Jun 27, 2018

Celebrating the Unloved: House Sparrows and Starlings

I'm a huge fan of  UBIQUITOUS, the word and the picture book. I expounded on that in a post HERE, back in 2012. The premise of that remarkable collection of themed poems was similar to the theme of this post: just because some things are abundant, common, ubiquitous, be they flora or fauna, animal or mineral, it does not mean they lack merit. In fact, they deserve second looks, closer looks.
At this time of summer solstice it could be said that BIRDS are ubiquitous, regardless of the climate or hemisphere in which you might live or travel. And yet, the cheerful chick-a-dee-dee-dee of a black-capped chickadee brings a smile while the piercing CAW!! of a crow can knit the brow. Bird feeders are lovingly filled and tended, although we know full well that among the hundreds (or thousands) of visitors to those feeders, it will be the cardinals and woodpeckers, the hummingbirds and nuthatches that will be hold our gaze, will make us reach for a camera, will merit mention on social media, while the sparrows and starlings are considered a necessary nuisance.
Groundwood Books, 2018

A careful, thoughtful, well-researched second look at house sparrows is provided in a fascinating picture book by Jan Thornhill: THE TRIUMPHANT TALE of the HOUSE SPARROW.  
Here's what I have to say about it on GOODREADS:
It's about time someone explored and celebrated the durable, adaptable, resilient global house sparrow. Thornill has once again created a non-fiction picture book, one that is able to encompass thousands of years of history and science affecting the ubiquitous and often maligned house sparrow.
There are certainly birds that capture our eyes, ears, and hearts more readily, birds that are less of an annoyance. Yet the individual and flocking sparrows should be appreciated and viewed with admiration for their measurable benefits to humankind, for their capacity to defy scientific explanation, and for their seemingly endless ability to live each day "in the mo
ment". Both the informative narrative and the lush illustrations compel page turn after page turn. Back matter is succinct and worthwhile, accessible and useful to launch further investigation. 

Although this blog is focused on picture books and other formats that feature visual narratives, I can't resist endorsing another book, one intended for an adult audience with only occasional photo inserts. 
MOZART'S STARLINGwritten by ornithologist/author Lyanda Lynn Haupt, provides a remarkably personal perspective on another "invasive" species, the European starling. Her academic research is deep but not dense, ranging from amusing and insightful first person investigations through the arts through scientific journals and on to primary sources and field trips. 
Her credentials are unquestionable even though her hands-on effort to obtain and raise a starling for study will raise some eyebrows, but not because her efforts were illegal. On the contrary, starlings lack legal protection, along with house sparrows, due to the fact that they were early-days imports. These species are also similar in that they are both adaptable and resilient, as well as being prolific breeders who have mulitplied to the point of being considered pests.

Both authors have achieved a remarkably compelling conclusion- that anyone who dismisses these birds or views them simply as "rats with feathers" will miss out on meeting truly remarkable creatures. I'll be the first to admit I'm a huge fan of birds of all types, as prior posts on this subject will reveal HERE, and HERE. I'm convinced, though, that even someone who views birds with a "meh" response will be intrigued and entertained by both of these books. 
And keep your eyes and hearts open to the mundane, ubiquitous lives around you. 

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