The English Sparrow
Nature Bulletin No. 139 January 24, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
THE ENGLISH SPARROW
The first bird a child sees, most places in the civilized world, is likely to
be an English sparrow. In the cities, towns and country, the sparrow is a
familiar part of everyday life. Like the cockroach, the rat, the house
mouse and the house fly, the English sparrow has followed man over
most of the earth, adjusting itself to different climates, foods, enemies
and nesting places.
Everybody thinks he "knows" the English sparrow. Yet this bird --
common as dirt, unloved and neglected -- is more of a world citizen
than most birds and less studied than many rarer birds. It has so few
distinctive markings that it is hard to describe, particularly the female,
and may fool even skilled bird fans. It is of average size, average shape,
average color, and has an average chirp. Furthermore, it is not a
sparrow but one of the weaver finches a group of birds that build nests
with openings in the side. Moreover, they are not particularly English,
being native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, it is the " sparrow"
mentioned in the Bible.
In 1850 and 1852, a few misguided people released the first English
sparrows obtained from England, at Brooklyn, New York. During the
next 20 years, others were set free in Boston, in Philadelphia, and in
cities of Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut. They multiplied and
spread so fast that by 1875 they had crossed the continent and reached
San Francisco. There was an uproar of angry protest that they were
driving native songbirds away; that they were dirty and created fire
hazards with their trashy nests around buildings; that they damaged
millions of dollars worth of crops in gardens and fields, and devoured
food intended for poultry and livestock. Much of this was true, and still
is, but the sparrow population has decreased in cities since automobiles
and trucks have replaced the horse, and there is new evidence that the
English sparrow is not as black as he is painted. But we certainly would
have barred him from this country if we had looked carefully into his
character and habits. A little simple nature study, beforehand, would
have been repaid a thousandfold.
Perhaps the English sparrow should be in the emblem of the United
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012