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Hawthorn Hill

March 7, 2013

Winter tree sparrow visitations have been rare on the hill

Tree sparrows are lovely little birds, most conspicuous for their russet caps, white breasts and a distinctive charcoal smudge about mid-breast that makes one think that they are perpetual Ash Wednesday celebrants.

Every once in a while I mistake one for a redpoll, but once turned around the differences become quite clear. Among their several endearing habits is the virtue of patience. Also a sense that hurried eating is for other birds. I often will see a lone sparrow sitting motionless on the base of the feeder, seemingly content to digest what he may have already eaten, confident that quiet time between nibbles is the better part of proper digestion. Unlike chickadees that fly in between the squirrel-proof mesh, grab a seed and take off in a matter of nanoseconds to a nearby branch to process their fare, these guys linger. It is as if they have a philosophical predisposition to eating that favors a more reasoned, rational, unhurried approach to the matter of survival.

I am by no means an American tree sparrow expert. I spend a great deal of time watching varied species gobble up the free winter fare we offer. Most fascinating are the starkly contrasting behaviors displayed by each species. In every respect it is an ongoing spectacle of diversity playing itself out. For close watchers of non-human behaviors, there is a lot to be learned, and extrapolated, when it comes to developing coping mechanisms in a culture marked by difference.

Birds have mapped out strategies for compromise and cooperation that would serve us well to emulate. Even when tiffs over territory occur matters are settled, if not always amicably, without recourse to the more violent remedies that seem to characterize human behavior. It appears likely that an evolutionary imperative is the need to resolve conflicts in ways conducive to communal harmony. Nature is not without its darker side, especially with respect to modes of survival. Predation is a basic survival tactic. It is not always pretty, but it is hardly ever about anything more than getting however many square meals a day a species might require.

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