How sparrows got their start in Brooklyn

The New York Post has an interesting piece today about the origin of lowly New York City pigeons: They were brought here as food in the 17th century by French settlers.

Soon they escaped their confines and eventually adapted to urban areas, where only they occasional falcon or pigeon shoot worker prey on them.

The ubiquitous house sparrow, the most common bird in New York, was never meant to be dinner. But like the pigeon, it isn’t a native American bird.

About 100 were brought over by Brooklyn scientists in 1854, released in Green-Wood Cemetery and along the Narrows to get rid of inchworms that were destroying trees. They ate some—but they also thrived on fruit, seeds, and oats spilled in the streets from horse feed.

Within a few decades they were everywhere, regarded as an “unmitigated nuisance” by a 1889 New York Times article, which urged that they all be poisoned. Clearly that didn’t happen. But as horses disappeared from the streets, their numbers fell.

Today there are only about 100 million in the city, happily chattering away and fighting starlings (above photo), among other birds, for tossed bagels, pizza crusts, and hot dog buns.

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4 Responses to “How sparrows got their start in Brooklyn”

  1. Cully Says:

    Starlings are also an NYC import, and you can thank Frederick Law Olmsted for that one. He brought several breeding pair to Central Park in an effort to have the park stocked with every bird mentioned in Shakespeare.

  2. Regina Says:

    Eugene Schieffelin, actually, not F.L. Olmsted.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Stocking Central Park with every bird mentioned in Shakespeare–now that’s ambitious.

  4. Cully Says:

    Oh! Thanks Regina. I had always heard that attributed to Olmsted.

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