Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/568

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.





Messrs. Editors.

AS the habits and value of the English sparrow are now being investigated in various parts of the country, I submit the results of my own observations made during the last three or four years, or since the bird became abundant in this locality. The charge frequently made, that the English sparrow drives our native birds from their accustomed haunts, does not apply to this vicinity. The sparrows are very numerous, are noisy and sometimes aggressive in their habits, but appear to quarrel much more among themselves than with other species of birds. I have not noticed any superior combative power which would enable them to do that which they are charged with doing. They are with us during the year—about our grounds and dwellings in great numbers. They are companions of the song-sparrow, snow-bird, woodpecker, chickadee, creeper, nuthatch, etc. There is no conflict or dispute among them. During the inclement weather of winter I feed the birds frequently, sometimes daily, and have watched their movements with great interest. I have not seen a dispute in their efforts to obtain the coveted food. The woodpeckers and chickadees gathered the bits of meat, the fringilla the seeds, which I scattered.

Nor have I noticed any considerable controversy at the nesting-season. Bluebirds are the first to arrive, and sometimes find their former nesting-places occupied by sparrows, but no disturbance occurs, the blue-birds finding other places for their nests. I have several times noticed, however, that the bluebirds are masters of the situation when a struggle takes place for an empty box. At this writing, bluebirds, sparrows, orioles, and many other species have their nests on my grounds, and equally so on the grounds of others in our neighborhood. I have no doubt there are fifty birds'-nests within a short distance of my dwelling. Robins, blackbirds, cat-birds, orioles, warblers, finches, and fly-catchers of many kinds are all about us, very much more numerous than they were in our boyhood.

All birds of species which love the shade of the woodlands are of course undisturbed by sparrows, which seek open spaces near dwellings, not the forests. Nor will it be claimed that larger birds, such as the robin, suffer from the presence of the sparrows. With us the barn-swallow is among the most peaceful and unobtrusive of birds, and yet it does not seem to be in any great fear of the sparrows, as the following incident will show: A pair of swallows commenced building a nest under a shed on my premises, but a sparrow was soon seen sitting on the side of the half-finished structure. Directly the swallows commenced building another nest within a few feet of the first, and no further disturbance took place. The nest was finished and occupied by the swallows. Sparrows have not driven our native birds away, neither have they given cause for any serious complaint on account of destroying our grain, as they seem to have done in some other places. I think, in this particular, it would be well for people to observe carefully for themselves. In winter, indeed, at all seasons, sparrows delight to feed on half-digested grains thrown from stables, or scattered elsewhere, but in spring and summer I have seen them carrying animal food to their broods. This they do persistently and in large quantities, the supply consisting largely of insects, larva?, worms, etc. I have seen them catch insects on the wing as do the fly-catchers.

I have not observed that they eat berries, grapes, or other small fruits, but have seen them picking the soft grains of sweet-corn. If their food were scanty or unsuitable, it is probable that they would feed more freely on the valuable grains. The birds which do most damage to farmers in this vicinity are blackbirds, robins, cat-birds, and a few other species, which feed on cherries, blackberries, grapes, and similar fruits. When the fruits are ripe, the trees and bushes swarm with these birds, but we hear of no prejudice against them on that account, while the sparrows are freely condemned for like offenses.

Respectfully, John D. Hicks.
Old Westbury, Long Island,
5th Mo. 18th, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

The author of the article in "The Popular Science Monthly" of the present month, with the caption "The Classics that educate us," it is probable has not seen President Eliot's interpretation of the passage quoted from the address made at Smith College in 1879. The friends of the higher education