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The House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is one of most hated birds in America, but how can you hate such a good-looking little guy. The real champ has to be the European Starling, every time I see one I'm tempted to ask him for his papers.

House Sparrow 2.jpg

Pictures taken with my BirdCam


 

Comments

Not mentioned in the blurb on starlings is that they often lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Starling chicks hatch earlier and grow faster than other chicks, and they will push the eggs/hatchlings out of the nest while the parent birds instinctively feed the starling chicks. This is one reason they are often reviled by bird enthusiasts.

Starlings are great for plucking out grubs from your lawn. They can be lured to your lawn with bread scraps. Farmers surrounding Kansas City use a special pesticide just for Starlings (Starlicide), so they aren't quite the problem they used to be here.

Not reviled by ALL enthusiasts take a look at this

http://tinyurl.com/37z3r3r

The following is an excerpt from Bil Gilbert's "Our Nature" in which Gilbert defends the so-called "unnatural" importing of "non-native" species into the United States, specifically, the arrival of monk parakeets in Chicago:

"Much of this country is occupied by immigrants, that is species that didn't originate here. This is most apparent among ourselves, every jack of us - red, white, black, yellow and mixtures thereof - having ancestors who came here from other continents. The same is true for a good many of the resident plants and animals. In thinking about this, we tend to make arbitrary judgments, based solely on time and manner of arrival, of good natives and undesirable aliens. The Everglades kite and black-footed ferret, which got here many centuries ago by their own devices (from the Caribbean and Siberia, respectively), are deemed to be fine, natural native Americans, altogether deserving of our support and sympathy. Another all-right category includes such things as the honeybee. It was imported, but so long ago - in the 17th century by English settlers - that it's now celebrated as a good American bug. On the other hand, something like the monk parakeet is regarded with scorn and suspicion, as an impure, essentially not-nice creature, because it came (maybe) in the last 20 years by (perhaps) jet.

...

A 707, or whatever they arrived in on is a no more despicable form of transport than the southwest wind, which centuries ago carried the Everglades kite to these parts. Somewhere down the road, the monks may become established here. If so, we may regard them as excellent additions; bright, pretty, useful birds that help make up for the loss of their kin, the Carolina parakeet. On the other hand, they may turn into awful pests, making us wish they had stayed home to harass the Argentines. But that is nature for you. The most beautiful and comforting thing about it is that is is ultimately so complex as to defy even medium-range prophecy and too powerful to be controlled by any of us."

Starlings are known to be aggressive and take over other birds' nests but the cuckoo-like behaviour of leaving other birds to rear the chicks is not recorded (as far as I can find), There is a reference to "some species of Molothrus, a widely distinct genus of American birds, allied to our starlings, have parasitic habits like those of the cuckoo; and the species present an interesting gradation in the perfection of their instincts. The sexes of Molothrus badius are stated by an excellent observer, Mr. Hudson, sometimes to live promiscuously together in flocks, and sometimes to pair. They either build a nest of their own or seize on one belonging to some other bird, occasionally throwing out the nestlings of the stranger." in Darwin's Origin of Species, but these are not starlings.

Perhaps it's cowbirds that engage in the behavior I describe. I had been under the impression that cowbirds and starlings were the same thing, but a number sources seem to regard them as distinct species, although the illustrations look about the same.

That was my understanding of what Molothrus was, but in the case of a cowbird (to quote Tom Lehrer)"Don't stand underneath as they fly by."

Norm

If you are getting hooked on the great kingdom of birds and as you seem to be in Salt Lake City, if I remember correctly, you should be aware that the Great Salt Lake, especially in the marshlands, is one of the best birding areas in America. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in the north of the lake is an important bird area (IBA).

http://www.fws.gov/bearriver/

Anytime is good, the fall migration (August and September) is especially good. Take a look and enjoy the birds.

Just a note on Starlings. They look completely different to other starlings. The iridescence we see is color moving into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Starlings have eyes which are sensitive to these wavelengths and reveal a whole set of markings which are invisible to us.

Hey Rob, thanks for the tips.

Pedant, that aerial display of starlings was awesome.

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