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The Birds of Harmony Farm Sanctuary #1: House Sparrows

This is Sirius, one of our turkey residents enjoying dinner. 💙

Hi everyone, this is Jamie writing, one of the volunteers at Harmony Farm Sanctuary. I have been volunteering at Harmony for just over a year now and absolutely love it, the animals have been such a wonderful addition to my life.

Some of you who have visited the sanctuary, volunteered with us, or have visited other sanctuaries/farms may have noticed a number of wild birds congregating near the sanctuary and utilizing some of the structures. This is the first post I plan to make in a series discussing some of the wonderful birds that frequent Harmony Farm Sanctuary and the ways in which Harmony can form a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with local flora and fauna.

These cute little guys are called House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and are a very common visitor here at Harmony. House Sparrows are widespread throughout both North America and the world at large. They are a species historically native to Eurasia but have since been introduced across many other parts of the world and can now be found thriving on 6 out of the 7 continents (everywhere but Antarctica!). House Sparrows have a bit of a contentious reputation in a lot of birding communities, given that they are a non-native species that can battle local birds for real estate. We welcome whatever birds come through with open arms, provided they don’t harm our residents or interfere with our care for our residents.

These clever birds will often utilize manmade structures as nesting locations, and ours are no exception and love to stay in the main barn here at Harmony. You can often see them flitting to and fro throughout the day, getting ready to roost at night, and at the right time of year — raising their young.

There are a variety of reasons birds will flock to barns for both nesting (rearing young) and roosting (where they sleep at night).

1. Safety — the most obvious reason is the safety of the building, providing a shelter from both the elements and potential predators. Birds can also benefit from any heating/cooling we have running in the barn to help regulate the temperatures of our residents during more extreme weather months.

2. Access to food — birds are very resourceful and often quite quickly learn where the food is at. With the variety of places, we feed animals of all different diets (bird food for the chickens, ducks and geese, pig food for the pigs + fruits and veggies, horse and llama pellets, etc.), the wild birds can pick up the little bits and pieces serving as a ‘clean-up crew’ of sorts. Birds are incredibly intelligent overall and have been shown to be capable of facial recognition (more info on this to come in the Raven post) so it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve pieced together how and when and where feeding happens.

3. Access to nest-building supplies — this is one people may not immediately think of. However, barns often provide plentiful non-invasive ways for birds to acquire nest-building supplies. Some items I’ve personally seen the sparrows at Harmony use are spare hay and straw, sticks, and shedded hair/fur from the residents — the rabbits in particular often shed fluffy fur that can be then used by birds for their nest building to create a warm safe space for their eggs.

As you can see, particularly for #2 and #3 here — it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The birds are able to get nest building supplies and food and, in the process, do small bits of clean-up for us. This is just one of many ways birds help balance and maintain ecosystems, both ones that involve humans and ones that don’t, and can serve as helpful interfaces between the natural world and human society. Through positive and intentional action, we can make the world a better place, and the ways in which we interface with our local wildlife are an important way to help mitigate the impact of human intervention on our natural world. More to come in a future post, so stay tuned!

- Jamie

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Harmony Farm Sanctuary, PO Box 2347 Sisters, OR 97759

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