the theory of sparrows

Sparrows have all but left the city’s haunts
gone, along with houses, gutters, eaves and cavities
done roaming, they’ve vacated the metropolis
in droves, where once generations gathered
like cock-a-hooping Cockney boys
in dusty summer streets, grubbing off
heat and fleas, chirruping from tenement cages
and feeding from every crumb of affection
Londoners left in their wake

Perplexed we point to air pollution
diesel dirt, petro-chemical particles
farmers further afield, hedge grubbers
hunters with nets, crop sprayers,
cats that catch as catch can
egg-robbing chick-stealing corvids
the rise of the eponymous hawk that snatches
small hapless mouthfuls, appetisers
before fatter feathered game

All that is just a tale of the city, half truths
above and beyond the crass pancaking of concrete
the noisy, noisome networks of road and rail
Sparrows have grown partial to the provinces
seed feeders at the ready, fat balls, dried worm dispensers
here in domesticated pastoral peace their clamour
is a constant; a streaming cheeping social chatter
heard again and understood amongst each other

So common were house sparrows (Passer domesticus) in London that for East Enders, “Hello me old cock sparrow” was a form of cockney greeting. Greater London lost 70% of its sparrows between 1994 and 2001. This decline is levelling off now but the birds remain on the red alert list.
see All about the House Sparrow

The Theory:
Having left London, the crowds of chattering house sparrows in the garden made me wonder how much the noise of the city has effected their communications. I now find that several studies indicate noise pollution as a decimating factor – “constant city noise can disrupt the singing of birds and seriously affect the behaviour of sparrows and their chicks.” (CNRS News)

Sparrows are a sentinel species for environmental change – perhaps the poem is unrealistically upbeat but I was not writing a requiem as part of Merril’s challenge: Theories of Everything and Anything

22 thoughts on “the theory of sparrows

  1. Excellent, Laura. Thank you. I like how this flowed and the sound of it–all the hard c’s and ch’s. And thank you, too, for the information on sparrows in London and noise pollution. There seem to be a lot of sparrows in Philadelphia, but it’s not as big or perhaps as noisy as London–though it can get pretty noisy. (I live in a more suburban area in New Jersey.)
    I’ve been hearing a lot recently about how noise in the ocean is hurting and killing fish and mammals, too.

      1. You’re welcome –and thank you for the article. I didn’t know they were first introduced in Philadelphia, nor that they are in decline. Perhaps it is some other little bird that I see so often when I walk through the city parks there.

  2. This is a wonderful poem made richer by the story behind it. I believe that sometimes poetry can communicate issues in a way that gets under our skin better than a news report.

  3. Love this, Laura – words and that fabulous image. Interestingly – our cottage fronting a main road, but backing onto fields, the sparrows seem most noticeable in the hedge beside the traffic. They pop in and out all day, and grub around in the road dirt on the front garden step. Perhaps, though, they are actually enjoying the best of both worlds, urban and rural. I just don’t see them when they’re in the field.

    1. true – sparrows have the best of both worlds in urban-rural – seeds in the harvested fields if the wheat crops have not been modified with tighter heads, wildflower seedheads if the weeds are allowed to grow in the margins etc, hedges to nest in if not grubbed out when when gutters are blocked off etc
      I too front a main road but there are gardens and farms all about and yet I still feed them seeds and worms sometimes – and there’s all that dust soil for bathing. Am just so happy to hear them again – thank you for your appreciation Tish

  4. Laura I love this glimpse into a sparrow’s life. I think it makes sense they would retreat to the country where things are not necessarily quieter, but the noise is that of nature.

  5. This was a fascinating read Laura, and more proof human beings have no clue how to live in balance with the natural world.

    1. in order to do so we have to want less things and live closer to the harsher side of life – some hope! Still it is good to hear the sparrows and for them to hear each other

  6. I have read it too.. though not as far as being on the red list… once i heard that they once flourished because of horses (the fed on seeds in the manure)… and have been on decline for a long long time. But I have noticed the same, and noise could be a reason…

  7. There is nothing more pleasurable than hearing the birds sing and chatter. I love my noisy sparrows and chaffinches and goldfinches and the sweet song of the robin and the wren. So sad that they have flown from the cities.
    (Great poetry btw)

  8. Wonderful poem and interesting info about the house sparrows. They are considered an invasive nuisance by some in the U.S. (and it saddens me that there are a number of people who think they should be eliminated when found). They were once blamed for the decline of the eastern bluebird, but now the house sparrow numbers are down as bluebird populations rise.

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