House Sparrow male feeding young-4

(From Beyond Willow Bend, 2013)

My late father-in-law built a birdhouse for our yard. It was a simple thing—a box, painted dark brown, with a peaked roof, a hole, and a peg.

My husband hung it near the garage and we kept watch. Maybe birds were put off by the smell of paint, or the location.  Who knew. Whatever the reason, it was ignored. No birds flew around it, landed on it, or looked inside.

Then, one year, during a fierce storm, it was knocked off its hook. My husband found it in pieces on the lawn—walls scattered, roof upside down—and lovingly reassembled it, overbuilding,  as he does with every piece of furniture he makes.

This time, it was hung in a more sheltered spot by the garage, from a hook that was deeply implanted, better able to withstand our midwestern gales.

Spring came, and, again, we kept watch, encouraged by the interest a mother wren showed in one of our other birdhouses—that one, hung from our house, a gift from a friend. She quickly took up residence there, and busied herself with building a nest, laying her eggs, and feeding her hatchlings.

Her activities kept us entertained for a month or more.

But still the brown house was vacant.

Then, three years ago, at the first sign of spring, a male house sparrow perched on the peg of the brown house. He sat for a minute, then flew down to the lawn where he pulled up some pieces of dried grass. A minute later, he returned to the peg, his beak stuffed.

Finally: tenants. We celebrated and joked about shoving a tiny lease through the hole.

The sparrows stayed all summer, and their fledglings stayed, too, darting in and out of the house well into fall, until the first hard freeze.

The following spring, they returned and settled in.

My husband thought it might be a good idea to clean and check the house for rot before winter, so he could make any repairs it needed, but the sparrows didn’t give him the chance. By the time they took off for their winter home, the first snow had fallen.

And, of course, before he could get out to inspect the property this year, they were back again—earlier than before, seemingly, with the whole family—or mispocha, as we say in Yiddish.

I love birds, but know little about house sparrows.  I can tell you that they have managed to multiply and thrive despite the West Nile virus that wiped out our blue jays and crows. And I can also tell you that they have particular tastes; and once they decorate a house, it’s theirs.

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