Today is World Sparrow Day.

Whilst they’re not exactly the orchids of the bird world (they’re certainly not Dennett’s birds of spring by any stretch of the imagination) … and their song not terribly melodic as such … as I’ve observed before, they make up for it by having fun characters. Take some time out to watch them when you can (in the spring or summer) … they’re a lot of fun; I once watched around thirty of them repeatedly swoop down from a telephone wire in consecutive waves of ten or so birds at a time and mob the local cats: over and over they’d swoop down and mob the cats then fly back up to the telephone wire again whilst the next waves flew down, waiting their turn before swooping down once more — I don’t know how long they’d been doing it before I arrived, or how long they continued after I left (until all the cats finally gave up and left, I assume), but I watched them do it for around twenty minutes … which, to me, indicates that this was a coordinated action and the birds smarter, therefore, than people usually give them credit for.

If you’re patient (and lucky) and sit still long enough, they can be brave enough to come right up to you and take food from your fingers or, in some cases, if you’re really calm, sit on your hand and eat it. Depending on how used they are to people, it can take time but, if you’re patient and let them get accustomed to you, they’ll get there eventually …after which you’ll have trouble keeping them off you, but being surrounded by wild birds sitting on and around you is an uplifting experience, so that’s not something to bemoan, is it?

The best way I’ve found of doing it in those places where they aren’t already used to people feeding them ¹ varies according to whether they’re particularly used to people or not ², but sitting quite still (and not making noise) with food in your outstretched hand/fingers is the core of it … so, you will need some patience, even if they’re already used to humans in general.

When I was a kid, there were even more of them in London than there were pigeons! But town sparrow populations have declined dramatically — from 1993 to 2013 the population shrank by between 68% and 90% in some regions (in the UK, the RSPB lists the house sparrow’s conservation status as ‘red’) and in London the house sparrow all but disappeared from the central city. In the Netherlands, it’s even considered an endangered species!

So, whilst they aren’t what most people might think of to ‘coo’ and ‘aaah’ about …. and despite being assessed as ‘least concern’ for conservation on the IUCN Red List … it’s worth considering how unexpectedly impoverished our lives might be, were they to disappear … and you might, therefore, want to take some time out to appreciate an otherwise oft overlooked (if not outright dismissed) creature you might find yourself missing once it’s too late — Joni Mitchell was right about our not knowing what we’ve got till it’s gone (and it’d be a particularly sad state of affairs, if one of the few creatures that doesn’t mind if you pave over Paradise with a parking lot were to disappear, wouldn’t it?).

World Sparrow Day — note it in your calendar (March 20th every year).


¹ I forget which one now, but there was (still is?) a park in Paris where all you had to do was stand/sit still for ten seconds and the sparrows would assume you were there to feed them and just fly down and land on you in expectation.

² Where I lived in Berlin there is a weekly street market and, therefore, a number of bakeries and cafés on the square around it and lots of food crumbs … so the sparrows spend all week hopping and flitting around the feet of crowds of people, without the least bit of fear, because they’re so used to human beings.

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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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