To Mulvihill, killing house sparrows is an all-too-typical human response. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “If bluebirds and eastern phoebes have an enemy, it is we humans, not the house sparrows we brought here.”
First, Mulvihill pointed out, we wanted the sparrows to control pest insects. “They did that, and made themselves at home.” he said. “Now, we don’t want them because they are too good at competing with other birds we want around. This is a lesson why you never want to introduce an adaptable species into a new environment because it will inevitably upset the ecological balance and create problems.”
“It rarely ends well,” Mulvihill added.
This human may be part of the problem. I could stop feeding the birds by February, which might cause year-round residents like house sparrows to disperse. I could avoid inexpensive bird food mixes that contain cracked corn, milo, wheat and rye, preferred by house sparrows, and instead use more expensive seed that contains black-oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and white millet. And I could change from a platform feeder to a tubular one that house sparrows can’t dominate as easily.
Still, as the climate changes and species relocate, we may all have to get used to seeing birds compete for nesting space in our own backyards. The problem, Mulvihill predicted, is “going to snowball.”
I’ve broken up rooster fights, but it seems there’s little I can do on a large scale about competition between wild birds. Even if I tried to kill all the house sparrows at my house, Mulvihill said, “you’d be doing that year in and year out.”
Still, I’m on the lookout this spring for nest-raiding house sparrows. I will watch whatever scene plays out at my own back door, witnessing the results of human interaction in the bird world: a mother bird simply trying to raise her young, dealing as best she can with what we humans have thrown at her.
Daryln Brewer Hoffstot’s book “A Farm Life: Observations From Fields and Forests” was just published by Stackpole Books.