« ElőzőTovább »
From The Gentleman's Magazine.
THE ENGLISH SPARROW.
BY JOHN WATSON, F.L.S.
ble personation of Hobbs, intended to act as a scarecrow, is only recognized by the sparrow as affording a happy huntingground for insects; and having served this end is ripped up and disembowelled, its internal economy being torn out to make way for a brood of young sparrows, thereAUTOCRAT of the tiles and lord of the by adding insult to injury in the basest thatch, the sparrow, in his long inter- and most fraudulent fashion. The sparcourse with man, has developed the larg- row is, in short, to paraphrase Bacon, “a est brain in bird-dom. For reckless wise thing for itself, but a shrewd thing audacity and presumptive impudence, the for everybody else." Bold, active, and British sparrow has only a single compeer vivacious, its distribution is as wide as -the British boy. Thoroughly cosmo- that of the Englishman. Patronizing art, politan, the sparrow is a democrat among science, and law, the sparrow breeds birds. He follows man and his attendant and broods in the temples dedicated to weeds to the uttermost parts of the earth; their shrines, and in one European capital and at any given portion of the habitable has unwittingly attempted to destroy the globe, within ten minutes of the unfurling balance of justice by constructing her nest of the British flag, perches authoritatively in one of the pans held by the blind emon the flagstaff. For hard-headed shrewd-blem of that inestimable virtue. In other ness, practically illustrated and successful, instances, the sparrow has shut out the commend us to the sparrow. His keen sight of an emperor, built her nest in the perception into men and things - his outstretched palm of a great warrior, and, scientific diagnosis of the genus homo- Radical as the bird is, chirrups beneath are among his ruling traits. Multiplying and occupies the thatch of the lowliest inordinately, the sparrow is as hardy as peasant husbandman. prolific. Essentially a creature of circumstance, he is at once ubiquitous and pertinacious. Playing, as some say, a questionable part in the economy of nature, he plays a very certain part in the economy of our spouts. Rearing his callow brood he is actively insectivorous, and confers incalculable benefit upon the agriculturist; but, as harvest wanes, he becomes recklessly gramnivorous, and anon, by a sudden transition, as omnivorous as mankind itself. With digestive organs the capacity of which may well be envied, the sparrow gulps down pieces of food amounting to a twentieth part of its own weight, and deems white lead a palatable luxury. The smell of gunpowder in the air, without the accompaniment of shot, is deemed more alarming than dangerous, and periodical explosions are but the means of transferring its affections from an empty stook in one part of the field to a full one in another. The moral of "Damn that boy, he's asleep again," has long been a pointless joke among sparrows, and the only sound his rattle conveys is an unpleasant association of the coming of the reaper. With an ever-active brain, and surviving as the fittest, no cunning engine has yet been devised which was greatly destructive to sparrows, and the various machinations of these as handed down by inherited instinct, are probably better known to the orthodox sparrow than to man himself. The pitia
FOR THE PROSECUTION. BY CHARLES WHITEHEAD, F.L. S., F.G.S. DARWIN, in his "Animals and Plants Under Domestication," has this passage: "From a remote period, in all parts of the world, man has subjected many animals and plants to domestication and culture. Man has no power of altering the absolute conditions of life, he cannot change the climate of any country, he adds no new element to the soil; but he can remove an animal or plant from one climate or soil to another, and give it food on which it did not subsist in its natural state." Man has consciously and intentionally improved many species of animals, with enormous advantage to himself. Unconsciously, and without intention, he has, by action or inaction, increased the numbers of certain species, and diminished the amount of others. For example, the wholesale slaughter of hawks, owls, jays, magpies, stoats, and weasels has tended to produce alarming quantities of rats and mice, the balance of nature having been deranged by the volition of gamekeepers. Rabbits were introduced into Australasian countries whose climatic and other conditions are expressly suitable for their propaga tion, and natural checks against this in the shape of carnivorous enemies are wholly absent. The consequences to the owners
of sheep-runs and cattle-ranges are simply disastrous; the rabbits defy all efforts to keep them down.
By means of international trade and commerce great changes have been brought about, both in the animal and vegetable kingdom. Thus the native New Zealand rat has been completely extirpated by the large brown rat brought to this island in European vessels. Dr. Wallace mentions in his work, entitled "Darwinism," that the original New Zealand rat was introduced by the Maoris from their home in the Pacific. He also remarks that in New Zealand a native fly is being supplanted by the European house-fly, and that in Australia the imported hive-bee is exterminating the small, stingless native bee.
in these late years, to the great injury of farm and garden produce. Our forefathers were wiser in their generation, and kept sparrows down by means of parochial by-laws, whose carrying out was charged impartially to the accounts of parish rates, and in many cases to the church rates. In old churchwardens' books at the beginning of this century entries of this kind are commonly found: "To Joe Willett for 4 Dozen & 4 Sparrows, Is. Id." Both taking the eggs and killing the young of sparrows were religiously enjoined upon the youths of former days, and these birds were kept well under. Churchwardens no longer have rates to spend, and bird-nest. ing does not occupy the minds and hands of boys in these regenerate or degenerate In the vegetable kingdom, two or three days of School Boards. After the compulspecies of thistles well known in Europe, sory payment of church rates was abolnotably the Canada thistle, have been ished, sparrow clubs were formed in the naturalized in the United States and Can-principal corn-growing parishes; but most ada, and have become so general and of these have fallen into desuetude, and troublesome that laws against this and sparrows now increase without let or hinother weeds have been promulgated in drance. The consequence of this is that many of the states and provinces. Hun- they are so abundant as to be sources of dreds of square miles of the plain of La infinite injury to cultivators of all kinds. Plata, Dr. Wallace says, are "now covered In the last two or three seasons sparrows with two or three species of European have visited cornfields in some districts thistle, often to the exclusion of almost from the end of July to December in every new plant, but in the native coun- flocks of thousands, as they always contries of these thistles they occupy, except gregate for a period at the end of a breedin cultivated or waste ground, a very sub-ing season, and have cleared the ears of ordinate part of the vegetation. The com- grain. Sparrows propagate in an exceedmon sow-thistle has spread over New ingly rapid ratio, so that checks of some Zealand in a remarkably short time, hav-kind are absolutely necessary in order to ing been introduced with English farm seeds."
Various other weeds have been brought from Europe to America and Australasian lands, such as the common bird-weed.
The wholesale spreading abroad of weeds has been caused by the unconscious act of man, and without his special interference. In the same way many injurious insects have been distributed throughout the world, to the great inconvenience and loss of the cultivators of the soil. But with regard to the introduction of rabbits into Australasian colonies, this was done consciously and with open eyes. In the same way the sparrow was introduced into America and the Australasian countries, though the fatal consequences of this colonization were not in any degree expected by those who thought it would be very pleasant to hear the familiar chirp of the lively bird in the homes of the United States and Australasia.
In Great Britain the action of man, both conscious and unconscious, has occasioned an undue development of sparrows
keep them in proper bounds, and to obvi-
men tending the fields. True, the cost of | to have holes in them, which are set down men and gunpowder is nearly as much as to mice or insects. If they are watched the damage, as they had to fire off every it will be frequently found that sparrows ten minutes, and the sparrows get so used cause the harm. to it that they quietly go into the middle of the fields. One man, who had thirty acres of corn, put the damage done by the sparrows at £20. Another said they had eaten at least eight bushels per acre in an | eight-acre field. Farmers in many cases declare that they must make a raid upon the sparrows in self-defence, and talk ominously of poison in the coming winter.
Vegetable gardeners know to their cost what terrible mischief sparrows occasion to peas throughout the season, from the time when the first leaves appear to the last picking of pods. Young lettuces and early cabbages are ravaged, the slugs being often falsely accused. Beetroot leaves in early stages are nipped off. Spinach is devoured when the leaves are young and tender. In short, unless the habits and destructive ways of these birds are carefully noted, no one can have a conception of the losses they cause in kitchen and market gardens, as well as in flower gardens, in taking seeds and in
Sparrows also injure farmers by eating the seed of Trifolium incarnatum, which is sown before the plundering sparrow gangs are broken up, and is generally put in broadcast and merely rolled in, so that much of the seed is exposed. And no one can estimate the enormous amount of in-picking off the first leaves of young plants. jury caused by sparrows in picking out the buds of fruit trees during winter, not only in gardens and orchards, but also in fruit plantations away from houses and buildings. They are particularly fond of the buds of gooseberries and red-currant bushes, and of cherry and pear trees. Peach-trees also suffer from their depredations. As an excuse for this mischief, it is alleged that it is done to get at insects in the buds. Sparrows have been closely watched at this work, with the result of proof that there were no insects present; the damage having been done, as it appeared in some cases, for mere wanton destruction, and in others for the sake of the green, sweet buds as pleasant food. In hard winters, when other food is scarce, fruit trees and other trees suffer exceedingly from the attacks of sparrows. When peach blossoms are unfolding, sparrows may often be noticed picking off the flow. ers and buds, apparently for amusement. This is frequently attributed to the action of frosts. Just as the buds of black currant bushes are unfolding, sparrows frequently attack them and pull the blossoms to pieces, although there are no signs of insects within. It appears to be mere mischief. In the United States the destruction of buds and blossoms of fruit and other trees is recognized as most sericus, and admitted without argument even by the sparrows' friends. There are still a few who believe that the bird, in destroying buds, is only seeking insects within.
For example, it is difficult to get mignonette where sparrows abound. Many other flowers are attacked in their early stage by these ubiquitous and almost omnivorous depredators. The almost unmixed evil wrought by house-sparrows has been clearly brought before cultivators by the late Colonel Russel of Romford, by Mr. Champion Russel, and ofttimes and in characteristically vigorous terms by Miss E. Ormerod, who in her thirteenth report on injurious insects, says: "The observations of the sparrow nuisance, as it is well described, continue to show the same points which are observed year by year, namely, loss from depredations of this bird on fruit trees, buds, etc., to fruit farmers; on young crops or vegetables, as peas, etc., in gardens; and deplorable losses where the birds flock to the corn in autumn."
Fruit is also damaged by sparrows. Ripening figs and plums seem especially grateful to their tastes. Apples, too, suffer from their repeated pecks. Peaches also, and pears on walls, are often noticed
All the offences of the house-sparrow cited above are fully and completely recognized by American, Canadian, and Australasian cultivators. The United States ornithologist, Dr. Merriman, in a long and elaborate report to the minister of agriculture, 1888, formulates a fearful indictment against the "English sparrow," as it is styled, which was first settled in the country in 1853. At this time it has spread over thirty-seven states and six territories, having first invaded the larger cities, then the smaller cities and towns, then the villages and hamlets, and finally the populous farming districts. As the towns and villages become filled to repletion the overflow moves off into the country, and the sparrow's range is thus gradually extended. Occasionally, however, it is suddenly transported to consid. erable distances by going to roost in empty
box-cars and travelling hundreds of miles. When let out again it is quite as much at home as in its native town. In this way it reached St. John, New Brunswick, in 1883, on board the railway trains from the west. In like manner another colony arrived March 1, 1884, in grain cars from Montreal. Similarly it has arrived at a number of towns in the United States. It is calculated that in fifteen years from 1870 the new territory in the United States invaded by the English sparrow amounted to five hundred and sixteen thousand, five hundred square miles, and that the total area now occupied there is much over eight hundred and eighty-five thousand square miles.
Besides the direct injuries of housesparrows, they entail indirect harmful consequences by driving away useful insectivorous birds. They are pugnacious and numerous, so that other birds cannot exist near them. They have been aptly termed "ruffians in feather." Swallows and martins are routed from their accustomed haunts and nesting-places. Many a householder will remember that a few years ago swallows' nests were regularly made in corners of their houses, whereas lately it has been quite exceptional to see a nest. It is not alleged that the diminu tion in the number of swallows is due altogether to sparrows; but it is certain that they have prevented swallows from nesting as of old upon buildings, and probably in many cases have prevented them from building at all. Swallows are admittedly the most valuable friends of the cultivator. Their food is altogether of insects, including midges and the Hessian fly, Cecidomyide of all kinds and other aphides, turnip flee beetles, and such like devastators of crops. Their large decrease is a national calamity. Colonel Russel suggests that the greater preva
In Canada it occupies considerably over one hundred and sixty thousand square miles. Its rapid spread and increase create consternation in agricultural and horticultural circles. At the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of Ontario, the well-known president, Mr. J. Fletcher, remarked that "a subject demanding immediate attention at the hands of economic entomologists, as one of the influences which materially affect the amount of insect presence, is the great and rapid in-lence of the wheat midge, Cecidomyia tricrease in the numbers of the sparrows. Introduced into Canada but a few years ago, it has already increased in some places to such an extent as to be a troublesome pest, and steps should be taken at once to exterminate the audacious little miscreant." Professor Saunders, late president of the Ontario Entomological Society, said at the same meeting that "the extermination of the English sparrow would be a great boon to Canada,' and the minister of agriculture for Ontario stated that "this destructive bird was no longer under the protection of the act of Parliament respecting insectivorous birds, and that every one was at liberty to aid in reducing its numbers."
tici, is due to this cause, and it is not by any means unlikely that the frequent occurrence of hop blights from aphides in the last ten years is attributable to the comparative scarcity of swallows, as aphides migrate in the winged form from trees of the prunus tribe, especially damsons, to the hop plants, and from the hop plants again to the damsons. There are two distinct migrations of winged aphides through the air to accomplish this, giving great opportunities to swallows. With regard to other birds useful to cultivators, such as fly-catchers, water-wagtails, and others, they are all driven away by spar rows, which do not tolerate other birds near their homes.
Australasian cultivators are much And with respect to aphides, it may be alarmed at the increase of the house- said here in looking on the blackest side sparrow. Agricultural and horticultural of sparrows, that they are exceedingly fond societies are taking strong action against of the larvæ of the Coccinellida, which it, while entomologists equally denounce are the great devourers of aphides in all it. In a paper read before a congress of stages. The same complaint is made of agricultural bureaux, Mr. F. S. Crawford, the sparrow in the United States and a skilful entomologist, divided the various Canada that it drives away insectivopests of cultivators of the soil into two rous insects, and disdains to eat them itclasses, the free and parasitic; and placed self. No less than seventy kinds of birds among "free animal pests" rabbits, spar- are said to be molested by the sparrow in rows, locusts, some beetles, certain grubs the United States, the majority of which of beetles, and a few caterpillars. Prizes are species which nest about houses, are offered by many societies in Australia | farms, and gardens, and are decidedly for the largest number of heads of spar- beneficial to the farmers and gardeners. rows and of sparrows' eggs. Now, looking upon the other side of
the picture, in what way do sparrows profit anything or anybody? Do they benefit those who cultivate the land by reducing the number of insects injurious to crops? They undoubtedly take some insects to their young ones; it is believed that this is because other suitable food for the brood is not forthcoming. Several who have watched these birds hold that small caterpillars and larvæ are given, among many other things, to the young birds in their early stages. Small beetles, red spiders, and small flies are also found in the maws of young sparrows. It has been noticed that the caterpillars are always smooth; hairy caterpillars are not eaten by sparrows at any time. Colonel Russel states that he once examined in Essex the stomachs of forty-seven nestling sparrows, and only found the remains of six small insects in the entire lot, the crops in most cases being filled with green peas and greens. That sparrows have no appreciable effect upon aphides is proved over and over again, by the fact that these insects have swarmed upon plum, damson, and other trees close to where hundreds of sparrows have been born and bred. Aphides upon roses in gardens near the nesting-places of many sparrows are never touched by these birds; and in the recent visitations of caterpillars upon fruit trees of various kinds, the attack has been virulent in gardens, orchards, and fruit plantations hard by the breeding and roosting-places of hundreds of sparrows as in localities far from their usual haunts. Sparrows may be seen in large flocks in corn-fields after the harvest, and close to turnips infested with aphides, but they utterly disregard this kind of food. It is well known that they will not look at pea or bean aphides, nor at the weevils which sometimes swarm upon pea and bean haulm, though directly peas are formed they attack the pods. Miss Ormerod says, in her seventh yearly "Report of Observations of Injurious Insects: "I have not received from any quarter a single trustworthy observation of sparrows feeding regularly upon insects. Nobody doubts, however, that they can and do sometimes take them in special circumstances."
Professor Riley, the entomologist of the Department of Agriculture in the United States, made a most exhaustive report upon the insectivorous habits of the sparrow, after long and careful investigation, and his conclusion is that we are justified in concluding that the bird will exceptionally feed upon any insects; but I am strongly inclined to believe that the de
ductions made from my own observations will hold very generally true, and that in cases where injurious insects have been fed upon it is not by virtue of any insectivorous habits or preference, but by mere accident. Dr. Lintner, the entomologist of the New York State, has arrived at practically the same conclusion as to the naturally gramnivorous or vegetarian characteristics of the sparrow, and of its uselessness as an insect destroyer. The verdict of another able economic entomologist, Mr. Fletcher, of Ontario, is that although during the breeding season they do destroy many soft-bodied insects as food for their young, this good office is by far outweighed by the harm they do in driving away truly insectivorous birds, and by their direct ravages upon grain crops.
There is a more weighty argument against the usefulness of the sparrow, and directly demonstrating its destructiveness, in the fact that most of the laws of the various States of America, framed to protect sparrows, have been repealed, and regulations of cities to the same effect have practically become dead letters. Bounties have been offered by some towns and counties in the United States. In Michigan State one halfpenny per head is paid for "English sparrows." If there were any good in these birds it is quite certain that such practical people as the Americans would not set their faces so steadily against them, and take such active steps by means of poison, trapping, netting, and shooting to decrease their numbers.
Canadians have also ceased to protect sparrows, and now are compassing their destruction in every possible way. Australian and New Zealand farmers and gardeners are offering rewards and prizes to those who kill the largest number of sparrows, and produce the greatest quantity of their eggs, as fatal experience has taught them that they are unmitigated evils.
They have been compelled, moreover, to poison them by wholesale. "Their most successful method is that of placing poisoned wheat in a bag with chaff, and allowing it to leak over a tail of a cart along the road." The sparrows are de stroyed by the bushel.
British cultivators have waged war in a half-hearted way against these enemies for a long while. They say now that the time has arrived when prompt and drastic measures must be taken to reduce the number of sparrows, and that they intend to avail themselves of all legal means to