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Sparrow Spectrum

 
Illustration by Evan Barbour http://evanbarbour.com

Views from citizen-science participants

Sparrow Woes

Today bluebirds investigated my bluebird boxes for the first time this spring. It makes me so nervous—I confess I haven’t been very aggressive about House Sparrow management. I tear out their nests and toss eggs but occasionally I miss a nest and I haven’t been able to do anything to their nestlings.

Last year a pair of bluebirds tried repeatedly to nest, the House Sparrows repeatedly built nests on top of theirs, and I kept removing them. Finally the House Sparrows left them alone and the bluebirds fledged seven babies. But I have been told I was very lucky, and I’m worried about seeing bluebirds killed by House Sparrows. Of course, I have all the books on nest-box management. I even have House Sparrow traps. I just haven’t brought myself to use them. I should be more proactive on this, but it’s not an easy thing to do.

Pat Foley, Glen Arm, Maryland

Nest-Box Tips

Nobody likes to kill House Sparrows even though that may prevent a number of bluebird deaths. By letting them breed the problem will only get worse. The key seems to be to discourage them when they first start becoming interested in a box. Blocking the entrance to the box is one way. Do not do this after they have bonded with the box because that is when they can go on a rampage and kill any bluebird that might be checking out the boxes in the area. Not providing millet seed in the area is another way to keep sparrow numbers down.

I trap when necessary. During the last five years I have only had to trap two sparrows, since I go after the first one that shows up. If that first one does not like the area then it will leave and not bring other sparrows into the area.

The other option is not to put out nest boxes. Not everyone can bring themselves to kill the sparrows. That is certainly understandable, but don’t provide housing for the bluebirds’ deadly enemy.

Jim Kittinger, Yankeetown, Indiana

For the Protection of Bluebirds

I had my first death of a female bluebird with five eggs, two years ago. Sometimes it takes a death blow to a bluebird until we act. I have to admit that this year I shot four House Sparrows as they were sitting on top of a nest box. I know that I will probably offend some of you out there, but once you pull a dead bluebird out of a box or see them chased away by House Sparrows, it comes time to do something.

Anonymous, Carrollton, Ohio

All God’s Creatures

I get lots of grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, House Sparrows, and starlings—all birds that most people hate. I enjoy them all. They are all God’s creatures, in my opinion. Everyone and everything gets fed in my yard.

Lois Goelz, East Patchogue, New York

A House Sparrow Factory

A flock of about 60–80 House Sparrows has taken over my yard for their personal use. When they notice another bird eating something, such as a Downy Woodpecker on the suet, three or four will drive it away. It’s beginning to seem pointless to put food out. It’s especially disappointing since I’ve gone to great effort and expense to create a backyard habitat with lots of natural food, cover, and water. My efforts at stewardship and bird conservation seem to have been turned into the creation of a House Sparrow factory.

Janet Allen, Syracuse, New York

Feeder Tips

I used to have high numbers of House Sparrows in my yard. Now I have about 30 of them. The suggestion that worked for me is to feed only sunflower seed, thistle, and suet. It also helps to spread your feeders out as much as you can in your yard to make it hard for the House Sparrows to monopolize the feeders. I also purchased a small Duncraft Cling-A-Wing feeder that only small songbirds can use. My chickadees, titmice and nuthatches use it all the time.

Anonymous, Byron Center, Michigan


These letters originated from an online discussion group for Project FeederWatch participants and were reprinted in the Winter 2004 issue of BirdScope. To sign up for FeederWatch go to birds.cornell.edu/pfw.

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