My Admiration for Song Sparrows

Eradicating invasive Himalayan Blackberries was a foundational step in building Beaver Willows Nature Habitat park on a piece of property that adjoins a wetland in our front “yard.” If you’ve ever tried weeding invasive blackberries, you can appreciate how blood-thirsty those thorny-monster vines can be. The only pleasant part of the work was a serenade provided by a song sparrow. Her sweet melody soothed the task of playing tug-of-war with the insanely long, barbed vines. She seemed delighted to follow my movements throughout the afternoon; singing gleefully, happy to have me as an audience.

Anxious to get the job done,  I was not careful with attention to the plants that grew in close proximity to the target of my plant-slaying quest. Then it happened… a small, empty bird nest woven neatly from wetland grasses dangled in a mass of vegetation; it was caught by the spiky spines that protruded from the vines. At first I was thrilled by the find. It felt like I had received a trophy in reward for my good deed of removing noxious weeds from our wetland property. Oddly, the little song sparrow ceased to sing. It took only that moment for me to realize the snagged nest was hers. My heart sank as I commenced to serenade her with sincere apologies for what I had carelessly done.

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Next morning, the work of blackberry eradication continued, but with less zeal in the aggressive approach I had employed the previous day. After studying the plant community, I decided to leave some of the blackberry thicket along the margins where  hardwood trees and softwood shrubbery meet with the wetland. As if giving approval and a sign of forgiveness, the song sparrow continued, as she had done the day before, with her beautiful chorus.

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Weeks later, came the realization why I so profoundly admire the Song Sparrow. Her song lured me to a place in the thicket where  purposeful flight was rustling in and out of the remaining blackberry vines. Then it happened! The tiny chirps of hungry hatchlings formed a new melody. The Song Sparrow did not give up that day her nest was reeled out of the brambles… she skillfully built a new one. As the days of spring passed, I sat on a nearby stump and observed as she and her mate cared for their youngsters.

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I still have the remains of the first nest. It’s been picked through by other animals and disturbed by winds, rain, and snow. But is still serves as a reminder of my appreciation for the Song Sparrow’s forgiving spirit, her cheerfulness , and the tenacity she exhibited in rebuilding what was lost in order to move forward with life. It also reminds me that nature’s ecosystems are intricate networks that support the organisms living in a particular habitat. One small change can have life-changing consequences. In the case of the the disturbed nesting site, I was fortunate because the Song Sparrow was able to recover and prevail. But- this is not always the case. We, as human-beings, must evaluate how severely we choose to impact nature . . . there are times she will not be able to recover.

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Please also visit my page: Song Sparrow

4 comments

  1. Enjoyed reading your account, Jan. We are so often unaware of the unintended consequences to our actions. It’s interesting how we learn more by focusing on the detail – how over time one can become better attuned to interpreting the songs of the birds. Had a similar experience with our Rock Hyrax colony in trying to understand their vocalisations – lots of chunking, chirruping going on, arias on the rocks. Turns out there’s a new ‘boy’ on the block trying to assert dominance. Takes a lot of neutral observing to stop the bias of anthropomorphising.

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    1. Hello Liz-
      I agree with you… the thought about “neutral observing” is a good one. This approach will lead to a more scientific way to understand what we see in nature. And seeing more detail certainly is enhanced by immersion with nature over time. This is another area that is of great concern to me. Our digital world seems to prevent people of all ages from getting outside to experience nature on a regular, purposeful basis.
      Jane

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  2. Pondering the facts… Could I have misread the Song Swallow? Were the songs communicating delight…
    Or were they calls to guard territory… To exhibit distress… To sound a warning?

    Another lesson appreciated… Humans should be less anthropomorphic and more willing to truly read nature’s signals.

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