Thursday, June 25, 2009

Birds! Not the Right Kind...

When I received Mom’s call, I was reveling in my backyard that overnight had become, on casual observation, a bird sanctuary. 
“Carissa? Just got off the internet. I was trying to identify the birds that have started eating at my feeder and it turns out that most of them are House Sparrows… (Pause)... it’s awful. They seem so sweet, but you have got to read some of these anecdotes.”
She went on to describe a bird that could kindly be called a bully.  The one site dedicated to propagation of Mountain Blue Birds describes them as follows:
You might think they're cute (some blue birders refer to them as "rats with wings"), but they attack and kill adult bluebirds, sometimes trapping and decapitating them in the nestbox and building their own nest on top of the corpse. They destroy eggs and young. At a minimum, they often harass native birds (especially more timid species like chickadees) into abandoning nestboxes.”
The site went on to show some pretty graphic photos of ‘the circle of life’.
Anxious, I went to identify the birds swarming my newly acquired feeder and it turns out my bird sanctuary is made up of House Sparrow too (plus the odd magpie). Here I thought I was helping my urban landscape ‘return to its roots’.  I want to encourage a natural, balanced habitat consisting of plants AND animals. Have I instead been helping one of the bullies of Birdland Edmonton get easy food and further propagate itself to the great expense of other species?
In addition, I noticed they’re eating my spinach and peas!
What to do?  I want to increase the number of birds in my yard. They eat insects, often will eat weed seeds, and enhance my morning coffee ritual.
John Janzen Nature Centre assured me that in Edmonton there are other species that compete with the House Sparrow, such as the native Finch, and so help control their numbers.  However the Wild Bird General Store hotline confirmed that the House Sparrow here in Edmonton has been harmful to native species such as house wrens, chickadees, and tree swallows. The gentleman recommended that birdhouses be monitored well to ensure house sparrows were not allowed to propagate.  "If unchecked, a breeding pair can grow to over 2,000 birds in two to three years." (Bird Barrier America, Inc.)
After researching this, I’ve decided that I want other species of birds at my feeder but I don’t want to further encourage the House Sparrows.  Here are some things that I’m going to try…
-       Change to feed without millet or cracked corn- instead switch to black oil sunflower. Thistle and safflower
-       Buy a Magic Halo for the feeder
-       Buy vertical feeders without perches (the man I spoke to at the Wild Bird General Store said these were the only thing to work for him).
If none of the above work, I’ll remove the feeder.  
One positive thing I've discovered through this process is the existence of the helpful House Wren. One woman writes, “Observers whose patience exceeds mine have counted over 1000 feedings to a house wren brood in one day.” These feedings consist of aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and moths. Since the Wren only needs a 1” diameter hole for its house, one doesn’t have to worry about Sparrows invading, as they need at least a 1 and 1/8” hole.
As for an update on my square foot gardens, my veggies are growing and the sparrows and I are harvesting spinach. I now have a bobble head owl overseeing the squares, just until the peas grow larger and my spinach bolts!

P.S. Here are some of the resources I used:
-John Janzen Nature Centre- 780-442-1443
- Wild Bird General Store- 1-800-465-5099
- A resource for Blue bird Lovers-
-A resource for encouraging House Wrens-

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