Some of my favorite and most productive birding locals have been put off limits to me due to duck and deer hunting. Everyone needs to have a little fun I suppose, including the hunters who help pave the way financially and politically to make sure there are such things as nature preserves and that wetlands are maintained and advocated for.
In my country the opening line of our Declaration of Independence "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union" is quickly morphing into "Your on your own buddy, don't come looking to me for sympathy." If your not quick enough or strong enough to get by on your own moxie, to bad for you, the game, as it is played in the U.S.A., is for the powerful and this is still a damn good country especially if your playing with the House's money.
It is no easy feat to organise and find funding for something as nebulous as habitat for non-contributing avian and amphibian life. Our gun loving citizens and their lobby are big time players in American politics, and the powers that be know better than to ruffle their feathers or infringe on their playgrounds. So we, the eccentric birders and bird photographers, ride the political coat tails of those whose interest in birds centers on shooting them out of the sky. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. In the world of power politics we, the nature photographers, are the Great Unwashed or as a birder might put it, LBJ's (little brown job's:-)!
If we don't flock we're finished.
The commonest bird on the planet is the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) also known as the chicken. We love our chicken and don't want to go through the trouble of shooting them in the wild so they are raised by the billions in controlled environments for our consumption. Indeed it is feared the Red Jungle fowl may be extinct in the wild. We generally see them plucked, carved, and packed in plastic covered Styrofoam trays. Hardly a sighting you'd want to inform E-bird about. If we were to divide chickens up equally and fairly among the Earth's people you would be receiving eight in the mail as your inheritance. "Yes," You might add, "But what of the wild birds, which is most common?" The answer to that question appears to be the Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea) of sub-Sahara Africa. I had never heard of it before today! Not surprising I suppose, since it's range is limited even though it numbers are estimated to be over 1.5 billion mating birds. Well, how can the Quelea be considered the most "common" bird if it is not seen by the most people? Good question. The Quelea may indeed be the most populous wild bird but the bird seen by the most people day in day out is... The House Sparrow (passer domesticus): The ultimate LBJ.
As I went forth this week to record the birds of Michigan I got a taste of my status as a bird photographer. I asked the Ranger why the refuge would be closed until May. "We have to give the birds a rest." He said. This I could understand even if it reduces my opportunity to see and photograph something remarkable. Just then I remembered the temporary Shooting blinds that had been trucked into the refuge at the end of October and set up at strategic positions. Some rest. I'll bet I could take one hell of a picture of a Canadian goose falling out of the sky. I wonder if the herons, eagles, and cranes tolerate the explosions of bird shot knowing their habitat opportunities would be even more greatly reduced if the hunters where not so gung-ho about stuffing their freezers with greasy duck and goose meat.
Having received the word from the man I went back to my car to drive home. I paused, key in hand, to the sound of excited bird calls. I need pictures, lots of them to fill the bird freezer that is my hard drive. There behind the Shiawassee Refuge's Welcome Center was a brush pile popping with House sparrows. I sat in the mud trying to remain inconspicuous and nonthreatening as I clicked away. My spirit lifted.
The Egyptians used the picture of a sparrow to express the idea: common, dirty, and vile. They also credited the sparrow with carrying our souls to heaven. I felt like I was with my people.
The Egyptians used the picture of a sparrow to express the idea: common, dirty, and vile. They also credited the sparrow with carrying our souls to heaven. I felt like I was with my people.
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In California's central valley, the interests of agriculture are also a work in providing habitat. US Fish and Wildlife service has refuges to lure the birds from the rice fields until after harvest. Some are open to hunting and other areas are reserved for birders. I feature one this week on "Martha's Musings".ReplyDelete
trying to stir the pot a bit today, aren't you? big business funds all sorts of projects for humanity and nature preservation alike. balance is key, and that certainly applies to hunting and conservation. i worked many years for one of the nation's largest homebuilders. as we turned fields and forests into subdivisions, we'd slip a bit of money into the Nature Conservancy or some such fund to get our company name marketed with something warm and fuzzy and beautiful.ReplyDelete
I doubt they shoot to fill the freezer, it is probobly just for "fun". I think they should change the gun for a camera.ReplyDelete
The second shot...it´s not a house sparrow, is it?
My father was a big hunter. He shot anything that moved that he could legally. I grew up eating deer but hated duck and pheasant. Didn't like the taste. Now I can't believe I used to eat deer. They are just too cute. I know, some Americans are funny about what they eat. It's okay to eat a chicken or cow but not a deer or duck because they are just too cute. I don't have the problem of parks around my area closing for hunting although I think there are a few in Florida.ReplyDelete
Good eye NatureFootstep's, I have not been able to identify it conclusively. Could it be a transitional molt? Here's hoping Hilke is back from Germany!ReplyDelete
That second shot really is unusual, I've never seen a sparrow looking like that. It could be a juvenile male busy with molting into adult plumage, but his body shape and the beak don't look all that sparrow-ish for me.ReplyDelete
I always find it a bit weird that they are so very common in the US while they had almost died out in Germany. These days, you can hear them around the city again, but they are far from the ubiquitous birds they used to be.
Hi Springman, in Southern Africa the Red-billed Quelea has become such a agricultural "pest" due to the decline of their natural predators,the sparrowhawks and falcons, that the farmers are poisoning them. Which creates another problem. A bird can transport for 100's kilometers before dying or being eaten by the left-over falcons/sparrowhawks. Sad. I'm posting a "sparrowhawk" tomorrow but don't really have a positive ID on it. Any suggestions are welcome. I'll link to this post in the morning. Have a great day. And thanks for the spectacular photos, as alwasys. Greetings, JoReplyDelete
Springman, nice post. I think most people tend to forget our LBJ's, they are so common. I quite like them and they seem to be constant visitors to one of my blogs or the other. There's been a couple this week and a matter of fact!ReplyDelete
Our local sanctuary doesn't allow shooting but it rings the boundaries like a solid wall of sound. Hunting season here too! Idiots with guns for the most part. But I suppose you have to give them their due!
Great post Springman. The 'humble' sparrow is always welcome in my garden. Unfortunately they're in decline in this country.ReplyDelete
As for hunting; I'm totally against it in any shape or form. What gives us humans the right to play god, and decide which creatures live or die?
I'll go with White-crowned Sparrow. I agree that we non-consumptive users must acknowledge the fact that we owe quite a bit to the hunters. No matter where they might be on the political spectrum, so many agree with us on the need to preserve and enlarge natural habitat. Now, when it comes to ATV and snowmobile trails, we begin to part company.ReplyDelete
Interesting thoughts . . . I enjoyed your photos as usual and am hoping that people weigh in on which waxwings I had in my yard . . .ReplyDelete
A lovely post with a lot of passion for your wonderful wildlife...ReplyDelete
As Keith (Holdingmoments) has aleardy said the House Sparrow is a bird in decline in the UK... and a real favourite of mine..
Killing any wildlife for sport just doesn't register with me...
Wonderful shots of those little brown things I can never focus my eye on, let alone the camera!!ReplyDelete
well I love the sparrow, your photos are superb, I can't imagine how much time you must spend in waiting for the perfect shot. And, how many you pass over til' you come across the best one to use here too. That could take quite some editing time. I enjoy your articles; so full of information; like a really interesting Geographic article. The reference to the stamp detail also, very creative post. Loved your comment about stocking up your bird freezer/hard-drive.ReplyDelete
Beautiful, detailed close-up's, Springman! Excellent!ReplyDelete
Good read Springman. When I am up on the moors taking wonderful images of the endemic Red Grouse I have to remember that their habitat is preserved by the very peole who shoot them as so called sport.... they pay to keep the habitat in tip top condition... swings and roundabouts I supose.ReplyDelete
The Red Jungle Fowl is alive and well my friend.... I saw one in Malaysia this year...lol
For my money, I'd be happy to see a world wide ban on shooting of any kind, guns, mortars or rockets etc. I remember somewhere in the good book is the admonition "thou shalt not kill". Killing to survive is one thing,bit killing for sport is sheer madness.ReplyDelete
We have a flock of resident house sparrows that do rather well on the wheat put out for the chickens but are very wary of cameras.
I think I'm developing a foot fetish, I just love the way little birds curl their toes around a twig. Nice captures of the sparrows, the last one seems to have a cross-bite.
Lovely shots in this post, Springman! I never go out looking for LBJ's -- but I'm always glad to find them when I can't find what I was looking for!ReplyDelete
Back in California, we had a large flock of house sparrows that lived in the tree near our driveway. Every now and then they would make quite a ruckus out front, and they were loud enough that we heard them loudly inside. Every time it started to rain they would start making tons of noise too, and I could just picture them all fighting over the best branches to keep dry. In keeping with the theme of your post, now that we're in Massachusetts, we still have a group that I see regularly -- they hang out on our fire escape in the mornings.
Great post today! I would love if there were a ban on guns!ReplyDelete
So good of you to put in a word for the commoners in the bird world, may the invisible everyman of birds not be forgotten. I toyed for a moment with the thought of taking a picture of the common black starling, or was it a grackle (?), that was poking around my back yard in the wet leaves looking for protein, but I thought it so far from worthy of your distinguished page here that I didn't dare... but perhaps I will run for the camera next time if the starling comes back...ReplyDelete
And very fine reflections on the strange times we live in, where gun lobbies rule politicians... very strange indeed...
Great photos. Sparrows are always fun to watch.ReplyDelete
Another intriguing post Dave. I see you have the male House Sparrow as your first photo but the second is a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow. The last photo looks like a female House Sparrow to me.ReplyDelete
As for the hunters. There has been a LOT of discussion in the bird blogging world on the subject of hunters funding the wildlife preserves and wetlands. The "Duck Stamp" is actually the "Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp." The controversy comes around the fact that many conservation minded people like birders and wildlife photographers purchase duck stamps to help the environment but all the credit goes to hunters!
For me this argument came about when Tennessee decided it was time to hunt Sandhill Cranes! Well, needless to say, this sounded like insanity to me. I wrote a post about it too.
But we need to convey to the USFWS that we birders and non-hunter outdoor enthusiasts need a "Conservation Stamp" that we can contribute to and get credit for! Maybe that would change some political clout and some conservation decisions!
Check out this post on 10000 Birds on this issue.
Thanks for hosting WBW and bringing up this most important subject once again.
You and your commenters have made some very good points.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the subject...I'm not taking sides...this time.
Hi there - house sparrows can be found outside my window too - brought all the way from the UK. The question with no clear answer is "if we had the chance now, would we remove them from Australia?" Make you think about what we call natural.ReplyDelete
I waited a long time to get the last of the gull pictures - both birds looking right - but it never came. A kid with a sandwich made them a better offer!
Cheers - Stewart M
Hi Springman, yes I am back from Germany and am trying to catch up with all the posts. I agree with White-crowned Sparrow - it's in first winter plumage. Marvelous header photo! Today's post is especially thought-provoking, a fact that's also reflected in the many commments. You have weaved together a lot of different subjects and given us much to chew on. I love it!!ReplyDelete
6:20 AM here this WBW on the Rio Pine and I am home and thankful to be away from the fire scene for a couple of days. A few thoughts...ReplyDelete
Thanks for the ID on the second bird of this post Larry. A juvenile White-crowned sparrow you say? I yield to your expertise, it is appreciated. Further, your information about the duck stamp is intriguing, curious that birders and photographers are heaped in with bird hunters and increase their political punch because of it. I did not know that.
I left the duck header up for a second week because it was appropriate to the post. A duck hunting buddy of mine saw it and salivated, "I could take out three of those birds with one shot!" I mean I love this guy, but what a different mind set.
You got it Owen, the common everyman of birds. I am thrilled to see exotic birds from around the planet and I pursue them avidly myself, but a humbling day like the one had made me seeing the beauty and divinity, if you will, of the commonest of creatures. It lifted my soul to heaven, just like the Egyptians said it would!
As it has been pointed out, the House sparrow is in decline in it's homeland of England and Europe. I ran across that fact in my research this week too but I did not find any theories explaining the phenomenon. Interesting and a little scarey.
All of these well thought out and insightful comments are humbling to me. A thousand thank yous is not enough to express my emotion.
Brilliant shots Springman!! I love sparrows and you have captured the perfectly!ReplyDelete
I always enjoy your posts :)
These are lovely captures Springman!ReplyDelete
Another wonderful post Springman. Your writing is always on the same par as your excellent photographs. I look forward to each WBW even if I do not have a bird each week to offer to the pot. Oh...not a good choice of words there.ReplyDelete
Very informative post. I don't know if we even have a shooting season in Australia, I suspect not with most species being protected and special licenses required to even own any type of firearm.ReplyDelete
Your insight to American politics is interesting. You are also a good story teller, even making connections from my random photo post.
Like your shots of these little birds, the definition of their feathers is delightful.
Very thoughful and though provoking post Springman! Good for you to take advantage of birding wherever it presents itself! Love the shot of the white-crowned sparrow up there tucked in-between the house sparrows. Is that suppose to be you? You are just a little more special that us common LBJ's! Me? Well, I am a Brown Creeper! You'll find me in the woods!ReplyDelete
I have to admit it is hard for me to remember that there are hunters out there now. Why do they get to have the woods just when the weather is getting perfect?
a wonderful, thought provoking read!!ReplyDelete
this is a great group of people gathered here, i always enjoy joining in and reading your comments and the comments of others!!
Hi Springman...just wanted to stop by and thank you for "following". I'm happy with the response to my bird post. Would have joined sooner but I wasn't too happy with the quality of my photos. But I'm glad I did!:)ReplyDelete
WBW will be a wonderful learning experience for me. Looking forward to that.
Have a great day!!
I am so happy we had time while on our roadtrip for me to spend some time catching up. as always this essay is as great as your pix. actually if hunters really WERE filling their freezers and eating I might not object so much (having for a while been in a position where geese and fish were pretty welcome supplements to trying to feed a family on a budget). back then hunting was a cheaper hobby --- and now most people I ever talk to who hunt don't even want what they shoot. It's just the thrill of the kill and i hate that. (So does my husband, who used to hunt.)ReplyDelete
So.... your pictures are great -- and I am more than delighted to see you use the LBJ identification. I feel so much better about my bird identification abilities now. Thanks for everything as always.
As it has been pointed out, the House sparrow is in decline in it's homeland of England and Europe. I ran across that fact in my research this week too but I did not find any theories explaining the phenomenon. Interesting and a little scarey.ReplyDelete
Along with pesticides and modern farming methods, decline of nesting space is a factor. Sparrows used to nest in any nooks and crannies they could find in old buildings. New buildings don't have those any more or at least not as much, that's a big problem for sparrows. Gentrification very often goes along with a decline in sparrow population.
In Hamburg, where I live, you can find a lot of sparrows at the zoo (nesting in the animal houses) and in the outskirts of the city, but otherwise they are a pretty rare sight.