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Gardening For Wildlife - Home happenings & House Sparrows
April 28, 2008

Its been a long week and I am tired.

After a local record setting streak of 10 day sin a row with temperatures above 70 (Friday was 82), Mother nature decides to give us a reality check.

Temperatures dropped and dropped some more.

Hey, it is Michigan.

We managed to miss the white stuff, however.

I know other areas saw a bit of the white.



Everything is growing so nice.

The world has turned green again.

Serviceberries are in full bloom, dogwoods are starting to open.

Marsh-marigolds and violets fill the woods and creek beds.

Trilliums and May-apples will be following soon.

Bird activity is less at my feeders, but that doesn't mean there is a lack of birds.

Robins have replaced Cardinals as the first and last bird to sing during a 24 hour period. Robins can be heard at 4:00 in morning and well past dusk during the spring.

A lone Cardinal sits a top one of the Spruce trees in the evening an sings away.

The resident green heron is back at the pond. It is always nice to see old friends.

A pair of Yellow warblers greeted Keet and me on out evening walk this past Saturday.

I still have a couple of Juncos hanging on.

Soon I will be visited by White crowned sparrows as they visit for a couple of weeks before heading North to their breeding grounds.

Within the next couple of weeks, Orioles and Ruby-throated hummingbirds will once again grace us with their presence.

Marti in Ohio wants to remind us Northern folk that about the time your Columbines start to blossom, is when to start looking for hummers and to make sure feeders are out.

It makes sense, Columbines are one of the earliest bloomers that offer nectar for the little guys.

They often search out woodpecker drillings for tree sap when nectar is scarce.

Now I realize that you folks in the South have had hummers for a couple of months and on rare occasions all winter.

You folks along the Pacific coast are blessed with Anna's Hummer year round.

But some of us have them for a few fleeting months, so it is a big deal for us.

I've mentioned this in years past, but with new readers coming aboard, it is always worth mentioning.

You've heard of the saying "Like a sitting duck" haven't you.

Well, that very saying comes from sitting ducks.

For most ducks and geese, when she is sitting on her nest, she goes through a hard molt and loses here flight feathers. her only escape is water.

The next time you hear something is doomed like a sitting duck, you now know where the saying comes from.

Last Wednesday's trip to the hospital seems to have been a smashing success.

I will know for sure next week Thursday when I have more X-rays to see if the stone was indeed taken care of.

For now, it is nice not to have the pain.

Thank you everyone for your concerns, thoughts and prayers.

Guys, I wont tell you where they go with the little camera :-(

Thankfully I was out during the whole ordeal.

This week Start the month of May.

That means it's time to clean your feeders again.

May also brings us May Day.

I know in years past several of you commented on May Day and picking flowers and making May baskets for your mom. Wouldn't it be nice if that still occurred today?

I remember picking violets and even dandelions for the May basket and how mom was always happy to receive.

You gotta love moms.

I thought this week I would touch on one of North America's least favorite birds

The English sparrow/House Sparrow.

A bit of history and why this bird is so successful.

house sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Sorry, no pictures this time.

They are called sparrows, but are indeed a member of the finch family.

Eight pairs were released in Brooklyn, NY in 1851or there about, by a single person/group of New Yorkers. Apparently they died before they could breed.

Accounts differ, but it appears that in 1850 Nicholas Pike, Director of the Brooklyn Institute, purchased the first 8 pairs of sparrows from Liverpool, England for $200.

He released the 8 pairs in the spring of the following year.

They did not survive.

The following year (1851) he over saw as another 25 pairs of birds that were released along the East River.

Pike purchaes another 100 birds for $200 from England released in fall the 1851 and spring 1852.

The rest wintered under the care of the Brooklyn Institute, and were released in 1853 in Greenwood Cemetery.

Birds were released into Central Park to control canker worms infesting the trees (a type of inch worm).

In 1854 and 1858, the bird was introduced to Portland Maine.

In 1857, Citizens of New Haven imported some of their own.

During the next decade, The birds were introduced to eight other cities, including release of 1,000 birds in Philadelphia by city officials in 1869, and release by J. M. Brown of two pairs at Galveston, Texas.

By 1870, they were established as far south as Columbia SC and Galveston TX, as far west as Davenport Iowa, and as far north as Montreal Canada.

Released in San Francisco 1871-1872, and Salt Lake City 1873-1874.

Nine birds from New Zealand were introduced in Hawaii in 1871, and House sparrows are now found on the main islands.

English Sparrows were introduced at Saint Paul, Minn.

This kind of delayed population build up results in people not realizing the long-term consequences of introductions of non-native species.

House sparrows are people loving birds it seems or at least they prefer to dwell near people and the food sources we provide.

Livestock, chicken feed and general garbage, coupled with the vast fields of grain surrounding the cities, made these formerly sparrow lesss places perfect breeding grounds for the invaders.

Countless private citizens contributed to the spread of House Sparrows by trapping acclimated birds and releasing them In other states like in Texas, Ohio, Utah, Missouri and Georgia.

By 1875, the English Sparrow was breeding in San Francisco.

Reasons given for introduction were to establish wildlife familiar to European immigrants, or to control insect infestations.

However, in agricultural areas, an average of 60% of the House Sparrows' diet consists of livestock feed (corn, wheat, oats, etc.), 18% cereals (grains from fields and in storage), 17% weed seeds, and only 4% from insects.

Urban birds tend to eat more commercial birdseed, weed seed and human scraps.

The diet of nestlings may be up to 70% insects to encourage rapid growth

They also drive away other insect eating birds.

Since bluebirds did not exist in Europe, they would not have recognized the interference that would result.

House sparrows have also displaced Cliff and Tree swallows and Purple martins.

After being introduced, House sparrows thrived in areas occupied by humans, eating grain left on the ground and in undigested in animal waste.

Ironically, the English sparrow in rapidly declining in Great Britain, to the point of becoming a threatened species.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could ship them back.


Invasive/nuisance species like House Sparrows generally share the following characteristics that enable their populations to explode.

Reproduce rapidly: HOSP are prolific breeders. They may raise 2-5 (average of 3) clutches of 3-7 (very seldom less than 4) chicks each breeding season, (averaging 20 chicks per season).

In theory, a couple can quintuple the population in one year.

Using some conservative figures, one pair could increase to 1,250 birds in 5 years.

Thee male is the one that pick a nest location, this is why the male is the one to stop.

Both sexes work to quickly build a nest. Eggs are incubated for 10-16 days, and nestlings are fully feathered in 15-17 days.

Effective dispersal mechanisms:

HOSP have no recognized migration pattern, but flocks of juveniles and non-breeding adults may move 1-5 miles to new feeding areas, or they may fly a mile or more in late summer and early autumn to roost with a flock.

Human intervention in terms of multiple introductions was a major factor in dispersal. Not being exposed to the perils associated with migration might actually increase their survival rate.

HOSP can add as many as 500 extra feathers to help keep them warm in the winter.

Rapidly and easily established:

HOSPs are fairly hardy birds. Unlike many birds, the range of foods (over 830 kinds), including grain, seed (wild and in feeders), human food waste, French fries and buns, insects and spiders (fed to nestlings), and, less frequently, tree buds, fruit and vegetables.

They live near humans, which provides a ready source of food and nesting sites. (HOSP are not usually found in dense forests (especially deciduous), grasslands, alpine regions and deserts.)

While they prefer to nest in cavities such as a nestbox, they will nest in protected locations such as rafters, gutters, roofs, ledges, eaves, soffits and attic vents, dryer vents, holes in wood siding, behind shake siding, dense vines on buildings, loading docks, roof supports, commercial signs, behind or above pipes and ductwork on buildings, wall voids, evergreens and shrubs, nests of cliff swallows and northern orioles, and even alongside osprey nests.

Nests are often in 8-30 feet off the ground, which may afford additional predator protection.

Unlike Bluebirds and Tree swallows they will nest in close proximity to others of their species.

They also build nests very quickly and will reuse nests.

Their gregarious habits and foraging in small flocks may avoid predation.

In between feeding, they rest in thickets, brush piles or evergreen stands which provide protection from predators and wind.

They also enjoy a good dust or sand bath.

Grow rapidly:

HOSP eggs hatch in 11 days, and birds fledge when only 14 days old, and young are independent 7-10 days after leaving the nest. (Compare to 12-18 days incubation and 12-19 days fledging, and independence at 30 days for Eastern bluebirds).

They quickly reach sexual maturity.

They also have a relatively long life span (the record for a wild House sparrow is 13 years and 4 months), although their typical lifespan in the wild is much less.

Aggressive competitors:

HOSP begin nesting in late winter and early spring, beating other migratory birds such as Eastern bluebirds, Purple martins and others to preferred nesting sites.

They are aggressively territorial in their attachment to a nest site.

They have a powerful crushing finch beak used to destroy eggs, nestlings and parents of other birds, and to attack occupants of nearby nestboxes.

They may also attack other birds while they are feeding, and will overwhelm a bird feeder.

They are persistent.

HOSP are also fairly intelligent.

The combination of these factors has resulted in a very successful infestation.

Rarely does any good come from the introduction of a non-native species of plant or animal passengers allowed to go wild.

Think Starlings, Kudzu vine, Asian lady bugs, Rats, Zebra mussels, Japanese beetles and Emerald ash borers just to name a few.

Nature was designed with a delicate order and balance.

The more we mess with it..........

Nature is also very forgiving, much like its Creator.


That about does it for now.

Mothers Day is just around the corner.

If your mom wants a birdbath or new feeder, I suggest you read the web pages on water features and feeders and of course, hummer feeders.

I go on my years of experience on what I believe to be the best products.

More bang for your buck.

Products that are durable and functional, not cutsie.

Feature mom can appreciate.

Many of these same items I have had and still use a decade later.

Some of the feeders come with lifetime guarantees.

I like that and so will the special mom or person in your life.

Here is your thought for the week.

"Life is a one way street. No matter how many detours you take, none of them leads back. And once you know and accept that, life becomes much simpler."

Isabel Moore

Sometimes when we go down those one way streets, the only thing we can do is laugh at our selves and smile.

Smiles can make life simple and they are so easy to give and to share.

Share yours with a stranger this week.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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