The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

I’d almost surrendered

John's thumbnail(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 4/4/2014)

I finally gave up trying to keep the House Sparrows out of the bluebird house. For about three days.

I feel badly for them, trying to set up a home outside my studio window. They are mid-1800 immigrants to this country from the Mediterranean Sea shores, by way of Europe. I’ve read they were a pest in China; Chairman Mao tried to eradicate them thinking it would make more grain available for his burgeoning human population.

Europeans brought the little songbirds with them, partly as “something from home.” They like to live near people. Their name reflects their affinity for human abode.

For the past few years, we have had a pair housed in a decorative birdhouse hung over our hot tub. My spouse found the house in her travels, and I guess the sparrows liked the décor. Then last year another pair arrived, to discover the bluebird house we’d put up on the end fencepost.

They started nesting, and every day I’d clean out the house. One morning, after I’d cleaned the house the night before, I found the couple had worked overnight to construct a new nest, on which the missus had laid three future sparrow chicks.

At that point, I gave up. Babies are babies, after all.

The couple that laid claim to our bluebird house this year arrived in February and took up their posts. They did not make a nest, and I often wondered where they spent the cold nights. But come morning, they’d be back, standing guard over their turf.

I have a couple nice pictures of them fighting off a starling – another invasive species known to take down four-engine jet planes. David vs. Goliath, and Goliath left the field.

Another day, four bluebirds showed up looking for a place. The two sparrows attacked – and won again – proving once more the best defense, especially when you’re out-sized, is a sudden and vigorous offense.

They didn’t want to build a nest – yet. They simply wanted to ensure no intruders squatted on their claim.

“This place is ours,” they seemed to say. “We’ll use it when we’re darn good and ready.”

The past week or two, they’ve started nesting. What is most fun is watching them try to get some fairly long strands of feathered grass from beside the stream. Picture a three-inch bird trying to stuff a foot-long piece of seed stalk through an inch and-a-quarter hole.

But eventually, the male would quit trying to fold the stalk, and move up near its end where he could drag it into the nest for his mate to work on folding it into a maternity room.

A week ago I placed a piece of gaffers tape over the hole. The male went to work on it and after about three days had pulled about half of it loose.

So I gave up. Removed the tape. Wished them luck. They don’t know they’re invasive. They only know it’s Spring, and it’s time to get busy – which, by the way, I saw happen one afternoon but wasn’t quick enough to the camera.

Bluebird hovers at the houseClearly, time is nearing when eggs will be dropping.

Then another bluebird came by, stopped to measure the entrance – and they attacked. I went out and cleaned the box. There wasn’t much in it, yet. But if bluebirds still are looking for homes, I would prefer the sparrows go wherever they were before they found this one.

At least, that’s my wish. So far, they have shown no sign of awareness that, as owner of this few square yards of planetary surface, I should get to decide with whom I share it.

On the other hand, I don’t really own it. I’m just squatting here for awhile. Of that, the sparrows seem fully aware.

1 Comment

  1. Great story.
    My daughter has hanging flower baskets across her front porch. She usually has some families hiding under the leaves. She always worries that if she’s not careful when watering, she’ll scare them away. A few times a neighborhood cat removed the birds.

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