House Sparrows

It's early summer and the baby House Sparrows are making their debuts. Little fluffballs, they're often larger than their parents, if only because their downy nest-feathers make them appear so. Twenty or more sparrows will peck at the crumbs I've scattered, the babies following their moms and dads and chirping and fluttering their wings excitedly. The parents patiently pick up a crumb and drop it in their baby's mouth. It seems the adults hardly have time to feed themselves, the big babies are ravenous. Why don't the younglings feed themselves? They're out of the nest now; they can easily observe their elders. Isn't it time to start eating on their own?

As I walk around the yard, the House Sparrows are usually the most jittery; they all take flight together if I get too close. The Brewer's Blackbirds are less so. They tend to just walk quickly away from the path, keeping a chary yellow eye on me. Perhaps the baby House Sparrows learn to be jittery as they grow older. When I walk near them, the attending adults take flight, but the babies just look at me strangely: "What is that big thing?" If they do finally spook and try to fly away, they fly skimmingly over the ground, as if knowing they won't have far to fall if their tiny wings give out. Better to just sit and stare at me. Unless I'm a hungry wolf, of course. But I'm not. There's nothing I'd love more than to hold their soft little bodies in my hands. But I don't attempt it; I don't want to traumatize their little lives. No sense making them fear humans.

I particularly enjoy watching the sparrows take dust baths. They nestle down on a dusty patch and then, in a flurry, wiggle their heads and then bodies furiously into the soft ground. With their wings flipping tightly around them, a tiny dust cloud momentarily envelopes them. They may do it again, two or three more times. When they finally stand up to leave, a small crater is left behind. Is this their way of staying "clean," keeping away the mites or ticks or whatever may live on them?

I also enjoy watching the sparrows' courtship. The male, with striking patches of browns and white, will chirp at his paramour, "Hey, check me out!" while lifting his chin and tail, opening his wings just a bit, and hopping all around her. The female, always insouciant, turns the other way and pecks at the ground. If the male gets too close, she'll peck at him, and he'll jump back. The male is relentless, first showing her this side of him and then that side. She looks the other way. Eventually, annoyed by all the racket, she flies off. Sometimes he flies after her; sometimes he just stands there, suddenly quiet, looking quite rejected.

© 2008 Jon Andreas. All rights reserved. Written 8 July 2008