Wednesday, November 21, 2007

House Sparrow enlightenment

Bob Levy, fellow Central Park chronicler [Club George: The diary of a Central Park Birdwatcher] has sent in the above photo and an essay about the universally unappreciated House Sparrow:

Some one pointed out something in this photo of a House Sparrow I had never noticed before. You need to enlarge the image to see it for yourself. The tips of the feathers on the birds bib are gray while the balance is black. Over the next few months those gray tips will wear away leaving the familiar deep black bib of the male House Sparrow we recognize in the mating season.

House Sparrows intrigue me for a number of reasons not the least of which is the history of how they came to be here. About 100 birds were first transported from England which accounts for why they are sometimes called English Sparrows. This flock was released in Brooklyn, New York in the fall of 1851 spring of 1852 according to The Birds of North America: House Sparrow, No.12, 1992. In 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names, Diana Wells says that these sparrows had been imported to control the population of a certain though unnamed caterpillar. Some of the new arrivals were transported to other parts of the US. Subsequently more were brought from Europe and in a surprisingly short time House Sparrows had spread over about half of North America. A public debate about the possible extermination of the species initiated by feuding ornithologists got so heated says Diana Wells that it came to be called the "Sparrow War." Though still a controversial subject among birders the outcome of that conflict is obvious: House Sparrow have survived and thrived to become as ubiquitous as a bird can be.

The specimen pictured is a fellow who frequents the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park. He recognizes my whistle meant to summon two Northern Cardinals of long acquaintance I call Mama and Papa Castle. The House Sparrow knows my whistling means a peanut is about to be released into the local environs and more often than not beats the cardinals to the free lunch intended for them. But hey, I am an equal opportunity bird feeder. "Bon appetite," House Sparrow.