Richard and Diane Van Vleck Personal Pages
The Home Habitat
The following article, written in 1898, gives an interesting insight into the house sparrow in 19th c. America.
Acclimatization of plants and animals has attracted attention in all parts of the world. Useful and curious species have been introduced from one country to another with varying degrees of success; some have failed while others have become acclimated, and occasionally have increased to such an extent as to usurp the places of native species.
During the last 50 years, a number of acclimatization societies have been organized for the purpose of introducing animals and plants from foreign countries. Private individuals, too, have devoted both time and money to importing birds or mammals which they consider necessary or desirable additions to the native fauna. Four or five societies exist in New Zealand, and several have been formed in the United States. During the years 1872-1874 the Acclimatization Society of Cincinnati, Ohio expended about $9000 in the purchase and importation of European birds, and introduced some 4000, belonging to about 20 species, at an average cost of $4.50 a pair. These included several species of doubtful value, including the starling. This experiment proved a failure. In 1888 the Society for the Introduction of European Songbirds was organized at Portland, Oregon, and imported two lots of birds in 1889 and 1892, at a cost of about $2000. Among the numbers were 35 pairs of starlings.
The English Sparrow The house sparrow, better known in America as the English sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a common bird of north central Eurasia. The damage which it does in destroying fruit and grain, in disfiguring buildings in cities and towns, and in driving away other birds, makes it one of the worst of feathered pests. The rapidity with which it increases in a new locality is scarcely more remarkable than the persistency and care which have been displayed in introducing it into foreign lands, in spite of the warnings of persons familiar with its habits. It has gained a foothold on all of the continents and has been transported to some of the most distant islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The English sparrow was first introduced into the United States by a gentleman of Brooklyn, N.Y., who brought over eight pairs from Europe in the fall of 1850 and liberated them in the following spring. These birds did not thrive, and, in 1852 a second importation was made. In 1854 and 1858 the sparrow was introduced at Portland, Maine, and in the latter year at Peacedale, R.I., and a few birds escaped at Boston, Mass. During the next decade it was imported direct from Europe to eight other cities, and in one case, 1000 birds were sent to Philadelphia in a single lot. Birds were also distributed from the colonies already started in this country. By 1870, it had become established as far south as Columbia, S.C. and Galveston, Tex. as far west as Davenport, Iowa, and as far north as Montreal, Canada, thus gaining foothold in twenty states, the District of Columbia, and two provinces in Canada.
Between 1870 and 1880 it was estimated that its range had been extended by nearly 16,000 square miles and isolated colonies were established in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. During the next 5 years it spread over more than 500,000 square miles, and in 1886 had become established in thirty-five states and five territories. Its range then covered over 1 million square miles.
At the present time (1898) only three states (Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming) and three territories (Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico) are apparently free from the sparrow.
The true character of the bird is now so well known that it is unnecessary to dwell on its injuries to fruit and grain, the nuisance it has become in large cities, and the extent to which it has replaced native birds. The ill-directed care and energy expended on introducing and fostering it thirty years ago are largely responsible for the marvelous rapidity of its distribution. Now, when it is too late, efforts at extermination have begun, and four states (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Utah) have offered bounties for its destruction, the expenditures in Illinois (1891-1895) and Michigan (1887-1895) amounting to $117,500.
Besides the United States, New Zealand and Australia have suffered considerably from the English sparrow, and in some of the colonies of Australia it is considered second only to the rabbit as a pest.
The English sparrow has also found its way into many other distant corners of the earth. It is gaining a foothold in Argentina and has been carried to remote islands. In the Indian Ocean, it is present on Mauritius and the Comoro Islands. In the Pacific Ocean, it has been introduced on the Chatham Islands and the Hawaiian Islands. It was numerous in Honolulu in 1879. In the Atlantic Ocean, it is present on Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Cuba. It was sent to Bermuda from New York about 1874, and two years later was given the same protection accorded to other birds, its destruction being punished by a fine of 20 shillings. Ten years after its introduction, it had increased so enormously that a bounty was offered for its destruction, and between 1884 and 1886 about $2,650 were expended, without causing any appreciable decrease in its numbers, notwithstanding the short time the bird had been present and the fact that the islands have an area of less than 20 square miles.
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