Nature’s Way: Bluebirds vs Sparrows and Humans vs Sparrows

This morning I noticed something sticking out of our neighbor’s homemade Bluebird nest box. I watched from our window and it was difficult to see what a Sparrow was doing with something stuck in the hole. Was it nest material? Hardly; it was completely blocking the hole. Was it a banana? That’s constipating!

I had to go out and take a closer look. The object blocking the hole was a plug, probably part of a tree limb jammed in there. I also noticed for the first time that the nest box had a name stamped on it: “Nature’s Way.”

It was a Sparrow eviction and seemed ironic. This is Nature’s Way?

Our neighbor is very handy with tools and made the nest box from discarded lumber and a plumbing pipe—and may have stamped it with “Nature’s Way” as well.

This is not about discriminatory housing. It’s more about the eternal conflict between Bluebird lovers and House Sparrow haters.

I learned from hunting around the internet that there are few fans of Sparrows, especially House Sparrows and Tree Sparrows. On the other hand, lots of people love Bluebirds.

I know next to nothing about Bluebirds and Sparrows. Just because I like bird watching doesn’t mean I’m an expert. I’ve never built a nest box. We set out a store-bought one, which attracted House Wrens. And we’ve owned a house with fountain that attracted a lot of birds, including Sparrows and Bluebirds. However, for the most part, Bluebirds did not mix with Sparrows—for good reasons since they’re mortal enemies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In any case, it turns out that plugging a nest box intended for a Bluebird but taken over by Sparrows is just one of several ways to discourage Sparrows from doing that.

First, let’s hear from one of Sparrow supporters. It’s short. Jennifer Stone posted an article entitled “The Meaning of Sparrows: Identification and Folklore” on September 22, 2016. She is a staunch defender of the Sparrow and recommends building many nest boxes close to each other in our gardens.

I admit I did a very limited internet search about Sparrows and Bluebirds, but Ms. Stone appears to hold the minority opinion. It’s a little ironic that she provides a link to a pretty horrible story about a Sparrow’s power to bring death and destruction in a Grimms’ fairy tale.

The rest of the world has a decidedly antagonistic view of Nature’s Way when it comes to Sparrows and Bluebirds. It’s not difficult to understand why.

One of the more angry-sounding articles, entitled “Let’s Get This House Sparrow Thing Out In The Open,” was posted by Todd Holden on July 3, 2010. This is where I first learned about how aggressive and territorial Sparrows are. In fact, it’s not native to this country and was introduced from Europe in the mid-1800s. They’re not protected by Federal or state laws. Mr. Holden calls Sparrows “…the worst kind of troublemakers.” They destroy other birds’ nests and eggs, including Bluebirds, not for food, but apparently to assert dominance.

Is that Nature’s Way?

It turns out there are number of ways that Bluebird enthusiasts employ to keep House Sparrows out of the nest boxes. Methods are either Passive or Aggressive depending on whether they’re designed to prevent takeovers or to evict them.

One method that rang a bell with me was to remove each very messy nest Sparrows build each time they build them. Now that might be called a Hurrah’s Nest (a big, goofy, disorganized mess not just applicable to a bird’s nest) and I had to remove a Robins’ Hurrah’s Nest several times a few years ago. It was a bizarre piece of work, built between the rail of our deck and the house. There didn’t seem to be any practical way to use it as a nest, but the Robins were persistent.

There are contraptions called Sparrow Shields, Sparrow Chasers, and Sparrow Spookers as described in an article posted on a web page by the Michigan Bluebird Society.

Another article posted on a web site called Sialis has an extremely long list of instructions about how to get rid of House Sparrows and promote Bluebirds, “Managing House Sparrows.” There’s a photo of a Bluebird allegedly killed by a House Sparrow, and a comment that some Bluebird enthusiasts refer to Sparrows as “rats with wings.” There are dire warnings about Sparrows carrying several deadly diseases. There are many recommendations about how to trap or kill them in the article, but there are a few look-alike birds exempted from the hit list including Chipping Sparrows and House Finches.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The authors also say, “Some people want to “let nature take its course.” However, as noted above, House Sparrows are not naturally occurring in the U.S., and were introduced by humans. If you allow HOSP to breed in any location, you will be increasing competition for nest sites.”

What exactly is Nature’s Way?

There’s even a YouTube video about how to build a House Sparrow-resistant Bluebird nest box by building it with a skylight. This eliminates the need for energy-efficient light bulbs, which might be good for the environment and nature, but it’s a human invention which makes it unnatural.

After all, we’re talking about Nature’s Way.