Feb 24 2009
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)