Thursday, January 24, 2008

English House Sparrows and the avenging angel of death

Since it’s very cold, and since my shoulder is still in recovery from surgery (feels great, thanks!), I have essentially no news to report on the furtherance of the superinsulated shop, or the superinsulated farm house. To entertain you in this brief unproductive interlude, I thought I would talk about birds for a bit.

English House Sparrows are a blight and a pox on North America. They were intentionally imported from England (may God deal with that man, be it ever so severely, for his extreme lapse of judgment), and they liked the place so well, they decimated many native species. It was thought that they would control insect pests better than the natives. Well, they don’t. And in fact, they eat and/or damage crops in a significant way rather than eat scads of bugs.

Plus, the species (like the Bluebird) that they have reduced, are the real heroes of insect control. The House Sparrows are aggressive, they are bullies and they often kill competitors and their young and their eggs. House Sparrows (Often abbreviated HOSP) make foxes look like good Samaritans by comparison. For all the gruesome details, along with gory pictures of their victims, this is a very informative site:

Ask most serious birders in North America what they think of House Sparrows, and prepare for vehemence in their reply.

I detest bullies in any species or form. Although I am six feet tall and weigh 185 pounds as an adult, I was small as a child. In first, second and third grade, I was the smallest person in the class, boy or girl. I also had bladder “issues” and wet my pants with some regularity. I know this is more information than you bargained on, but years of psychotherapy will put you back in fine form. I also was not a native in that town, but had moved there from elsewhere. This combination of attributes gave me extensive and first hand knowledge of how bullies operate. Although I learned a lot and perhaps developed some character, I did not particularly enjoy the experience. It did however give me a lifelong determination to discourage bullies at every opportunity.

Songbirds in the US are endlessly fascinating to watch. We have several bird feeders and enjoy the color, the sound, and the activity of “our” birds. On most occasions, they are more interesting than watching the television. In return, I protect them from the vile, wicked, evil English House Sparrow. There are various ways to reduce and control the local House Sparrow population, mainly trapping and shooting. Since I am a recreational shooter, and a hunter, I choose the gun method. This has the nice added benefit of keeping me and my 22 caliber rifle tuned up and very accurate.

I know that some will object to shooting these poor helpless creatures. The objections can stem from many sources. Some people are pacifists. I once helped out a bus load of communal pacifists down in Caldwell, Texas where I lived at the time. They were opposed to violence, "From the atom bomb to the fly swatter." They really lived out their credo and wouldn't kill a mosquito. I respect that. Others will object because I am killing something, and killing isn't "nice". "Oh, you can't shoot those poor helpless little birdies!" This is not a specially thoughtful position and it carries no weight with me at all. To act is to kill a sparrow. Failure to act is to allow the sparrow to kill several or many other birds, baby birds and eggs.

Some feel that "nature" is best left to her own devices, and will look upon my actions as meddling. Again, not specially thoughtful or helpful. We meddle in nature constantly. Certainly, there are good and bad examples, but consider farming. Left to her own devices, nature could supply a bountiful supply of food for a few million hunter-gatherers world wide. We had better get busy meddling right now. In this case, I think we as Christians are called to apply stewardship to creation (a much nicer concept than Mother Nature by the way...) out of obedience to the Creator.

But I digress.

The primary difficulty in controlling the House Sparrow population is in properly identifying the little buggers. There are lots of small brownish birds and it turns out, there are quite a few members in the sparrow family in the U.S. Many of them look quite similar from a distance. Since I am also a firm believer in justice, it would be very wrong for me to accidentally kill the perfectly nice and native American Tree Sparrow, mistaking him for his nasty English cousin. Here are photos of the two. From 50 feet away, it’s hard to tell the difference.

That’s the “good guy”.

And that’s the “bad guy”

The females and juveniles are even closer/harder to tell apart.

Fortunately for the tree sparrow, he is marked on the breast with a distinctive brown to black spot. It is the presence of this spot or mark that makes it relatively easy for me to distinguish between the two when I am looking through the telescopic sight on the rifle.

Aha! This is Passover all over again. I guess that makes me the avenging angel of death to House Sparrows. Those birds that bear the mark of God are safe from His judgment and recipients of His mercy. Let's not push the analogy too hard.

I am by no means comparing God’s justice and mercy to mine since His are infinitely better than mine. Even on a good day, I am a sinful, cantankerous creature. But it struck me strongly that we humans do have a conscience, and attempt to work out our lives, and influence out environments in ways that are congruent with our consciences. Some better, some worse, none perfectly. Yet God appreciates our attempts and encourages us to strive to live by His example in the best possible way that we can, given our limited and sinful nature.

Finest regards,


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