I was expecting to find typical Falkland Island bird species near the capital of Port Stanley such as Falkland thrush and Striated caracara. It was, however, a surprise to find that the most common bird in town, by far, is the same one that comes in groups of 60 or more to my bird feeder in Toronto.
I am speaking, of course, of the common House sparrow (Passer domesticus). This is one species which, just like the birds of newspaper cartoons do, actually says “chirp.” It is the one that dominates at bird feeders instead of the cardinals and blue jays we long to see. It is the one which casually walks under the table looking for scraps while we dine at an outdoor café. It is the one which makes an evergreen bush alive with its chirps only to cease as you approach and then resume after you pass.
We think of them as drab and brown and they are in dust-filled inner city areas. But have a look at a male in a country location with its gray crown, chestnut nape, white cheeks and black bib and you will see a thing of beauty.
House sparrows were first introduced into North America in 1850 by an eccentric gentleman who wished to see every bird mentioned in Shakespeare brought to New York. These sparrows are a big success story in urban areas because their diet consists mainly of grain and weed seeds. They quickly adapt to eating scraps left over by human inhabitants. House sparrows are so clever that they time their entry into stores and shopping malls by doors as they are opened and closed by patrons.
But how on earth did this species find its way to the remote Falkland islands? The answer is, of course, that they were brought in cages as pets by settlers and eventually they either escaped or were released.
Whenever people on a nature walk with me say “It’s only a house sparrow” I always reply “Never say only.”