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Wild Things: Sparrows

Andrew Howe/
What’s the most widespread wild bird in the world? Yes, the pigeon is a good guess—but nope, wrong. The answer may surprise, since we encounter these little birds so often that we tend to overlook their ubiquitous presence.

You’ll hear them twittering in the rafters of big box stores and airport terminals; you’ll see them nesting in traffic lights and hanging around McDonald’s. You may have heard them affectionately referred to as “little brown jobs” for their uninspired plumage, or “french fry birds” for their fast food appetites: They are house sparrows, also known as English sparrows.

Originally introduced to America by shortsighted Europeans back in the 1850s, the plan was for Jack Sparrow and friends to provide insect control while serenading homesick immigrants with familiar birdsong from the Old Country (seriously). Only nobody realized what bullies sparrows can be. Sparrow populations quickly, um, soared as they aggressively muscled out more timid native songbirds, chowed down on grain crops, and thrived on another food source often deposited on pre-motorized city streets: the undigested seeds in horse poop.

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