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House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

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