Having just returned from Germany I decided to do a post on two species of old world sparrows, the lowly and despised House Sparrow, and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. .
Most of you may be familiar with the misguided introduction into this country of the House Sparrow by European settlers in the 19th century. Here is a nice summary:
Only at the insistence of man did the House Sparrow make its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. In 1850, green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City's Central Park. Many people thought that the House Sparrow's main diet back in England consisted of these same green worms and that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the House Sparrow would eliminate crop pests. While others theorized that the House Sparrow would eat grain out of horse manure (which was becoming a bigger problem as the city grew and the number of horses on the city's streets increased), which would help the manure decompose more rapidly. In addition, the new wave of immigrants who were forced out of Europe in the late 1850's because of economic and agricultural failures, missed the little birds they were accustomed to seeing in their native Europe. Steve Eno (Blue Birds across Nebraska)
A quick look at the bird's beak would convince any birder that its main diet is grains and seeds, not worms or other insect, which it feeds only to its young. Due to its ubiquitous presence you'd think that the House Sparrow is the most common bird in Europe. Not true. In Great Britain it's in 4th place behind wren, chaffinch, robin and black bird. Also it has actually been declining by 60% in urban environments, such as London's city center where now it's almost absent. It's been placed on the red list
I took these photos in the back of my grandfather's farm (now run by my cousin) in northern Germany. There the two species were strictly divided: House Sparrows in the ivy on the gable-side of the house and Tree Sparrows in the trees in back of the farm yard.
Here is a side view of the old farm. My dad, age five or six, is sitting on the horse. It's the same type of horse I learned to ride on when vacationing there in the summer. It is sad to think the people in this photo are all gone, my grandfather holding the horse that my father is sitting on, and my grandmother with my aunts, as well as a couple of other relatives that I don't recognize. That window over the door opened to a tiny guest room with two beds and a dresser, my room during my vacation. The thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated metal and the building turned into a stable and barn.
I was just reading that John Vanderpoel of BigYear2011 started his search for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from the Super 8 motel in Coralville, Iowa. I know that area well having spent ten years as student in Iowa City which lies directly on the other side of the Iowa River. But that was long before I did anything more than casual birdwatching.
I am ending this post on a nostalgic note. Tempus fugit. Memento mori. Time flies. Remember we must die.
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