Feb 24 2009

Bird watching at the grocery store

Published by at 4:08 pm under Bird Behavior,Songbirds

House sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)I heard birds.

High above the crowd, five house sparrows hopped and chirped among the grocery store's fluorescent lights.

I can guess how they got there.  House sparrows are known for their ingenuity with motion-activated doors.

I once observed a small flock that lived in an underground garage whose only access was through an automatic garage door.  When the door was closed, the sparrows lined up on both sides of it and waited.  As soon as a car triggered the door they zoomed through as the door was rising.  Smart.

The grocery store sparrows were smart too.  What a setup!  Abundant food and climate control.  I'm sure they would have flown both in and out, but the weather was bitterly cold.  They were unlikely to leave on their own.

Since I seemed to be the only person who noticed them, I kept my discovery to myself until I reached the checkout.

"You have birds," I said to the cashier.

"Yes," she said, "We like them."

She sounded defiant.  Perhaps she'd discussed the birds with many customers and was tired of explaining them.  Before I could think how to reply she said, "And they're not dirty at all."

I hadn’t even suggested that.  Clearly she wanted the birds to be left alone.

I love birds but I know the stalemate cannot last.  House sparrows begin building nests in February.  Their average clutch size is five eggs and they can raise as many as four broods per season.  By April the grocery store population could triple.  By August they'd have more than 50 birds indoors.

Soon the store will have to set up mist nets and capture the sparrows.  The cashier will be unhappy, but not for long.  I give it only a month before the next sparrows fly in and the whole process starts over.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Bird watching at the grocery store”

  1. Kallenon 24 Feb 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I see house sparrows every time I go to Home Depot. They actually poke holes in the seed and eat it. One of the reasons why house sparrows have taken over much of the North American birding habitat is because they are smart and exploit every advantage given to them. This is another perfect example. I do have to say I have not seen any in a grocery store though. Very interesting.

  2. Jon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I remember one time I heard and saw some birds (no Idea what kind) around the food court at Century III Mall in West Mifflin. Being as Century III doesn’t have automatic doors, they must have flown in one of the loading bays or something and settled among the indoor trees and plants in that area. This was a while ago and I don’t remember if it was before or after the food court was remodeled.

  3. Kristenon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:15 pm

    You must have been at Whole Foods. There’s always a sparrow or two in there. I almost feel deprived if I don’t hear one when I’m there. I have, however, wondered how they keep the place free of the evidence of their habitation like peck marks in fruit, droppings, etc.

  4. Kate St. Johnon 26 Feb 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Yes, I was there … and it got me thinking, as you can see.

  5. Merryhearton 08 Jun 2009 at 8:29 am

    Hi Kate,

    I found your blog when I googled “behavior wild birds waiting for store doors to open.” I love it!

    I was trying to find the scientific sites, but this was a wonderful find. We have seen sparrows and pigeons in many stores here: Waldbaum’s, Home Depot and Lowes. Any store with motion activated doors, which is a wonderful phrase I can now Google to continue my research. But I will be back, and I’ll spread the word, too!

    Thanks for blogging!

  6. AviTrapon 02 Apr 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Check out this trap designed for rescuing birds trapped inside a store….

    The AviTrap is the new humane way to live capture and release

  7. Leslie Ferreeon 19 Feb 2016 at 10:55 am

    I’ve seen this at many grocery stores. Hey, at least they’re not bothering bluebirds trying to nest in boxes!

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