It was 1851 in Albany, New York, when the first ever House Sparrows to be released in North America were set free. There were sixteen original birds that were released. From that day on, the birds quickly began to reproduce and spread. It wouldn't take long before their population would sweep across the nation, spreading like an epidemic. Within a short time, their range spread to cover the entire country, and in time, the entire continent.
A distribution map for House Sparrows1
Despite the population explosion that occured in North America, a quite different scenario was occuring in Europe. In fact, quite the opposite is happening in the native habitat of the House Sparrow today. A English charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says the following on their website homepage about the current House Sparrow situation in the UK:
"Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.2"
Many an American bird watcher (including myself) will look at the current situation in Europe and wish the same were occuring, but alas, the US House Sparrow population is healthy, and shows no signs of declining any time soon. We will look at our bird feeders lined with House Sparrows, and regret the day when those 16 original birds were released in New York.
An adult male House Sparrow3
Can you imagine a world without House Sparrows? You could go bird watching without having to pick through countless House Sparrows to find the bird that you are actually looking for. The cost to feed birds would drop dramatically- there would be no House Sparrows to wastefully fling the seed out of the feeders and onto the ground, never to be eaten. Birding would be even better than it already is (Can you imagine that? It may not even be possible...)
Despite how appealing the above scenario sounds to, well, probably almost all birdwatchers in North America plauged with these birds, there is one thing that we must consider. Despite my intense dislike of House Sparrows, I would not want a world without them. When I titled this article before I began to compose the actual article itself, I paused to think. 'Imagine a world without House Sparrows' wasn't saying quite what I had intended to say. What i initially intended was something more along the lines of 'Imagine North America without House Sparrows'. I was on the verge of reworking the title, but then I stopped. No, I had a good point that a hadn't previously though of or about.
Though I may wish at times that there were no more House Sparrows in the world, I still wouldn't want them to go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. I must admit, and I am sure many agree with me on this point, but I would absolutely love a world without House Sparrows in North America. But still, I would rather have House Sparrows in North America than to explain to people what they were like- before they went extinct.
But that doesn't change the fact that I originally had planned to articualte: I find House Sparrows a nearly unbarable pain at times, and nothing will ever change the fact that I wish they were never introduced into the US. Is there really no way to rid this country of one of it's many invasive pest species? Ugh...
1Distribution map via Wikimedia Commons
3House Sparrow photo copyright Junior Barnes