The Sparrow Family
It was Springtime, very early in the morning, before most humans get out of bed. The bright orange sun was popping its head over the fence at the bottom of the garden, chasing away the shadows. It was warm, and the dewdrops glittered on the vivid green lawn.
The garden birds were waking up. They blinked as they peeped their little heads from under their wings and opened their eyes to greet the new day. They were happy. They started to sing. It was a mixed melody as all the different types of birds joined in to sing their very own favourite songs. Humans called it the dawn chorus. Some were pleasant-sounding: the blackbird, thrush and robin sang and warbled their beautiful refrains, fluttering up to the high branches of the ancient apple tree so they could join in with the birds in neighbouring gardens and far far away. But the sparrows just chirped. They weren’t tuneful. They were not good songsters, but they made up for it with their enthusiasm, the whole colony joining together from the safety of a large holly bush near the house, which visibly vibrated with their happy chirping and chirruping.
Sam, the House Sparrow, was the head of the sparrow colony. He was the most important sparrow. Sam Sparrow boasted the biggest and blackest bib with bold brown streaks on his wings. He was strong and handsome and took good care of his fluffy little wife, Cindy Sparrow. Cindy did not have a bib. Lady sparrows didn’t wear bibs. Sam Sparrow also took care of his brothers, sisters, cousins – and their babies and was always on the lookout for danger. And there was always danger. From time to time, a sparrow hawk would silently glide into the garden looking to catch one of Sam’s colony unaware and fly off with them for a tasty meal. In the nesting season, magpies would attempt to poke their beaks into sparrows’ nests to steal eggs or chicks or strut about the garden like over-confident black and white bullies. And coring crows would circle high overhead keeping a beady eye on what was going on. And there were cats. Cats were to be avoided. They could creep, spring and pounce on any sparrow having a daydream. Cats of all sizes, colours and patterns would amble through the garden from far away, and curl up asleep in the sunshine. But they always had one eye open for an unaware sparrow.
The Sparrow Family had roosted and nested in the same garden for many years. An old lady lived in the house, and she was very kind. She put bird food in feeders for all the birds. Fat balls, peanuts and sunflower seeds were the sparrows’ favourites, and they were quick to get to the feeders and shoo the other birds away so that they could fill their tummies. For a small bird, sparrows are bossy. However, when the magpies and jackdaws arrived to feed, Sam, on sentry duty, gave one loud warning chirp and the whole colony retreated and fluttered and fled away until it was safe to return. The old lady of the house had a cat too, but it was getting fat, old and slow, and ate lots of its favourite cat food, filling its tummy full, so it slept for most of the day, and when it walked, it waddled – very slowly. So they didn’t much bother about him.
Nevertheless, the sparrows liked to live close to people and their houses and sheds. There was abundant food to be had and somewhere close to roost and nest. The Sparrow Family roosted under the eaves of the roof of the old lady’s house and sometimes roosted safe inside the large and prickly holly bush. They liked to make their nests in little holes or cracks between the bricks, small enough and safe so that the magpies couldn’t get inside. Most of the nearby houses didn’t have convenient nesting places anymore. All the little holes and cracks had been filled in. Also, the eaves had been repaired and modernised with something humans called plastic. They couldn’t roost there now either. But they were all happy. Their house and garden made for a good home. They fed well and bred well, and life went on as it had for as long as any sparrow could remember.
And then everything changed.
From time to time, the bird feeders dangling from a pole in the middle of the lawn were empty of bird food. The old lady had either forgotten to fill them, or she had gone away for a day or two. But it was never more than that. When this happened, the Sparrow Family ate tiny insects – catching them in flight with their beaks or as they crawled on a leaf. And they also searched for plant seeds blown by the wind into crevices or hidden just under the ground or under dead leaves. It was sparrow hide and seek. They all scratched and scratched. It was fun.
But the feeders had been empty for many days, and they missed all their favourite treats. Their tummies were rumbling. They hadn’t seen the old lady or her old cat. One day there were several humans that they hadn’t seen before. They were dressed in black and were sitting on chairs on the grass, drinking cups of tea and talking to each other in low voices. They eventually disappeared into the house, and the sparrows could hear them leaving by the front door, so they flew over the roof to perch on the guttering on the front of the house to see what was happening. The humans dressed in black got into large black cars which slowly drove away. They never saw the old lady again.
The Spring led into Summer. The weather remained warm and friendly. The Sparrow Colony had got used to foraging for their own food and found some bird feeders a few gardens away. The resident sparrows there didn’t like the intrusion on their patch and complained with angry chirps and tweets. So they didn’t go there very often. Most of the sparrows’ first broods had by now fledged and left the nest. They were replaced by another clutch of bright blue eggs to be sat on and incubated.
The house was empty until midsummer when some new humans moved in. It seemed to be two grown-up humans: one man and one woman — and their two children, one boy and one girl. They played in the garden on a swing and slide that their parents had erected. They were laughing. And they seemed nice. The Sparrow Family perched in a line on top of the wooden fence in readiness for someone to start filling their bird feeders with their favourite foods again. But they did not. One morning more humans arrived and put tall metal ladders against the back on the house. One man climbed up rung by rung until he reached the very top. He started to pull down the old guttering and wooden soffits and replace them with gutters and boarding made of that nasty plastic stuff. They also overheard him shouting down to his friend, who was holding the ladder steady at the bottom. ‘There are lots of holes and crack up here, we’ll have to fill ‘em all in, mate.’ But those weren’t just holes and cracks, they were the entrances to the nests where the Sparrow Family had laid their eggs and raised their young. It was the Sparrow Colony’s home, where they roosted and brought up their families. Sam Sparrow was worried. Some of these holes had nests with eggs, and some had little baby sparrows in them. What would happen if the humans filled them all in? They wouldn’t be able to roost under the eaves, they would have to roost in the holly bush. And their babies would starve to death.
What could he do? There was nothing Sam could think of. Sparrow mums and dads couldn’t take tasty morsels of food to their babies. The baby sparrows would be trapped and die of hunger. And eggs could not be sat on to be incubated. They would have to find somewhere else to live. And fast. But where?
Sam flew to his favourite branch to think. Just then he noticed that one of the men, a young lad who was standing at the foot of the ladder, shouted something to the man at the top:
‘Dad, don’t fill those holes in, there might be birds’ nests inside. Can’t we wait until the Autumn after the nesting season to do that?’
‘Well, son, I suppose we could do that. We will do all our other work first and return then, shall we? Nice thought Toby me boy, we love garden birds don’t we!’
‘Thanks, Dad’ said Toby.
Sam observed what was going on and although he couldn’t understand the human words that had been spoken, he could see that the men were packing up their ladders and then using the wet cement that they had prepared in readiness to fill in some holes in the garden path.
And then Sam had an idea . . .
(And what do you think it was?)
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