Downtown Bloomingfoods Earns Backyard Wildlife Certification

Exterior of Our Original Limestone Store Provides Habitat for House Sparrows

The Downtown Bloomingfoods, in the alley off Kirkwood, has recently been certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and the Center for Sustainable Living.

Susan Bright, manager of the Kirkwood Store, asked Lucille Bertuccio from CSL to tell us more about house sparrows and why their relationship to the store qualifies it for Backyard Wildlife Habitat certification. Here is what she told us:

A habitat is defined by the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary as the ‘natural home of an organism.’ Thus, while the environs of the downtown Bloomingfoods store do not provide a habitat for our native birds, it is most definitely a home for those species that we have, mistakenly or otherwise, brought to this country from the cities of Europe. The house sparrow is one such bird.

A relationship between humans and house sparrows began when the former started farming. These little brownish birds with the loud chirping song may have stopped migrating at this time because grains and insects became available year-round. House sparrows were introduced into the New World numerable times, both because people found them attractive and because it was thought that they would control insect pests. Brooklyn New York became the magic place of this introduction, in 1850 or 1865.

In only 50 years the house sparrow colonized suitable areas over the entire United States, providing the only bird that can thrive in the congested, noisy center cities of America. House sparrows are a pest in our suburbs, aggressively occupying nesting spots of bluebirds and swallows. However, in our cities they can provide a touch of nature and an opportunity to view life-forms other than human.

House sparrows nest in either natural or man-made cavities, and the males are quite vociferous, as they defend the opening in the stones in the area of the Downtown store. Males or females may select the site, but the female does the majority of nest sitting. They are resourceful in finding material in the urban environment with which to line their nests, using hair, plastic, paper or anything easily gathered and woven. These provide the soft interior on which the female lays the four to six tiny white, greenish or bluish eggs marked with gray or brown spots. The young hatch in twelve days and occupy the nest for the next fifteen to seventeen days. They fledge at this time but are fed by the parents for about a week, after which they are expected to feed themselves.

There is much to learn about house sparrow courtship and display behavior; this would be an excellent project for school children. For more information about House Sparrows, please see A Guide to the Behavior of Common Birds I, by Donald Stokes.

In order to certify a habitat, it is necessary to provide food, water, shelter and places to rear young. The area around the Downtown Bloomingfoods store provides everything that house sparrows need to survive, especially now that it provides water in the form of a birdbath. Water is usually the element that is least available and is the most needed. In times of drought and during the winter, when water is frozen and unavailable, water is the limiting factor for a bird population.

House sparrows use the chinks and holes in the area around Bloomingfoods to nest; during the winter they use these openings as shelter. The plants in the area, both human-selected and weed, provide food and nesting material to these cocky little immigrants. Whether you love them or hate them, house sparrows, like the human invaders from Europe, are in the New World to stay.

For information about certifying your backyard as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, visit the Center for Sustainable Living website or call the Center at 332-8796. Also visit the National Wildlife Federation website. Once the Center has certified 300 homes, businesses, churches and schools, Bloomington, the city, will be certified as the Bloomington Wildlife Habitat Community. Join us to make this happen!