Cincinnati’s Most Abundant Bird
Posted On: 08/21/2017 - 12:30pm, Posted By: Other
This post is guest-authored by Stanley Hedeen, professor emeritus at Xavier University and long-time volunteer at the Geier Collections & Research Center.
The Cincinnati Museum Center is housed in the magnificent former passenger railroad station, Cincinnati Union Terminal, opened in 1933 (a few Amtrak trains do still run out of the building, and the rail yard behind conducts the one of the largest rail freight operations in the U.S.). Built on the site of Lincoln Park, the new terminal displaced the picnickers who often visited the parkland. Likewise, during the nineteenth century the newly-arrived European House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) displaced avian residents of Lincoln Park.
Two male House Sparrows in the museum’s bird collection.
In 1873, the City Council of Cincinnati obtained 80 pairs of the House Sparrow to feed on caterpillars that were eating the municipal shade trees. House Sparrows already had been successfully introduced into other American cities, beginning in 1850. The Cincinnati birds, imported from Germany at a cost of $640, were released in three city parks: 35 pairs in Lincoln Park, 30 pairs in Washington Park, and 15 pairs in Hopkins Park.
During the mid and late1870s, the rapidly-multiplying sparrow displaced native species such as the House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Purple Martin, and Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows. The combative alien destroyed the native birds’ eggs, killed their young, and usurped their nests. By 1878, a colony of sparrows had entirely replaced the colony of Cliff and Rough-winged Swallows that nested on the Brighton Bridge over Mill Creek.
Bluebird eggs in nest. House Sparrows may destroy the eggs and claim the nest.
By 1880, the sparrow had become common everywhere within ten to fifteen miles of Cincinnati and started to cause serious damage to grain crops and fruit trees. Andrew Erkenbrecher, an animal lover and the father of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, was forced to install window screens at his St. Bernard starch grain factory in order to exclude the voracious bird. Since the sparrow’s introduction, repeated efforts to reduce its population have proven futile and the species has become the most abundant bird in the Cincinnati area.
Males, females, and a juvenile House Sparrow in the museum’s bird collection.