Humanities Other Best Friend Or When Good Intention Lead to Really Bad Outcomes

by Mark Zinan

With seven billion and counting human voices in perpetual  motion and the constant electronic hum of technology,  have you ever wondered who provides us serene daily companionship?  In a world full of dogs barking, cats stalking,, humans talking, and machines humming;  our native bird species can provide a more serene companionship.

To assist native bird species.  our many bird lovers perform acts of kindness by installing nest boxes or filling bird feeders.  We want to help our feathered friends survive the winter and to reproduce in health and peace. In the proper open field location and with the correct nesting box , you can attract Tree Swallows, Bluebirds, , the occasional Black Capped Chickadee, and other box nesters to your home location.  (The North American Bluebird Society web site provides detailed guidance.)

Yet, in every Yin and Yang scenario, there is a dark side to our altruistic acts. Unmonitored bird boxes and certain formula bird seed can cause wild bird catastrophe.   The catastrophe is the arrival of the  omnipresent House Sparrow, known by bird fanatics as “the Dreaded HOSP”.  The HOSP is a non-native species of the weaver finch  family. Depending on the story, HOSPs were either  introduced to the USA in the 1800’s to control crop pests or to make immigrant Englishmen more comfortable in their new homeland.  As with the Starling introduction, this “brilliant idea at the time” resulted in a significant loss of our native birds. The Federal Government wildlife agencies classify them as a pest.

For the past fifteen years, I have learned these consequences the hard way.  During their extremely long breeding season (March to August), male HOSPs, fall madly in love  with their nest boxes but not their mates.  Male HOSPS will colonize 2 or 3 nest boxes in order to attract a mate.  Up to four broods a year are possible.  Fine, you say,  the HOSP has a right to breed and is one of Nature’s creatures.

And thus begins the real life Greek Tragedy.   If you don’t actively monitor your nest boxes, the male HOSP will provide the opposite of your good intentions .   At a minimum, the male HOSP will drive away the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.    Male HOSPs will kill the brooding parents in the next box  or the nestlings. The HOSP will then build his nest on top of their dead bodies.  I kid you not. HOSPs breed everywhere,  just check out the 500 pairs that live in our Big Box Stores (Home Depot, Loews)  up in the garden center rafters.  HOSPs thrive everywhere: small and large cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

So, what can you do to mitigate these scenarios?  HOSPS are not protected by Federal or State migratory bird laws.   You can try to remove them by trapping with Van Ert traps but you must actively monitor these traps.   Some people prefer to use air rifles.   If you don’t have the energy or will to control your HOSPs, for the sake of the Bluebird and Tree Swallow populations, take down your nest boxes.  You can also change your bird seed to a non-friendly  HOSP mixture.  Sunflower seeds or thistle bird feeders are less attractive to their habits.  If there is a proven sparrow resistant box, please purchase it instead.

With active nest-box monitoring, the bluebirds, tree swallows and other native birds will thank you with their physical presence, next generation, songs and chirps. Tree Swallows become so acclimated to your presence you can stand within 5-10 feet of the breeding pair.  The 5 billion HOSPs on the planet will have a slightly reduced population explosion.

In my heart I know we need our bird companions to help us survive this frenzied, rational, and technology-driven society. Along with our dogs.