Remember the Roofer’s Birdhouse? The avian soap opera continues: We meant to borrow a long ladder and take the box down before more House Sparrows could use it this season, but alas, we didn’t quite get to it. So I decided to make the most of the urban wildlife “research opportunity,” and observe the progress of the nest carefully.
Right away in early spring, House Sparrows moved in. They didn’t mind that the entrance hole was now giant (chewed by a squirrel who had contemplated using the house for himself ), and got busy collecting feathers from the chicken coop, and other refuse from around our house to make their messy nest. We’ve been hearing the cheeping of the young for a couple of weeks now, and they should be ready to fledge anytime.
In a dramatic turn of events, our domestic predator, Delilah, killed the mother House Sparrow yesterday. Delilah is officially an indoor cat, but when the weather gets warm, she sometimes slips out the open back door, and we let her wander around the garden with us–since she doesn’t go out much, she’s too scared of the world to stray. But she reminds me what swift and effective predators domestic cats are. I’d barely turned my back on her before she brought her recently-live prey proudly into the house.
I suppose if we could teach cats, which are NOT “natural predators” in the landscape–they are naturally predacious, which is different–to kill only nonnative birds such as House Sparrows, maybe there would be some kind of balance, but that is not how it works. Once, after another of her secret forays into the backyard wilds, Delilah brought me a MacGillivray’s Warbler, one of the few ever sighted in West Seattle. I was able to release that bird, but can’t know how it fared, as even tiny cat bites are deadly to birds.
In any case, I gently separated Delilah from her dead sparrow (disappointment!–Delilah did not forgive me for hours); even if this was “just” a House Sparrow, she was lovely in her own right, and I was sorry for her. I buried her in a shady garden corner.
But things are not all bad for the sparrow family. While many songbird species leave care of the young to the female, male House Sparrows are active in the feeding of the nestlings. Mr. House Sparrow did seem agitated and confused after witnessing the loss of his mate, but he “manned-up” right away, and got busy feeding his brood. This morning I imitated the call of the male house sparrow, and for the first time one of the nestlings peeked out.
I believe we have two ethical options regarding the nonnative starlings and House Sparrows nesting in our yards:
1. Try to prevent them–remove their nests or eggs, cover inviting potential nest-spots (both are cavity-nesters, and like things like gutter cornices or heater vents). I never advocate harming individual birds, or their young after hatching. (See my post on the Roofer’s Birdhouse for more on this.)
2. If they do nest in our yards, then we should make the most of it. These are approachable, watchable birds, and we can learn a lot about all birds by observing them closely. (See my earlier post on House Sparrows for more on this.)
Is there drama in your little plot of urban wilderness? I’d love to hear about it.