I have always had sparrows coming to my bird table but for the most part I have ignored them in favour of the more colourful species-except for that time last year when I had a sparrow chick with a broken wing living in my yard. This August a mother sparrow and two chicks appeared. I hadn’t realised that they nested so late in the year but I was paying more attention due to BirdWatch Irelands campaign against the Governments plan to shortening the length of the ban on hedge-cutting by allowing it in August.
The mother fed her chicks from the bird table, skinny and harried as she flew back and forth while they sat plump on my wall shivering their little wings and cheeping. Within a couple of days a father sparrow appeared with another chick, a later hatcher, and the Mammy took a much needed break.
As you watch animals and birds you can often discern very distinct personalities aside from any human or Disney attributes we might project onto them. The father sparrow was much more cautious than the mother with the chicks, scolding them and herding them back into the hedge as they became bolder. The youngest chick, was a bit of a character. She, for I determined later it was indeed a wee girl, seemed to feel the cold and would to lie down on the sun warmed wall and sleep while the others hopped about. Later she became quite the boldest one, being last to take flight if the cat appeared or if I came out the door. Soon she became impatient if I didn’t put bird seed out and would fly over to the door and hover before returning to the table. One morning I heard a banging on the window and saw her balanced on a flower in the window box banging her wings on the window in an effort to get my attention.
For the most part she would sit and wait, usually on one leg. At first I thought she was injured but then realised she was swapping legs. A search on Google told me that many birds do this, most obviously waders, and the theory is that, as they lose most heat from their unfeathered legs, this is to keep warm. I soon noticed that yet another female chick had turned up and she too stood on one leg. From then on the number of sparrows would vary and I came to view them as a sort of Bohemian gang, a commune of hippy sparrows travelling about in a ragged bunch that swelled and shrank day by day. For a while the hedge beside my door sounded as if it was fully of squeaky toys.
In the last week they have become increasingly absent and now visit less regularly. The last to leave was the youngest. Then one day I forgot to put out seed and since then she has been absent too. Still, I know they will be back again, rumpled and cheeky and hungry. There are always sparrows and as long as they have somewhere to nest, there always will be.