Friday 20 January 2012: Sparrows
I was riding my bike a block from my house and I was pleased to find this gathering of House Sparrows in full session and right next to the sidewalk, so that I could get some good shots of them.
I can remember the first times I noticed birds flocking like this. It was during my first sojourn in Europe and I was not used to seeing this activity. I saw it on a Sicilian beach and again in Birmingham. On both occasions I was assured that it was not unusual.
Wikipedia tells us that "The House Sparrow is a very social bird. It is gregarious at all seasons when feeding, often forming flocks with other types of bird. It also roosts communally, its nests are usually grouped together in clumps, and it engages in a number of social activities, such as dust and water bathing, and "social singing," in which birds call together in bushes. The House Sparrow feeds mostly on the ground, but it flocks in trees and bushes."
The sounds were interesting. When a car went by they all fell silent, then resumed their chorus when the distraction was gone. I wondered if they were just singing to enjoy a song together, or if they were debating how to address the latest nuances of the changing climate. These birds originated in the Middle East and naturalized all over the world during the mid-19th Century. They are extremely common here, and I seldom think about them for more than a moment. Here's my favorite sparrow singing her heart out.
Sparrows can be kept as pets, and they have souls as well. We have proof of this from the great Roman poet Catullus, who mourned the chirping darling of his lover Lesbia in the 1st century B.C.. Here's a translation I found, capturing the comic spirit that I think the author intended.
All you Loves and Cupids cry
and all you men of feeling
my girl's sparrow is dead,
my girl's beloved sparrow.
She loved him more than herself.
He was sweeter than honey, and he
knew her, as she knows her mother.
He never flew out of her lap,
but, hopping about here and there,
just chirped to his lady, alone.
Now he is flying the dark
no one ever returns from.
Evil to you, evil Shades
of Orcus, destroyers of beauty.
You have stolen the beautiful sparrow from me.
Oh sad day! Oh poor little sparrow!
Because of you my sweet girl's eyes
are red with weeping, and swollen.