Walk out of your rowhouse and there they are, incessantly cheeping from the eaves. Outside your office they’ll peck crumbs off the sidewalk or catch a quick bath in a street puddle before the next tire rolls through. Eat lunch on a park bench, and they will watch with their little heads cocked to the side, waiting for you to drop a crumb. The house sparrow “is the default little brown bird you see on street corners and edges of yards and stuff,” explained George Armistead, president of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club and co-founder of Bird Philly.
It’s hard to imagine now, but for the first 200 years of Philadelphia’s history, there were no house sparrows. The Eurasian birds (our native sparrows look similar but are unrelated) were intentionally imported in the mid-to-late 1800s to fight urban tree pests. The first releases were in Portland, Maine; New York; and Boston, but in 1869 Philadelphia got in on the act. As Philadelphia’s Thomas Gentry described in his 1878 book, “The House Sparrow at Home and Abroad,” Philadelphians had been desperate for a solution to an infestation of inchworms. John Bardsley, aka “Sparrow Jack,” a Germantown lawyer originally from England, offered to bring some house sparrows back from a visit to his home village. City Council took him up on the offer, and in March he returned with more than 1,000. Read More