For the Birds Radio Program: Who Will Love a Little Sparrow?

Original Air Date: June 25, 1986 Rerun Dates: Oct. 3, 1986

Laura answers Simon and Garfunkel’s question.

Duration: 3′27″


(Recording of the House Sparrow)

Setting out bird houses in Duluth is an untarnished pleasure only if you happen to be a non-discriminating landlord. If you don’t mind tree swallows in your martin and bluebird houses, you’re halfway there. But the real test of a bona fide bird lover is whether you’re willing to provide shelter for a House Sparrow.

(“Who Will Love a Little Sparrow?”)

When I was growing up in Chicago, I thought of the House Sparrow as the McDonaldland Sparrow–the bird that always seemed to materialize out of nowhere at the sound of a dropping french fry. Here in Duluth, sparrows have to compete with Ring-billed Gulls in the Fast Food Franchise habitat, so I don’t get to enjoy begging House Sparrows as often anymore.

Most Duluthians seem to view the House Sparrow as a pest–mainly because the House Sparrow claims squatter’s rights on whatever property it chooses. It will aggressively defends its home against all comers. Whether it’s a jagged hole in a neon sign, a tiny opening in a pile of trash, or your expensive bird house, once a House Sparrow moves in, it has no intention of moving out. How is it supposed to know that you spent fifty-nine ninety eight and a whole afternoon to get that martin house up, and have every expectation that the tenants should eat their weight in mosquitoes to repay you?

Fortunately, at least from the annoyed human landlord’s viewpoint, the House Sparrow is not protected by any of the laws which protect native American birds. You’re legally allowed to throw out the nest or eggs or even kill the adult or baby House Sparrows, if that is your inclination.

The House Sparrow was introduced to the United States in 1850, from England. But don’t call it an English Sparrow–the British Ornithologists’ Union doesn’t want to claim it, either.

House Sparrows originated in Eurasia or Africa, and have doggedly followed the path of civilization from earliest times. The Indians and Vikings managed to sneak over here without a single sparrow tagging along. But for the European immigrants, a city just wasn’t a city without sparrows.

Also, in the 1800’s, the horse manure problem on city streets was growing unbearable. House sparrows were supposed to clean up all the insects and half-digested seeds in the manure. Within less than a century, the few that were released increased to millions. Of course, it was all in vain–Henry Ford came up with a better idea for dealing with the horse manure problem. And, unlike Fords, House Sparrows are not subject to recall.

(“Who Will Love a Little Sparrow?”–Last Verse)

That was Simon and Garfunkel, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”