A bird that needs your protection

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The Field Sparrow is a declining species, but you can take some steps to help extend its lifespan.

A recent 40-year study, by the National Audubon Society, indicates that the Field Sparrow is the No. 9 declining bird species in North America, with its population numbers down by 68 percent.

Because of this alarming information, any of you who may have land on which you constantly spend money, time, and effort mowing and maintaining Fescue grass – for no better reason than because you are of the opinion that it looks good – I want to encourage you to think seriously about an alternative.

By creating native grassland habitat, you will not only save, all of the above expenses but possibly help save five species of declining birds from extinction:

§  Northern Bobwhite, down 82 percent

§  Eastern Meadowlark, down 72 percent

§  Loggerbead Shrike, down 70 percent

§  Field Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow, down 65 percent

By contacting the local conservation office, the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources and the local Quail Forever chapter, you can get expert advice on how to help you achieve your goal.

I have recently installed a native grassland habitat on a 16.3-acre farm in Southville with success in helping Northern Bobwhite, Easter Meadowlarks, Field Sparrows and maybe Grasshopper Sparrows to become re-established.

As I was growing up on farms in Spencer and Shelby counties, these species were always fairly common. The beautiful, haunting, melancholy song of the Field Sparrow was a sound that I always looked forward to hearing throughout each spring and summer.

It is easy to confuse this sparrow with the Chipping Sparrow, which is slightly smaller and has a rufous crown. Then in the winter, there is the migratory Tree Sparrow, which is slightly larger and has a dark spot on its chest. Always look for a pinkish beak with a plain chest on the Field Sparrow.

This 5.75-inch-long sparrow with an 8-inch wingspan has a habit of running along the ground and skulking through the underbrush. The Field Sparrow begins nesting in mid-April on into mid-August, with two broods quite common, and sometimes three are possible.

Early nests are often on the ground with later nests usually in low vegetation up to 5.5 feet above the ground. The Field Sparrow rarely nests near houses with a usual territory consisting of 2 to 3 acres.

The nest is a cup of grasses, leaves, and weed sterus that is lined with fine grasses, rootlets and hair.

Both sexes actually build the nest, then three or few new eggs are laid by the female, and she alone incubates for 11 days.

Another issue: Try very seriously to maintain control of your house cat. According to leading authorities, cats catch more wildlife than all other predators combined, and this is especially true for all ground-nesting birds as well as low-to-the-ground nesters .

Hopefully, those of us bird-loving folks can combine our efforts so that our children, grandchildren and future generations can enjoy many of the bird species that we have known in the past. Already gone to extinction are such birds as the Passenger Pigeon, the most numerous bird species ever to exist on earth. A large migrating flock of this pigeon was seen by the late, great mythologist, John James Audubon, between Shelbyville and Frankfort. That flock required 2.5 days just to pass on their way to the next feeding grounds in the mid-1800s. Yet by September of 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo, and this species was gone forever.

No species ever went extinct under the watchful eye of the Native Americans. However, the European Settlers in this land-of-plenty just could not conceive that this could happen in America, in the Great Outdoors.


To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2013 Mysterious Night Birds Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main Street, Shelbyville 40065.