creatures are not my favorites. When I see them I have dismissed them with little thought, and certainly without the admiration that follows the sighting of a bluebird or cardinal.

I’m speaking of the common house sparrow — one of that group I once called “dirt birds” because of their seemingly drab brown features. But this week I have learned more about these nearly anonymous creatures — most notably the fact that they are disappearing.

This past Tuesday — the first day of spring — was also World Sparrow Day, so proclaimed by a group known as the Nature Forever Society, an organization with international roots. This is the third year of this endeavor created to call attention to conservation in general and specifically the sparrow’s decline worldwide with the hope that the trend can be reversed.

But if they’re so annoying, why bother? Well, for one thing a closer look at the house sparrow reveals intricate markings and subtle coloration, but also these birds have long been closely associated with humans — living near us, depending upon us for food and nesting sites and in places around the world it is even considered a good omen if one nests in or around your home.

One Nature Forever conservationist suggests if we can’t save the house sparrow, whose lives play out among us and around us, how can we expect to save the world’s other threatened but far more hidden and elusive creatures?

The reasons for the sparrows’ worldwide decline are not totally understood, but include shrinking food sources and fewer nesting sites, changes in agricultural practices and the use of pesticides and fertilizers and the unknown but likely effect of steadily increasing microwave pollution from cellphone towers.

The poor birds have a lot of windmills to tilt against, maybe too many. But my attitude toward them has changed.

Not long ago a single sparrow found my feeder at the end of the day. Finding a seed there, he lingered a moment to eat. As I watched him, silhouetted against the plainness of my backyard, mine was a gift given and accepted. After this week I can more readily accept this bird’s presence as its gift to me in return — apparently now rarer and more precious than I knew.

Al Clark is executive editor of The Daily Reflector. Contact him at or at 252-329-9560.

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