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Death to House Sparrows

By Froma Harrop

A friend has been after me to condemn house sparrows in a column. "Are you out of your ever-loving ..." was my thought, but I said, "What would I have against those cute little critters splashing in my birdbath?"

Plenty, my friend responded, as she produced a pound of anti-sparrow literature that sealed the case. I'll list the particulars in a minute, but first some reflections on the complicated nature of Nature.

Those of us raised on Disney often develop biases toward members of the animal kingdom. Mice good, rats bad. Dogs good, coyotes bad. Cats good, depending ...

I've always filed birds in the nice-to-have-around category. Put wings on a rodent-like body, and I'm not so understanding, even though bats do good service gobbling up mosquitoes. Generally, if it flies and has feathers, I'm cool with it.

So here is the shocking rap against House Sparrows: They may come off as cute songbirds, but they have the heart of Saddam.

The first thing you should know is that they're not really sparrows. They are Old World Weaver Finches, originally from England. They were introduced in North America during the 1850s to go after crop insects. Lacking many natural predators in the New World -- and prolific multipliers -- House Sparrows have since taken over the continent.

Traveling in gangs, House Sparrows attack and kill a variety of native-American bird species. They are famous for taking over the nesting sites and smashing the eggs of bluebirds and purple martins, among others. (The male's bond with his nesting site is said to be stronger than that with his mate.) So dreadful are the House Sparrow's predations that the North American Bluebird Society offers instructions on trapping and destroying them.

My friend reports that a neighbor recently installed a giant artsy birdhouse that has become infested with House Sparrows. "It's a plague," she said. "They make a horrible sound. You'd hear these raids when they're hunting down and killing other birds. They peck them to death."

House Sparrows have also become a major carrier of the dreaded West Nile virus. The mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans lay their eggs in birdbaths. West Nile kills huge Blue Jays and crows, but House Sparrows can apparently develop high levels of infection without dying. Because they hang out in groups, mosquitoes spread the virus easily through the flock.

And there's more bad news about House Sparrows: They are not big insect eaters after all. They prefer seeds. They are also partial to your yellow crocuses, primroses and aconites.

House sparrows are "syanthropic." This means that they are happy to live near (and off of) humans, but like rodents and lice, don't particularly like us.

House sparrows have been classified as pests, and you are free to kill them. The Bluebird Society, on its Website,, says it is ecologically correct to "dispatch" House Sparrows, freeze them and deliver their corpses to raptor recovery centers, where they will be fed to injured eagles, falcons and owls.

Time out. There's really little point getting into a lather over House Sparrows or any other product of nature. It is humankind that unleashes non-indigenous animals and plants into places where they have no enemies. It's people who blithely put up birdhouses and don't monitor them. In Britain, House Sparrows are actually in decline and have been declared a protected species. (Perhaps we can send 'em back.)

The House Sparrow is doing what comes naturally, as does the coyote who eats the cat, and the cat who eats the bird, which it is now acceptable to hope is a House Sparrow.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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