Sparrows on Parade for World Sparrow Day

Male_Sparrow_2-17-13

Gazing above.

Whether painted or photographed for posterity, House Sparrows will be with us for a long time to come. But, I really hope the worldwide sparrow disappearance gets solved for the sake of birds everywhere.  The little brown bird gets a big showing, but when?

Sparrow_On_Monarda

That’s my story and I’m STICKING with it.

On World Sparrow Day, and it is coming up on March 20th, a day celebrated to raise awareness about the decline of the House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.

SparrowWC

Look before you leap.

In a month, people the world over exchange conservation ideas which could lead to a better understanding of the worldwide sparrow loss. Plus, finding out a cause might protect other birds in the future from the same or similar fate.

MaleSparrowBowing

Taking a nose dive.

I know some of you have expressed extreme dislike for this particular bird. In fact, many look at House Sparrows (HOSP) as worthless, bothersome and damaging. There is certainly no shortage of reasons why either.

  • The HOSPs attack and kill bluebirds in a gruesome manner.
  • They destroy eggs and young too.
  • Native birds like Chickadees abandon nest boxes simply by being harassed by the HOSP.
  • A HOSP flock near nest boxes can cause premature fledging of other songbirds.
  • They damage crops, and create unsanitary conditions for grain storage.
  • They can spread disease.
  • They can overwhelm bird feeders by driving other species away, but I don’t find that here as a rule.
Sparrow_In_Snow

Lone sparrow.

They do many things that makes humans wish for their demise, unfortunately. There are many less sparrowcidal theories as to why they are disappearing though.

Noise

One recent study has proposed that urban noise could be blamed on affecting the parent birds’ ability to communicate with its young. This correlates how often the chicks will be fed. The findings did show that birds living in quiet areas were fed more than those in noisier environments.

It made a connection with fledgling size and even birds making it to that stage. They made note of underweight and undersized birds.

SparrowFeeder

Scary looking sparrow at the feeder. Another oddity?

ScarySparrow

Had to prove this is a sparrow.

Sparrows like city gardens.

Another study revealed that House Sparrows prefer gardens even over park green space in urban environments. This is because gardens have shrubby cover, while the majority of parks have more open area for recreation of people.

SparrowWC

Grabbing at straws.

But as seen above, this preferred city living is actually detrimental to the HOSPs raising young.

Other reasons include, fewer insects needed for the young, urban predators such as feral cats and limited nesting sites. Did you know that it is estimated that cats kill over one billion songbirds a year? High estimates have it at 3.7 billion.

CoySparrow

Give me a wink.

Insect decline is very telling.

With a warming Earth, cities are getting hotter too. Studies have shown plants are ranging northward in our country due to increased temperatures, but not as of yet are the insects that feed on them. They do not coincide in this slow but sure migration.

Warming introduces new plant species to existing habitats, and throws out of sync the eat or be eaten scenario. Some studies postulate that the newly invasive species will be winning the battle of survival against the native plants for the simple reason of taste. The native plants will be muscled out by plants not having predators consume them. Less native plants – equals less native insects – which equals less birds that feed on them.

Female_Sparrow_On_White

Sorry, no can do.

A changing cycle equals a negative result if predicted correctly. To read more on this, see my post, W4W Weathering – The Big Resolve. It discusses native plant threat in detail.

Could this be the undoing of urban sparrows? While not immediate or a cause even specific to the sparrow, I add this to the discussion on sparrow decline.

Here is the State of Birds 2010 Report of Climate Change. It is a downloadable PDF.

Since urban areas are so heavily paved, there is little space for native plants to grow, and those that do, get treated for removal in many cities. This is to keep down rodents and insects, and to keep circulation routes visibly clear and safe.

House Sparrows prefer to nest in, on, or near our buildings which is a reason they populate cities.  So where does this food shortage for young birds leave the sparrows or any other songbird for that matter?

FemaleSparrow

Hey, over here.

Plant gardeners, plant.

It is up to property owners to plant to create pesticide free habitats for both birds and the insects that they feed their young, and hope that nature resolves the problems of which it is faced. Thoughtful landscaping is all any homeowner can do to help nature help itself.

GoldSparrow

Leucistic Sparrow – would we miss this beauty if sparrows were gone?

Large property owners can leave a portion untouched in a natural state, maybe adding more understory plants at the perimeter to woodlands and meadows. They can plant hedgerows for nesting and winter shelter.  Many species of birds will benefit.

sparrowfest

Sparrow Fest, no shortage of them here!

Pesticides and cell phones?

The HOSP’s alarming decline has been blamed on everything from gardeners’ pesticide use to mobile phone towers. These two theories seem plausible as contributing factors, but again, would be a detriment to all birds.

4Sparrows

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay.

What’s eating sparrows?

Other reports claim that birds of prey are to blame for the 65 per cent fall in Britain’s sparrows since the 1970s. They cite sparrowhawks and magpies as two birds killing off sparrows. This one seems a bit questionable, even with an increase in raptors after the ban of DDT.

TwoSparrows

Incoming!

So they did a study with fake predators.

They artificially tested sparrows with recorded predator sounds to come to a conclusion. The “mere threat of a predator to sparrows being exposed to predator sounds has sparrows literally scared into decline” was the theory. They did find that the tested sparrows spent more time in safe places (hiding), consumed less food (by venturing out less), and decreased offspring production (by not searching for mates).

Surprising? I think not. They had the sparrows scared to live normally. But wouldn’t all birds fear the same predation?

sparrowsfeeder-2

Outta the way, bub.

Environmental degradation.

Poor planning and use of our urban environments, such as the increase of urban structures, scarcity of street trees, air pollution from vehicular travel, and temperature increases from excess paving, all play into bird loss in general. Again, no surprise.

How about the top 20 birds in decline?  Three New World Sparrows made the list.

sparrow_on_RoseBush

The roses are gone.

Drug them out of existence.

I believe many of the noted factors play into the decline of the sparrow, but I am also suspect of the drug DiazaCon that was once used to curb reproduction in the bird and help reduce populations in cities.

“Diazacon was later studied as a reproductive inhibitor for use in control of pest birds. It was thought that since eggs contain cholesterol, lowering cholesterol might inhibit reproduction. More importantly, 20,25 diazacholesterol may have the ability to block production of hormones necessary for reproduction such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Tests showed 20,25 diazacosterol to be effective in reducing reproduction in pigeons, blackbirds, starlings, and sparrows.” (source)

I was sent this link from Emily at Adventuresinbeeland’s Blog to a video The Great Sparrow Mystery. It is narrated and produced by Julian Pettifer for The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Here is the main link.

Likely, there are many causes for decline, but just as likely there is a major catalyst for the spiral downward. One has to question this because, like the study on predation, population decline would be affecting more species of songbird if blamed solely on environmental triggers or conditions. There has to be something specific or endemic to the House Sparrow that is being overlooked or missed.

SparrowFlight

Are you scared for wildlife?

Each day between 150 and 200 species go extinct, according to the UN Environment Program. Does this shock you? It does me and to consider, we as a species will be on that list someday. It only depends on how hurriedly we up our chances as to when.

4Sparrows_on_Log

Hey, there’s no corners here.

That is around 15% of mammal species and 11% of bird species of which are classified as threatened with extinction. It would not surprise me to see sparrows lost to us in time. Seeing a variety of songbirds adds joy to any garden. The insects add life and adventure. What will it take to have humans worldwide take stock in what this world has to offer and appreciate the diversity as a gift?

Humans take creatures like the sparrow for granted, maligned beings we deem as a nuisance, critters we try to eliminate, birds that had bounty on their heads. Will we appreciate them when they are gone or appreciate that they are gone?

So what can you do?

Well, you can add your opinion here. You can add your ideas in the comments, positive or negative on the plight of the House Sparrow, (an OLD WORLD SPARROW ).

We can gather them all and hope they are seen by those that can make a difference. Who knows, even the HOSP’s negative traits might get some attention and solution.

You can also look to the environmentalist in each of us and show we care, sparrow, bluebird, tree swallow, cardinal, blue jay…

SparrowMale

Life is complicated.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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68 Responses to Sparrows on Parade for World Sparrow Day

  1. Incredible research on Sparrows!!!! Beautiful post, Donna!!!
    🙂

  2. Christy says:

    Hi Donna….I believe every creature has a purpose. It is appalling to me that we are letting (or causing) species to go extinct. Take Cheetas for example…there used to be over 100,000 in the wild and now there are less than 12,000. You are right, humans will be on the list someday. Are sparrows my favorite bird….no, but they bring me pleasure when I hear them chirping away in the bushes. I have so many different types of birds in my yard and I really don’t think sparrows out number any other type of bird. They all seem to live in harmony!!

    • I too believe all creatures that were put here have a purpose. It is sad, but humans are earning their place on that list. Humans upset biodiversity and then get the job of recognizing their mistake. Rarely do humans fix a problem, but add a band-aide solution to a situation what just prolongs it for a later time. Often compounding it with additional problems. I have been following Monsanto’s genetically modified foods and seed infused with Glysophate (Roundup). Talk about a big can of worms.GMO fed rats getting tumors from eating the corn? http://rt.com/news/monsanto-rats-tumor-france-531/ Sure the modified foods were meant to increase food production and help countries in need, but the ‘side effects’?

  3. Pat says:

    Very informative post.

  4. I wasn’t aware of all this information about sparrows or that they are in decline. As you say if it is just them in particular, then it is a mystery. But it’s no mystery why songbirds are declining as a whole.

    • When science investigates loss of one species, it is very telling on the future of others. They uncover so many possible causes, and ones that are so prevalent and obvious to most. Habitat loss happens daily, so no surprise that science notices. Pesticides kill and that too is no surprise. There never is going to be a stop to what people are doing to the environment or to using and eliminating other species. It grows and grows, just like global warming, a forward progress.

  5. I didn’t know the house sparrow population is declining. Thank you for the great information. I love the illustrations. The pictures are great, and my favorite photo is the sparrow balancing on an upright stick.

  6. Beautiful Captures – I love when they give you that pissed, stared down look – ha! Happy Friday:)

  7. Emily Heath says:

    Glad you found the video useful. I love the scary black headed sparrow and of course the sparrows all perched on the snowy tree.

    • The video is popular, with most viewing the high def version on the RSPB site. Thanks for sending it my way. I really enjoyed it. They do need to make a more recent video though. This was from 2008, no? I had no idea that was a sparrow until I saw the rest of the photos. Something was wrong with it as all the feathers were soaked. In our cold weather, it will likely not live.

  8. This is a very informative post about sparrows where you connect very well content and images, I love your drawings as well!

  9. alesiablogs says:

    Donna,
    We are seeing decline all around us. There are questions that seem to have no real answer, but your post here is absolutely amazing with your photos and than your research leads us to believe we need to work hard on finding answers. Maybe we are not meant to understand it all. I get that, but there is so much as humans we can do to be better to our forests and the animals etc we live with on this earth. I hate it when I see more houses being built and the trees cuts down. It has decreased my animal wildlife around my home by 50% in the last 10 years.

  10. Excellent post, very well researched. I looked at the list of 20 birds in decline, and it struck me that quite a few were grassland or wetland and aquatic birds. I would think that loss of habitat would be a leading cause of decline for all of these. I was surprised to see grackles on the list, and I am surprised to learn that House Sparrows are in decline. Both are still plentiful in my garden. I think that other than supporting pro-environment candidates and organizations, you are right that all of us who own even small suburban and city plots can and should do much to create habitat that supports insects and birds (and you can’t have the latter without the former).

    • Grackles surprised me somewhat, because I have been seeing fewer and fewer each progressing year. When I design large properties, my clients know my stand on leaving some natural. Most are worldly enough to know the importance, plus they enjoy the wildlife visits. Keeping the animals out of the ornamental beds is always the challenge though.

  11. Helene says:

    Thank you for yet another very informative post, I have learned so much! The film from RSPB was very interesting too, as I live in London. Incidentally, I have 3-4 sparrows in my garden, they live in my tall conifer and have now finally found out where I keep my sunflower seeds! They still don’t eat the seed mix (very expensive one from RSPB!), but the wood pigeons are munching away on them so I guess it’s OK, No one is eating the suet balls yet, despite them hanging next to the sunflower seeds.

    I have yet to take a successful picture of the sparrows, I realise that my 18-55mm lens is prettty useless for bird photography. Great for taking close ups of my flowers, but they don’t fly away! I am saving up for a 55-250mm for my CanonEos 6ooD, the lenses are so expensive…

    • I wish you much luck on attracting birds to your garden and hope you get a longer lens. It helps quite a bit, but you can do it with the 55mm if you bring the birds to you like in my series on photographing backyard birds. If you get them in about 2.4 meters from your window, you can get great photos with only a 55mm.

  12. Donna-This is a compelling and informative post. The statistics on the decline of these creatures is saddening. Maybe we need more articles like this one to make people more aware. Thank you for caring and making a difference.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I too think more bloggers should look into what is disappearing around them. It does not happen overnight, but I have noticed changes in the last few years. The statistics make it all that more real and compelling.

  13. Very interesting post! I don’t view sparrows negatively probably because I haven’t witness their negative behaviors in my garden. Just yesterday I attended a lecture on winter birding and learned that if you have a problem of two bird species competing for a nesting box you should put two bird houses together either on the same post or close by. You will never get two bluebirds nesting so close together but you can get a bluebird and chickadee next to one another. It is really interesting that some species adapt and some decline. For example black swallowtails have adapted laying eggs on parsley and fennel. Neither plant is native but they are in the same (carrot) family.

    • I too have read the adjoining nest box suggestion on Sialis. They even said that different bird species will join in protecting each others’ nest from predators and even the sparrow. My nest boxes always end up with wasps though. Same with the butterfly house. My yard gets so many bees and wasps that anything I put up will get them instead of birds. All the birds nesting here are in trees. Many species will have to adapt or move on when the native plants are no longer available. Good to hear that the Swallowtails are adapting.

      • I had the same problem with nesting boxes…bees, wasp, flying squirrels, basically anything but birds, until last spring. We put the boxes on our fence posts and that seemed to be just the right location. We had bluebirds and chickadees. I have considered a butterfly house but everything I’ve read says they don’t really work. Your experience confirms that.

        • Placing them on poles (right height of course per species) in open areas (lawns, fields, meadows) is probably the best for cavity nesting birds protecting the nests, but in a small yard, the birds are not comfortable where cats can climb to the nestlings. That is really my main problem. Small birds make nests in my vines too, like trumpet vine and the ivy. I never did see a cat climb them. I too learned that butterflies rest for the night on the shrubs right below my box, but even if the wasps did not inhabit the box, I still doubt the butterflies would.

  14. This really is an amazing post and it shows all the hard work and research you did to put this together. I hope you’ll be sharing this with some kind of birding or naturalist magazine. Love your photos, and that painterly effect you chose as a filter is fantastic! Which program/filter did you use? I think it’s fun!

    • I will have to do a tutorial on my digital painting process. It is much more than filters, and all is done in Photoshop. A few have asked about how I do them. They can be done in as little as fifteen minutes or, if they are heavily painted with ‘brushes’, about an hour. I just have to figure out how to explain it and show the process. Maybe a screen shot video?

  15. Marguerite says:

    I had no idea house sparrows were in decline. They seem like such a common bird. It’s definitely worrisome if a bird of such numbers is having problems and declining. Who’s next becomes the question. We are all connected in one way or another.

    • They are so common here, maybe India and the UK want some of ours? I feel just as you, the question is which species is next. Finding out the answer to this problem will help many bird species I bet.

  16. Bill S says:

    I have to say Donna that as an ex Londoner, I tend to agree with Julian Pettifers report on the declining numbers of house sparrows in recent years. As a child in the late 1950’s I used to fish in most of the Royal Parks, sparrows were always pinching your bait and they thrived in the greener areas .Sadly however the RSPB always fail to mention the overwhelming population of parakeets that exist in most parts of London, there is even talk that a cull may be needed soon, they are not very nice birds. The houses sparrow population thrives here in the south west of England although they do have to compete with our native hedge sparrow (dunnock). We do not need nesting boxes most of them manage to nest under the eaves of our houses but they do need to be fed all the same.

  17. Karen says:

    Such an interesting post, especially with your wonderful photos and paintings.

  18. ddonabella says:

    It is sad to see any bird becoming extinct or declining. I have tried the 2 bluebird houses close together but the HOSP is too aggressive and takes both houses…they push out all the native birds and have several broods so I see no decline here in HOSP. I think that many of the issues that affect HOSP affect many of our birds. They are cute as fledglings and I have watched parents feeding the young offspring.

    Sad to hear that they are maligned and people are trying to kill them….that happens here with crows…they have crow hunts to reduce the numbers…crows are another maligned bird that have an incredible history with Native Americans. Where I grew up N Indiana I belonged to Audubon and we went bird watching identifying so many lovely sparrows. I see so few of these other sparrows these days which is also sad.

    • I believe you are having issues with the HOSP taking nesting boxes. Many write with the same predicament. Like Christy and Karin, I too have have not had negative issues with them, besides eating too much seed. Also, there is not too many outnumbering other birds or harassing them at the feeders. Just does not happen here. I never saw the aggressive behavior that others have seen, but on Sialis’ site, there are some horrifying images of sparrow damage to bluebirds. Most birds die from sparrow attacks too. So I guess some places sparrows use gang warfare. Did you see the reponse to your comment on my last post? I left you some links.

      Many shoot crows here too. Sad. I have crows in my neighborhood and them and my cockatoo have shouting matches at the window.

  19. Interesting post. You have some awesome photos here which I enjoyed very much. If there is a shortage of sparrows it’s not noticed here as we seem to have plenty of them around.

    • Yep, plenty here too! It does not seem to have made it to our area yet, but there must be a reason for that since they have been declining in the UK and India for a really long time. I wish science would figure this out. I would hate to see it come here.

  20. a3acrefarm says:

    Honestly, I don’t know how you do it. Your photos are just stunning, as always. You have to love a sparrow after seeing and reading this post!

  21. Great, I just wrote a long comment then deleted it by mistake via the log in process to comment. You’d think I’d learn. I simply said I have watched the sparrows have litter after litter of young and feed them right outside my kitchen window-even when the babies have fledged the parents still feed them. I believe mom and dad are wearing themselves out maybe that is why their population is not doing so well.

    Sorry I’ve not been around so much. I’ve slowed down not only on commenting but on posting as well. I’ve just been busy. Hubby and I purchased some land and other things take up my time. I’m glad you stopped by and have not given up on me Donna! Good to hear from you. Now, hopefully I will not mess up the logging in again.

    • Glad you are posting again Tina. I did not forget about you, and did check in a few times and did not see a post from you. I do remember you talking about the new land purchase. I wish you much luck.

      You may be onto something that the birds are just plain too tired! I see the same thing here. The babies hounding the parents and I wonder if the parents get time to eat themselves.

  22. I think there’s room for sparrows along with all the other species. I have a lot of them and while they’re not as colorful as some birds, I enjoy them and don’t mind seeing them at my feeders. I’ve also never noticed them bothering other birds. However, if I saw them harassing the bluebirds that move in every spring, I’d intervene, although I’m not sure what I’d do.

    • I too would try to do something concerning bluebirds, but what? Too much interference and the bluebirds would abandon their nest. So many birds take over nesting sites of others or destroy other birds’ nests. Last year a grackle destroyed a robin pair’s nest with chicks and injured the parents defending it. It was sad to watch.

  23. Brian Comeau says:

    Thanks for sharing this Donna. I was not aware of the issue with the sparrows. Unfortunately it’s becoming more common in more species like the frogs and bees that we’ve been hearing about for years. Like you suggested I can’t help but wonder if it all relates to things that we are doing to our environment. Unfortunately I also can’t help but feel until we see more health issues in the human population (than we already do) will science and the governments take it really seriously. Kind of scary….

    • I agree. More and more species are having decline with reasons unknown, though much is suspected related to environment. I believe if we are not more caring of the environment, we can expect this to continue too.

  24. We don’t have many (any?) House Sparrows in our area, not out at the lake at least. A decline wouldn’t be noticed here. I had no idea they are on the decline. Great information.

  25. Hi Donna, I don’t know HOW you find time to write such detailed, informative posts, but wow, each time you write a post, you outdo yourself from the one before it 🙂 I am aware of the sparrows destructive behavior. Our MG group here has a Purple Martin project going on, and the sparrows are a menace to the PM’s. They drive them out of their houses and take over. I have never, and will never be a part of killing them, but bird-lovers and mg’s deal with this by trapping/killing the sparrows in order to allow the PM’s to survive. A difficult decision, for sure…glad I am not involved in that act. But I understand why they do it. I haven’t heard that they’re on the decline at all, in fact, they are in abundance here. But your research is so thorough and really interesting!! I do like the white throated sparrows and the chipping sparrows. They visit me but not very often–and hang around under shrubs and seem to be ground feeders. I have yet to capture a decent photo of the either, though…they continuously move and are very skittish. The introduced English ‘House’ Sparrow is as innocent as any bird so I don’t have any hard feelings toward them…they do what they know how to do and try to live, just as any species does. It isn’t their fault they were brought here 🙂

    • Thank you Jan. I read that on the Purple Martins. The expert I talked with at Audubon alerted me to this problem too. I too could not be part of the culling. I rarely see many other sparrow types living in the city. Even at the Falls, it is mostly house sparrows because of all the people. You need to leave your link so others can visit. It only goes to FB and no link to your blog.

  26. A.M.B. says:

    I had no idea that the sparrow was on decline. They are my least favorite birds, but only because they are drab and I have a harder time telling them apart. It’s a funny coincidence that World Sparrow Day falls on my birthday. Maybe I’ll add them to my birthday wish as I blow out my candles!

  27. Fossillady says:

    Great article Donna, informative and in depth with beautiful photos which serve to enhance your message. I am concerned for the birds as well as insects which I learned from you are also on the decline. We have so many invasive species here in my state Michigan. One prominent area in my community that once flourished with swamp grasses and cattails has been completely taken over with pampas grass and that’s after they had gotten rid of purple lustrife! Kathi :O)

    • My gosh, you did have two invasive species. We have both f them here as well. Decline will only mount as invasive species settle into areas. It is ashamed for the native populations too.

  28. b-a-g says:

    I’ve never heard of sparrow killers or sparrows being killed by other birds.
    The sparrows in the tree would make a great advent calendar.

  29. supernova says:

    Hello Donna, a very informative post indeed. You have covered the plight of the house sparrow very well and I agree we must all do what we can to help them. I remember back to when I was a kid growing up in the old terraced street house with an outside toilet, the way the houses were built then provided plenty of breeding and living habitat for sparrows (especially) and starlings, when the gap in the eaves was big enough. The spec. to which new houses are built today does not allow for any such nesting sites – the sparrows are homeless!
    I moved away from the 1900’s street terraced community but have been back on several occasions for various reasons, when I have, I always take note of which birds I see. I sadly noted on every occasion the absence of sparrows. I noticed that most of the houses had been renovated with new fascia boards and other types of plastic guards covering all the gaps in the eaves, here too there was much loss in nesting habitat.
    The problem is, being able to convince people of the need to tip the balance in favour of the sparrow a little bit, to promote this in a way so we can cancel out the sparrows negative points. I mean, to stop and turn round this decline is all that should matter but we need to be constructive and come up with a solution which solves one problem without causing another.
    I will be honest with you, I don’t think this change will happen soon enough and coupled with the other major issues such as predation and food supply, will eventually see the house sparrow struggling to survive. Well, that’s the picture I get here in the UK!
    Thank you for the effort you have put into this superb post Donna. My best, James 🙂

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  32. Beautiful post. your pictures are sublime!! I particularly like ‘Sittin on the dock of the bay’

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