The past couple weeks I've taken notice to an active House Sparrow nest outside my work. About 15 ft or so up the exterior wall there is a siding finish that begins and runs up the rest of the wall to the roof which gives a nicer finished look to the windows/offices on the second level. There is a gap between the wall and the siding that is excellent for Sparrows to build nests in, giving them total shelter from many of the elements.
I hadn't given much thought to the family, I'd just see them when I changed my propane tank for my forklift, since it was right by the tank storage. Last week the little ones within were getting pretty vocal and the parents were constantly bringing in food.
Early in my shift today I had to go outside and change the tank on my truck. I heard the little ones and could actually see them when I looked up the side of the wall. I knew they were going to fledge any time now.
About 6 hours later I am outside again. I hear Sparrow noises quite steadily as I open the door, so immediately I dart my eyes to the nest area. I wasn't expecting to see what I was looking at now. One of the young was hanging upside down from the nest... dead. A second young Sparrow was hanging there, upside down as well, peeping away and fluttering. It didn't take much thought after seeing this to realize the young birds were stuck in the nest material.
I learned last year on our Eastern Bluebird field trip with Bill Read that House Sparrows often use garbage to build their nests. I found that odd. But last summer we had a family in one of our nest boxes and when I cleaned that house in the fall; I was given proof to Bill's statement. There was cellophane from cigarette packages mixed in with dried grass and feathers. I thought it was pretty cool in a way that they were recycling the crap human litter bugs carelessly tossed anywhere but in garbage bins. But today I see that them using other discarded items found may not be such a good idea for their nests. I can't even really say what was in this nest only that it was durable material, very tightly woven, but not enough that little bird nails couldn't get into it... and get stuck.
It was a bit of an effort to get to this nest. I couldn't just leave this bird struggling like this. The still alive young was terrified of my appearance and started freaking out. And then the parents came in and started screaming at me. I worked fast at getting it and it's deceased sibling out from behind the siding. I was in disbelief to how tightly packed in this material was. I had to work a blade in and cut the bird(s) free. A long clump of this stuff came out attached to the birds.
I remembered how we held the birds at the banding station which kept them from moving and causing harm to themselves. This helped me with the little Sparrow. I cut away the dead bird so I could work on helping the live one. The one leg was actually free of the entanglement but unfortunately the other was in there good. And with the strain of it pulling on it and hanging upside down, for hours I suspect, he did some damage to it. I cut almost all of the nest material away and then tried to untangle the last bit but I lost my grip on the bird and he flew out of my hand.
I tried to catch him again but he wanted no part of that. The parents were still nearby shouting their disapproval at me. He fluttered and flew and made it across the parking lot and through the fence. The parents got quiet and disappeared as I watched the young one go out of sight.
I wasn't happy with the ending I had with this little bird but I know it certainly was better than leaving him there to struggle to exhaustion in the nest beside his dead sibling.
Not everyone likes House Sparrows but I don't know many people who would have left him there to die.
House Sparrows aren't native birds to our continent. They are aggressive small birds and wreak havoc on some of our native species. We had a battle with the Sparrow family here as they bullied our nesting Chickadees. I think I blogged about that and will have to add the link later. Here is some more information about House Sparrows that you may find interesting...
What is the most abundant songbird in North America? Next time you're driving around town, compare the number of House Sparrows you see to the number of our native songbirds you see. There are estimates that there are twice as many sparrows across the country as all other native songbirds combined -- a really sad statistic considering the house sparrow is not even a native bird of North America.
The House Sparrow, actually the Weaver Finch, which is the subject of all the "sparrow controversy," should not be confused with any of our numerous native sparrows such as the Grasshopper Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, etc. In fact, the House Sparrow and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, are the only non-native sparrows in North America. So, for the sake of clarity, whenever I refer to the general term "sparrow," I am referring solely to the non-native House Sparrow.
It is thought that the House Sparrow, originated in the Mediterranean and expanded its range into Europe with the growth of civilization. Only at the insistence of man did the House Sparrow make its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. In 1850, green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City's Central Park. Many people thought that the House Sparrow's main diet back in England consisted of these same green worms and that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the House Sparrow would eliminate crop pests. While others theorized that the House Sparrow would eat grain out of horse manure (which was becoming a bigger problem as the city grew and the number of horses on the city's streets increased), which would help the manure decompose more rapidly. In addition, the new wave of immigrants who were forced out of Europe in the late 1850's because of economic and agricultural failures, missed the little birds they were accustomed to seeing in their native Europe. While it appeared the house sparrow was an easy answer to several problems facing a new society, no one could foresee the damage that would be done to the population of native birds.
The first introduction of the House Sparrow was conducted by the Brooklyn Institute in 1851. Eight pairs were originally released but none were able to survive the change in climate. More attempts were made in New York City and other areas along the New England seaboard, and eventually the birds adopted to our colder climate and multiplied. The house sparrow rapidly spread across the United States. The abundance of spilled grain used for feeding horses and the artificial nesting cavities provided by man helped the sparrow along.
In less than 25 years, the mistake that was made became obvious. An over abundance of house sparrows became a problem in cities and the sparrow caused extensive damage to grain crops and fruit trees. And, with the increased house sparrow population, there was an evident decrease in the number of native songbirds. A well-intended deed of our ancestors quickly turned into a disaster.
To learn even more, click here, which is where I got the info that I'm too lazy to type out.
If you are still with me, I almost did this blog without a photo. I wasn't going to take one of the sight I beheld out back. Some may found it quite upsetting with the dead one and the struggling other. So here is our favorite House Sparrow that visits us. A partial leusistic female Angie nick-named Snowflake. She first showed up in the summer of 2012. So she's been with us for over a year, although she did disappear through the winter. We were happy to see her return in around March of this year and is still with us most days.