The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Bluebirds vs Sparrows

Even in too-early spring, the House Sparrows fight off intruders.Saturday morning I saw something amazing.

We have been trying to get a pair of bluebirds to take up housekeeping in a bluebird house in our backyard. The trouble is, we have been unable to convince the House Sparrows that cloud the local air to give the Blues family a chance.

English House Sparrows are not a particularly sociable species. They feed at the same seed trays as other birds, but they generally seem to hold back until the others leave, and then they crowd out any other tribe representative attempting to return. The sparrows are a territorial and selfish bunch. The males are bullies, and will stay the winter guarding the birdhouse closest to our house, chasing off any incidental passers by: the occasional woodpecker, starlings in season.

Even at the bluebird house next to the woods, there will be at least one sparrow hanging around, making sure no “foreigners” cast an eye to the vacancy, keeping it available for the time, when weather warms and days get longer, a sparrow lady might be convinced to begin a mothery way.

But the past week, a bluebird pair had been spending a lot of time at the nest, and I was becoming hopeful they had started a home. I tried hard to get pictures of them. Still images of them on nearby fenceposts or poking out of the nest entrance were not difficult, but I really wanted to catch them in flight. I got a few shots that were not bad, but …

I was on the phone with a friend when I looked out the window, across the yard, just in time to see a male House Sparrow leave the nest with a sky-blue egg about the size of a marble. He had made a hole in the egg and carried it out, dropping it on the ground a short distance from the nest. He didn’t just take to the air and drop it; he flew down to the ground, dropped the first one, then went back and grabbed the second one to place within a few inches of the first.

It was as though he was posting a message. I suppose the bluebirds had not filled out the proper paperwork, even though they were first to take up residence. But the male sparrow had decided the place was his, and he had very effectively evicted those he considered to be intruders.

Sometimes, I’m struck by the similarities between us humans and the rest of the critters with which we share the habitat. Each tribe has its own personality and rules. We may agree to live in the same neighborhood, even on the same street, but we do not countenance the presence of those we see as “different”, even if they got here first.

We had a leucistic (albino) House Sparrow born last year. The community of House Sparrows treated it pretty much normally. There were indications at the feeder it may not have been 100 percent accepted, but it wasn’t actively chased away, either. But I also have a really neat picture of a male House Sparrow doing battle with a starling that looked too interested in the sparrow’s nest. The sparrow won and the starling departed the area.

We humans have an advantage over most other critters; we can make laws enforcing sanctions against certain activities. Unfortunately, we have a disadvantage; we need to have laws sanctioning certain activities.

On the other hand, the Blues family appears to have moved into a vacant house closer to the feeder. We may be in for some interesting time.


  1. Why, Do the blue birds get kick out, And then come back and start over to get kick out again?? Happens at least twice a nesting season?

    • Here’s where the instinct thing appears, I think. Each bird looks for a specific type of nesting place, and many species have multiple nesting cycles. Beyond that, some species are more territorial than others — though I have noticed bluebirds have taken the hint and do not nest where the House sparrows have the overwhelming numbers.

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