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There are sparrows in my yard! What can I do? Part 2


In the previous blog, I indicated that the house sparrow is an introduced species that has had some unintended consequences. We do have many other local sparrows contributing to Alberta’s biodiversity.

I admitted earlier I am not a birder, but I am keen on natural history. By consulting a Birds of Alberta guidebook I learned that there are at least five native species of sparrows that range throughout the entire province of Alberta. Perhaps I am most familiar with the clay-coloured sparrow (Spizella pallida), not because I can distinguish its colouration, but because when I hike or bike the paths of the prairie grasslands I see this small bird flitting about 5 cm above the surface of the grasses. It is a blur to my eyes as it bounces at high speed away from me. What is extremely distinguishing about this bird is its sound, which at first makes you think you are hearing the buzz of an angry swarm of insects nearby. Similarly, but not quite so angry, is the repeated trill note of the chipping sparrow (Spizella passerine). It also feeds on the grasslands but this sparrow nests in the nearby aspen groves and willow shrubs.

Another tiny little sparrow found in Alberta is the song sparrow (Melospiza melodia). Probably the most distinguishing feature of this bird’s appearance is it has no distinguishing features. It is just gray with mottled red brown plumage. What is powerful about this little bird is its voice - a delightfully distinctive and complex song.

My experience with sparrows in the winter is that they come around in large numbers when I put food for them in my bird feeder. Yet my sparrow visitors tend to be ground feeders and so within a very short period of time they empty out the feeder by pushing all of the seeds and grains down onto the ground. They feast at their own content but when they're done the feeder is empty and my opportunity to observe them vanishes until I fill it again.

If you were thinking that we can roll back the clock on the house sparrow, we are more than a hundred years too late. They have filled North America. According to Monica Neal of Columbia University, if the house sparrow was released today, it would be targeted for elimination. When it comes to control, farmers are encouraged to place bird houses that are differentially attractive to other bird species to assist them in competing with the house sparrow for nesting sites.

When it comes to our own local sparrows, we really need to train our eyes and ears to pick up the distinguishing features of each. This way we can gain great enjoyment from birds that are readily available at almost all times in our neighborhoods and when we walk through the forest or grassland parks.

Links of Interest:
House sparrow song
Clay-coloured sparrow song
Chipping sparrow song
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There are sparrows in my yard! What can I do? Part 2

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