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The Roofer’s Birdhouse

August 14th, 2011 · 28 Comments ·

A few weeks ago we had a new roof put on (alas–now we are on a serious fiscal austerity program!).  Our roof is complicated, and the job took several days to complete.  One day while the roofers were here and I was out walking to escape the noise, I discovered a voice message on my phone.  It was from the owner of the roofing company, and said, “Hi Lyanda, we found a nest full of baby birds in the cornice, and wonder what we should do?”

The nest they found in a corner of our roof is made almost entirely of mosses, refuse, and chicken feathers from our backyard.

Then a second message: “Well, we made a house for the little birds so they wouldn’t die in the sun, and put it on your house, close to where the nest was.  It’s not a very good house because we didn’t have proper materials, so I’m sorry about that.”  I smiled at the thoughtfulness of the roofers, and wondered just how horrible this ramshackle birdhouse was going to be.  But when I got home, this is what I found:

How cute is that?  It is neatly made with a leather hinge to open the box, and a perch for the parent birds.  Here’s a photo the roofers took while transferring the nest:

How good of them to take time out of the hot day, and their busy job to take care of these birds.  The nestlings are, of course, House Sparrows, sometimes called English Sparrows, an introduced species, an urban invasive, and one of the most ecologically despised of all North American birds.  Bluebird advocates in particular hate the sparrows for attacking bluebirds and evicting them from their nests, and recommend lethal control for the sparrows.  One intrepid elder in the movement catches them in a live trap, then cuts their heads off with her kitchen scissors.

I myself would never consider lethal control for a bird that has already been born, especially one that has made itself part of my household, invited or not.  I DO think we should remove nests and eggs of House Sparrows and starlings when we find them, and cover any inviting crevices.  The birds will attempt to re-nest several times after their nests/eggs are removed, but we can do our best.  Once the young are with us, though, they provide a good opportunity for the study of fledgling birds and parental care, as I wrote in a previous post.  Ecological disastrousness aside, the House Sparrow is an interesting bird with relatively complex social behavior, and both the male and female are devoted parents.  We can study them closely without worrying about disturbance as we might with a more sensitive, native species.

Claire studies a House Sparrow chick before returning it to its nest. Adult birds will not abandon young that have been handled by humans.

Curiously, while writing this post, a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk turned up on the wire beyond my study window.  He looks skinny, and autumn is a difficult, hungry time for hatch-year hawks.  Cooper’s are accipiters–bird eating hawks. Maybe he’ll catch one of the House Sparrows!

Meanwhile, I love our roofers.  What an inspiration to see such thoughtful care for wild things, even House Sparrows, even on a hot busy day, 20 feet off the ground.

P.S.  Alfa Roofing also did a great job on our roof!

 

birds, urban nature

28 Comments so far ↓

  • Cynthia Creasey

    Wonderful story and great info Lyanda. Thank you. Shall we add Alpha Roofing to our referral list of trades people?

  • viggie

    What a wonderful thing for them to do! That story made my day.

  • Maitreya

    That’s the sweetest thing I’ve read all day!

  • Dan Hortsch

    That is a great story. Except for the part about the woman who snips off the heads of live house sparrows. Appalling. This year my small back yard has had just a few house sparrows, far fewer than in the past. I get most house finches this time of year (and not a great variety over all during the year in my North Portland setting). I new the origins of house sparrows, but I didn’t realize that they were considered so damaging. Starlings, yes, of course.

  • Andrew

    I had a House Sparrow pair that invaded one of my Tree Swallow boxes at work, on the dock. The female swallow that was sitting on eggs inside was pecked to death, and the House Sparrows built their nest on top of the corpse. So yes, I evicted them. Next year their offspring would have killed or displaced more of “my” swallows. But that’s a rural area, where I actually have a fighting chance to keep the House Sparrows at bay. In the heart of Seattle, where House Sparrows are firmly established, it’s nice to see that your roofers have a soft spot for the wildlife they displaced.

    • lyanda

      Andrew, yes, I think you’re right about a different sensibility/responsibility in rural places. Though of course we have violet-green swallows nesting in urban Seattle neighborhoods, often usurped by house sparrows! Still, I will not be getting out the kitchen scissors any time soon…Glad to hear your tree swallows are flourishing.

      • Ocpie

        I love birds and animals, whetehr domestic or wild. My husband tells me I’m a magnetic for cats that need homes. The dog and 5 cats we currently share our home with, are proof of that. Even as I type, one almost fully grown kitty is curled up on my chest, purring contentedly. The others aren’t far away.My sister- and brother-in-law have kept the Strathcona Raptor Shelter near Edmonton Alberta, for 28 years. They treat not only injured birds of prey, but all kinds of birds people find hurt from a three hour radius around them. I think God has placed within the wild creatures an instinctive knowing when humans are helping them to heal because they seldom struggle to get away. Willena Flewelling

  • Ellen

    We have a Cooper’s Hawk here in our suburban neighborhood. He was checking out my hens today, who were in their run at the time. I think they are too big for him though…. Neighbor (who also keeps chickens) told me he saw the hawk eating a robin on a neighbor’s roof just a bit after he flew away from my yard.

    • lyanda

      Ellen, you’re right–adult chickens are large for a Cooper’s, but good to keep an eye on the young ‘uns and the bantams. Meanwhile, enjoy the hawk. A beautiful bird.

  • Trileigh

    Hooray for those wonderful roofers! How are the babies doing now?

    • lyanda

      Fledged and gone! Now we have to figure out how to get that nest box down before next spring, so no more house sparrows get in. We don’t have a tall enough ladder…

  • Christina

    What a bright and charming story to start the day. Lovely to read about a spark of humanity like this. I’ve noticed the English sparrow numbers in my part of Seattle have dropped significantly over the years, based on informal backyard/feeder observations–they dwindled a lot after a Cooper’s hawk showed up, and since then we’ve had a lot more (native) Bewick’s wrens.

  • Craig

    As a raptor rehabber I liked the story on a couple of levels. One, it’s always encouraging that folks care enough to go out of their way to help our feathered friends. The second , as you have nicely pointed out, predators need to eat. By the way, I would have guessed that little guy to be a starling due to the length of the beak and down on the top of the head. Another reason I stick to rehabbing raptors and corvids.

    • lyanda

      Thanks, Craig! Yes, baby starlings are even bigger at this age. We observed the sparrows caring for these chicks, so no ID confusion…Best of luck with your good work.

  • Mike Giocondo

    Liyanda,
    I’m not a birder..don’t have time to do much except to vist my doctors . I’m in Chicago , 82 and a retired exjournaist -teacher… and your story about the sparrow caught my attention as replys. I just bought a copy of “Pilgrim….” and look forward to it. Best to all birders

  • Mike Giocondo

    Lyanda,
    Your story about the sparrows got my attention and the replys. I’m not a birder, don’t do much but read, go to doctors. I’m 82 and an exjournalist, teacher. I just bought “Pilgrim on the …..” Look foreward to read it. Best to all birders.

  • PJ

    Roofers are in a position of finding nests of other species, it is heartening to read of their sensitivity and concern. This story is a reminder that ‘problem’ species are problems in a complex system, almost always first ‘messed’ with by humans “introducing” flora & fauna into habitats where there isn’t a balance for that species – whether it’s House Sparrows or Scotch Broom. When Cow Birds, another ‘hated’ species, blamed for the decline of song birds, show up in our yard, I remind myself the Cow Bird is simply doing what Nature designed it to do, for reasons we do not understand. If their behaviour was the ONLY impact on song birds it would be minimal, but added to the human impact, the Cow Bird, or House Sparrow, etc. becomes the scapegoat. It is sad that necessary to rectifing human caused problems plants, birds, animals are often killed, and yet rarely is the balance restored.

  • Hazel

    Hi,

    I’ve just found your website via Root Simple.

    I had heard that sparrows were invasive in the US, but had no idea they would be so aggressive. It just shows how location can transform a species. (I’ve just read ‘Weeds’ by Richard Mabey, and Purple Loosestrife, along with Scotch broom, seem to have changed behaviour in a similar manner).

    In the UK, house sparrows are in decline, along with starlings like this http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/starling/index.aspx (I think you have more than one type?)

    Both were incredibly common when I was a child, but due in part to a change in farming practices, populations have fallen drastically and efforts are being made here to keep numbers up. Tempted to suggest re-introduction as you don’t want them!

    • lyanda

      Hazel, thanks for all this. Curiously, House Sparrow populations are in decline here too, and for the same reason–they proliferated in agricultural areas, feeding on seeds in the dung of pastured animals, and of course traditional practices are disappearing. But there are still plenty of them! We have just the one starling (introduced from your neck of the woods!)–Sturnus vulgaris.

  • jengod

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing.

  • angie

    haha, in the winter that’s where the squirrels like to live too!

  • Backyard Bird Nest Drama, Part 1: An Update on “The Roofer’s Birdhouse”

    [...] the Roofer’s Birdhouse? The avian soap opera continues:  We meant to borrow a long ladder and take the box down before [...]

  • Dorothy

    It’s going to be end of mine day, but before ending I am reading
    this fantastic post to increase my experience.

  • Gladis

    It is vital to confirm that a roofer is fully licensed in one’s
    state before giving the roofer the go ahead to begin work.
    De – Felice’s company does not stop at roofing though.
    One of the best ways to find a competent Florida roofing contractor is to ask
    fellow property owners for recommendations as well as their own experiences with various
    Broward commercial roofing installers.

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