With the days growing shorter and colder, there just isn’t the time to bird after work like I could only a few weeks ago. As a result, I have fewer trip reports and even fewer pictures to keep you (that means you) interested. So I’ve taken a look at the ‘offical’ New York State Checklist and each Friday will give some of my personal experiences with each bird on the checklist I’ve seen in New York State. That being said, I had my choice start at the begining of the checklist with Geese or at the end of the checklist with the much maligned House Sparrow, as you might have been able to guess from the title I chose the later.
So when did I see my first House Sparrow? Well, I don’t remember. But these birds are your constant companion in any urban and agricultural landscape. This species is fun to watch, easy to ID and without them, think about how birdless our cities would be. Sure they have added competition to native cavity nesters such as Bluebirds, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Woodpeckers, but humans are more to blame for the loss of habitat than the increase in House Sparrow. Believe it or not, House Sparrow is actually less common now than it was 50 and especially 100 years ago. Why the decline? Who knows, perhaps their taste for fast food caused many of them to die of heart attacks, more likely however was the decrease in the use of draft animals meant less food opportunities for the birds. But the most amazing thing about these birds is their ability to adapt to anything human throw at them. The more we try to kill our own environment, the more they thrive.
If you have a bird feeder in the city, you will have these birds; lots of them to boot. These birds are great for beginers to learn about basic bird behavior. The males and females are clearly marked and it is easy to watch the social interaction between birds. Plus these birds are normally pretty active and constantly calling and if you have some bread, or better yet some McDonald’s french fries, you may become King or Queen of the House Sparrows.
Even veteran bird watchers won’t ignore a flock of these birds, those of us in the Northeast know to carefully check these birds for rare birds such as Dickcissel, who often associates with House Sparrows during winter in the Northeast. And of course when you are doing a Christmas Bird Count or Big Day, these birds count just as much as any other species.
House Sparrows certainly are not the most beautiful birds out there, and sadly they are often associated with our garbage, but if you take a look at them as birds, they are easy and fun to watch. Think about it next time you are waiting at a McDonald’s drive through.