From buntings to juncos to sparrows

Kelly Cassidy lostriver at
Thu Mar 21 08:36:35 PST 2002

RT Cox writes:

> Here they take over my bluebird boxes and eat all of the seed I put out


> finches and real sparrows.

and then:

> them. Many people feed them and think they are charming, so I will just


> to accept that.

I hate to point out the obvious, but YOU are feeding them. They are one of
the species able to thrive on highly concentrated food sources that people
excel at providing: feeders, pastures, McDonalds dumpsters, etc. While some
people who have bird feeders go to great lengths to avoid feeding House
Sparrows, the vast majority fill their feeders with millet and other small
seeds that House Sparrows like.

> What amazes me is that whenever a cat or a sharpie nails a bird in my


> it is always a Goldfinch or Lazuli Bunting, never a **** English sparrow.

I've seen cats take House Sparrows many times, but they do seem to be less
susceptible to cat predation than other small birds, perhaps because they
tend to stay in small flocks with many watchful eyes and away from places
where they can be ambushed.

House Sparrows are very aggressive defenders of cavity nests. Many of our
native species evolved in a world where dead trees (and hence cavities) were
plentiful and they were not evolutionarily selected for the ability to fight
over nest sites. However, nest site shortage isn't the only reason House
Sparrows thrive where other species decline. House Sparrows have little or
nothing to do with the decline of warblers or flycatchers in urban areas.
Those birds don't use cavity nests or eat seeds. Cats, insecticides,
"clean" gardening, vast lawns, paving, exotic plants, cars, etc. all play
their part. Change the environment and you change the species composition.
House Sparrows contribute to the demise of some species, especially on
islands, but they are more a symptom than a cause in most areas.

"My" House Sparrows probably make a living by eating wild seeds and gleaning
undigested grain from cow manure in the neighboring pasture. I don't have
bird feeders or near neighbors. Many sparrows nest in the grain silos by my
house. I could remove the nests in the old barn, but it wouldn't make a
dent in the House Sparrow population, even locally.

Kelly Cassidy
Pullman WA

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