Friday 28 April 2017

The House Sparrow - Passer domesticus

The Gregarious House Sparrows Passer domesticus

My Grandfather used to call them Spadgers. The male can be recognised by his black bib and more vivid markings. Local British names include sparrow, sparr, sparrer, spadger, spadgick , spug, Spuggies, spur or Sprig (Scotland)  Spatzie or Spotsie (N America)  from the German Spatz which has a common etymological root with speed 

House Sparrows, as their name implies, are rarely seen far from human habitation.  It is thought that they are descendent from weaver finches that cohabited with stone age people on the fringes of the Mediterranean.  A clever adaptation because ever since they have co-evolved with us and followed our species around the world, today they are the most widely distributed birds on the planet.  In recent years the British population has declined dramatically, this might be because our houses have less nesting nooks and crannies and we are better at recycling our waste and protecting our grain on our farmsteads.

Such strong associations generates rich traditions and myths; the ancient Greeks associated sparrows with Aphrodite, Goddess of Love.  Cattalus Lesbia, a famous Roman poem, used a pet sparrow as a symbol of true love and spiritual connection, but during the medieval age this idea had degenerated into seeing sparrows as lustful, as is echoed by later writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.

In the bible Jesus says "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?"  These themes about the sparrows intrinsic value and chirpy good nature, their social pluckiness and speed are constantly resurrected, reinvented and transferred into new popular metaphors, like those surrounding the melting pot communities in the East End of London in the 1950s who identified themselves as "Cockney Sparrers", and later inspired a punk band of that name.


Gold Finch
House Sparrow
Mute Swan
Blue Tit
Long Tailed Titmice 


The Sparrow

Catullus Lesbea's Sparrow

All you Loves and Cupids cry
and all you men of feeling
my girl’s sparrow is dead,
my girl’s beloved sparrow.
She loved him more than herself.
He was sweeter than honey, and he
knew her, as she knows her mother.
He never flew out of her lap,
but, hopping about here and there,
just chirped to his lady, alone.
Now he is flying the dark
no one ever returns from.
Evil to you, evil Shades
of Orcus, destroyers of beauty.
You have stolen the beautiful sparrow from me.
Oh sad day! Oh poor little sparrow!
Because of you my sweet girl’s eyes
are red with weeping, and swollen.

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