Who doesn’t love a sparrow?
Now there are many references, 16 Google just told me, to sparrows in Shakespeare’s plays. So what does the great man have to say about these cute, vulnerable little feathery things? Do you remember? There are still a few lines from Shakespeare’s plays that even I, with an atrociously bad memory, and at 81 years and still counting, have not forgotten, for example, —To thine own self be true,— if you prick us do we not bleed, —and in regard to our subject, sparrows, this one from Hamlet, Act 5, scene 2, —There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.
And in fact his words have for some time now influenced how I look at the fall of the least of creatures, a fall, of course, that we share with them. We see them as we see ourselves. And not even the science news informing us that Tyrannosaurus Rex was a great, great… grand daddy of the sparrow, sets them apart, makes them different from us. The sparrow has held its special place in my thinking, at least up until today.
So what happened today to change all this? For now, to see a sparrow fall, is only to witness the end of a cruel predator. What happened was that I read Peyton Marshall’s NYTimes Opinionator piece, The Truth About Sparrows. He writes:
Ever since my mother joined the North American Bluebird Society, or NABS, she’s had it out for the English house sparrow — a bird that, when it isn’t devouring butterflies and yellow flowers, is pecking out the brains of bluebird mothers, dumping their lifeless bodies in the grass and then throwing their children out to die.
“Imagine if you had a neighbor like that,” Mom once said to me. “What would you do?”
I didn’t have a good answer. One afternoon in the spring of 1985, when I was 11, I came home from school and discovered our yard bristling with traps. They were so-called “no kill” boxes, mounted on steel poles that jutted from the ground like little gun towers. Mom would bait the traps with millet and cracked corn. Any birds that came to investigate found themselves forcibly detained. If they were “good” birds — cardinals, chickadees, robins — she planned to release them. If they were sparrows, however, they’d meet a different fate.
“Think of them like feathered sharks,” my mother said….
Attending weekly NABS meetings, Mom began to network with other birders. She came to see the sparrow for what it really was: a predator, a home-wrecker, a blight on the essential fabric of the American ecosystem. While it wasn’t realistic to think that she could single-handedly turn back the invading hordes, she hoped, at least, to clear them from our yard in McLean, Va., and to create what NABS referred to as a “trail,” a series of nesting boxes where bluebirds could lay tiny, turquoise eggs and safely fledge delicate chicks….
In the almost 30 years that my mother has been a NABS member, the bluebird population has rebounded, not just in McLean, but nationwide. Today, when the occasional sparrow blunders into one of the traps in my parents’ yard, it’s more of an anomaly — and it doesn’t end up in The Bird Bag. Mom has perfected her technique. Now, she uses a carving knife and cutting board, at her leisure, in the privacy of her own kitchen. Afterward, she feeds the sparrows’ bodies to the foxes in the woods, laying them in a special metal tube that my dad calls “the altar.” …. While I may not agree with my mother’s methods, I admire her will. When I go home and walk her trail, I look inside the nesting boxes and see clutches of fragile eggs, families of hungry fledglings. She is these bluebirds’ protector. She is their mother, too.