December 19, 2009

El Serrano

The English Sparrow or house sparrow, the bane of the birding world (and known by birders as a feathered rat sharing that honor with the Rock Dove or common pigeon) is alive and well here in Santa Rosalia, specifically at Casa Boleo. We have a big tube feeder and it is covered with sparrows whenever it is filled with seed. This summer when we first put it up and I saw we were only feeding sparrows, I told Esperando we wouldn’t refill it when it was empty. But then the muchachas asked if we would please fill it up again because they liked seeing all the little birds. How could I refuse them when they work so hard? Since the only feed available down here to fill it with is scratch (hen feed), a lot of ‘uneatable’ seed and cracked corn gets cast on the ground. That attracts the pigeons that race around below it to chow down the cracked corn. Now isn’t that just every birder’s dream?

Today’s sparrows are descendents of birds imported from Europe to the U.S. before the turn of the last century. They have populated the Americas as they have most of the rest of the world. According to they were imported to protect trees from a caterpillar which is the larva of the Geometrid Moth. Many disagreed with the wisdom of this move and even predicted they would become pests as they fed on seeds and buds, not insects. One hundred Sparrows were released in New York City in 1852 and 1853. In 1854 more birds were imported and released in Portland, Maine and Quebec. In the next ten years, a few hundred more were imported and released in Quebec and around Portland, Boston and New York. In 1869, about one thousand were released in Philadelphia. They were released in San Francisco, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and several other cities in the interior. Between 1874 and 1876 a few were released in Michigan and in 1881, in Iowa. This bird is destructive to crops, spreads disease and parasites, competes with songbirds, and its filthy habits and population explosion have revealed its introduction to be a huge mistake. About the only positive thing that can be said for them is that they are monogamous.

My Mother hates Sparrows with a passion as they drive all the other pretty birds away. When we lived in Denver we switched our feed over to pure sunflower seeds which didn’t attract the sparrows, just house finches and a little hawk that liked to eat them who would sit on the fence waiting in the snow for any little birds to show up. That’s a multi-use feeder feeding both little birds and hawks.

As I looked out the kitchen window the other day at Casa Boleo and at the feeder covered with a multitude of sparrows and their children, cousins, aunts and uncles awaiting their turn in the bushes and on a wire that runs from pillar to post, I asked New Cook, what do they call that bird here? Oh, she said it is called a serrano. Ah like the chile, I said. Oh yes, she said, like the chile, but really it means coming from the mountains, they come down from the mountains. I just about choked on my cup of coffee—such a romantic concept for a messy piggy little bird that is generally found near human habitations. Ah the joys of being ignorant of the big wide world. In Santa Rosalia surrounded as it is by desert even a little sparrow is welcomed. When you don’t have a lot of birds to look at, except for buzzards, a little sparrow that reminds you of the coolness of the mountains is just the thing.

Taking a little bird bath in the dirt.

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