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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…