If you've driven the freeways between Brainerd, Minn., and Spokane, Wash., you will recall seeing the "World's Biggest Turkey," the "World's Biggest Cow," "World's Biggest T-Rex Skull" and other "Biggest" this-and-that.
I just came back from making that run after attending the wedding of my son, Reuben, and his sweetheart, Devaney. (Reuben was the former Source Mac-repair person and graphic designer). Reuben had borrowed my old '74 Chevy Suburban to drive to Brainerd and didn't need it anymore, so my wife, Sue, along with my son, Caleb, and I decided to drive it back home after the wedding.
As we rolled into Biggs Junction from Umatilla, where we visited with my brother, Don (who has the world's largest airplane-model collection hanging from the ceiling in his home), we passed the world's biggest wind farm (it's not really the biggest) on the Columbia River - and found, to my utter amazement, the world's tallest house sparrow nesting structure.
August 11th is long past the season for most nesting birds, so when Sue said, "I hear baby house sparrows begging for food," I was very surprised. I shouldn't have been.
While most birds' reproduction instincts are triggered in April and May due to the length of day and angle of the sun (great horned owls begin nesting in February), house sparrows seem to be turned on from April to August. That is one big reason there are so many of these pestiferous, nest robbing, eat-anything, foreign invaders everywhere.
Sure enough, when I got out of the old Chevy, I too could hear the infernal sparrows cheeping for food with the aid of my slick Siemen hearing instruments that Central Oregon Audiology outfitted me with.
When I looked toward the sound of all the whining for food, I couldn't believe my eyes. There, in a hole burned in the enormous steel base of the sign, was a baby sparrow, shouting, "Feed me! Feed me!"
Seeing the ingenuity of the sparrow's choice of nesting cavities, I was immediately reminded of a pair I found nesting in a hole inside a Texaco sign at a service station in Salem. It's this ingenious ability to locate a nesting cavity that places the house sparrow (a.k.a. the English sparrow) on my list of invasive species that have to go. House sparrows and European starlings occupy the head of the list.
Less than 200 years ago, there were no house sparrows in North America. Now these cosmopolitan pests are one of the most abundant songbirds on the continent. There are an estimated 150 million of the infernal pests established in all lower 48 states. The house sparrow - known scientifically as passer domesticus, sometimes called the gamin, tramp or hoodlum - was originally recorded in Eurasia, North Africa and the Middle East. Accounts differ, but it appears that repeated introductions in the mid-to-late 1800s took place in various parts of the U.S. and Canada.
House sparrows started their life in the New World eating horse manure and spilled human food supplies. They were taken from their native land and carried here to live near people- - and, because of their ability to survive in what Darwin taught us about natural selection, they are still here and in prodigious numbers.
The introduction of the invasive European starling is nearly the same story. Sixty of them were released in New York's Central Park in the spring of 1890, and get this: the goal was to bring every bird to the U.S. - it was mentioned in Shakespeare's epic works. Today, in just about any American city, clouds of starlings can be seen going to their night roost.
There is nothing that smothers my ideal of "live and let live" than to find a house sparrow competing with our native western or mountain bluebirds for a nest cavity. It's that same rage I feel when I see a starling driving a northern flicker out of an old abandoned woodpecker cavity or nesting box in my backyard.
I really do not enjoy saying this, or even advocating such activity - especially in light of the recent attack on our native Canada geese - but the only cure for the invasive species problem is to kill the offending invasive birds. To be sure, I do my best to remove the sparrows and starlings as humanely as possible, but killing is killing, no matter how you look at it.
The sparrows nesting in that tall Pilot sign are not only snug as bug in a rug, they're inside a tough steel housing that just happens to be holding up (what I claim to be) the tallest sparrow nest in the world.