This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The English sparrow' abundant about our trees, do not eat the buds - but it may be that they find enough of other preferable food. Mr. William Tillery, one of the most prominent and respected of England's many intelligent gardeners, in a recent number of the London Gardener's Chronicle, says " during the late severe weather " they were very destructive to the buds of his currant and gooseberry bushes, and then, quoting the article of General Noble in our columns recently, adds:
"This correspondent expresses a wish, as Burns did of the ' Deil,' that the sparrow might 'tak' a thocht and mend,' but there is little chance of this from what we know of his habits in this country. Our farmers know to their cost the ravages sparrows make on their ripening corn near the hedges, and to the grain in their stacks in the winter time, and it will be the same in other agricultural countries abroad where they have been introduced. We gardeners, like the farmers, likewise get blamed if we take means to keep their numbers within bounds, and the number of their scalps taken must not be counted for 'Mr. Punch ' to get hold of. The evil of acclimatising sparrows and rabbits in America as well as in our Australian colonies was pointed out at the time when these exportations were being made, and the results now show the soundness of the advice."
Our own impression is that in our country the sparrow will not wander off to the country until it becomes more thickly settled than it is now. There is nothing for it to eat in winter; but this bud-eating habit has a bad look for the fruit growers near towns.
In some respects this little foreigner deserves our welcome. But his distant origin and his cheery, home-loving ways, blind us to his betters at our doors. Before him we had native birds, greedy for worms, more pretty of plumage, and sweeter of song. We feed and pet this immigrant, but our own birds we shot and stoned, till they found neither pluck or numbers to fight the worm. Then the crawling pests so stripped to wintry barrenness the garb of "glorious summer," that in pure despair we took on trust this sparrow's boasted appetite for worms, to war against our petty foes.
He breeds so fast that if each one only ate a few, their numbers would make havoc among the creeping tribes. A little colony of eight settled here four years, have filled the town. But as "early birds" after the worms, they don't eat a cent's worth. Enough sparrows have squatted on my two acres to eat all the worms off an hundred, and cry for more, yet the tormenting pests still strip my currant bushes right under their noses. Nor does the sparrow hunt other worms any better. In fact, as help against our foes on leaf and fruit, I set down the English sparrow as a failure and a fraud. But worse than this, I fear we may find him as big a pest as the worms he promised to eat,
Sad stories come to me of his picking out the fruit buds in the winter, and of his raids on the opening bloom of spring. Last year, near New Haven, a flock swept off in a day the promised crop of a whole orchard. Last winter the squatters on my ground stripped my currant bushes of half their buds. They served a large strawberry bed in the same style. Hunger could not be plead for such vandalism. They shared with my fowls plenty of small grains, and garbage always within reach. These sorry habits, in such swarms of them as must soon fill the land, will by and by demand a premium for their scalps.
These sparrows, too, are mighty exclusive in their ways. Fellowship for other species is not one of their virtues. They are a plucky and fighting crowd, and more than a match for any small bird, except the little bully wren. I find the sparrow drives away many of his kind, more pleasing in plumage and in song, who formerly spent their summers at our door. The blue bird no longer tarries with us after his Southern winter tour. The Northern mocking bird has de--serted the pear tree top, whence for years at early dawn he filled the morning air with apt . and gleeful mimicry of song. Not half so many kinds of birds spend their summers with us now, as before the coming of these sparrows.
But perhaps this visitor does better elsewhere, and will mend his ways. It would be hard to condemn him on so short a trial. He is a hardy, cheery, home-loving little fellow. He sticks close to the crannies and nooks and little resting • spots around the house. In the gloom and storm of winter, when pretty much all his kind desert us for the Southern skies, his chirp and lively flitting cheer away the gloom of a murky sky and chilling blast. Though he is not a pretty bird, or a sweet singer, nor fills the measure of his promise in the line of worms, yet, like the teaching of a friend when the clouds and storms of fate hang o'er us, his lively chirp close to our door steps, in face of the chill and glower of winter, binds him to our hearts despite his faults.
I hope to hear from others a more welcome record of his ways. In the meantime, is there no bird who will eat the hairy and thorny coated worms, which are as bad as any?
There is another English bird whose cheery notes I would like to hear, defiant of the wintry blast and storm - the English robin, the true robin redbreast. Our robin is not truly a robin, but a species of thrush. Is not that so? Yes. I do not know his habits or his food. But if he never eats a worm, the reality at our doors of his picture, singing from the snow-clad, red-berried holly, under a murky sky, gleesome, defiant and hopeful, would well pay for his passage and his feed. Wont some enterprising bird man get us the English robin redbreast?