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Don't Forget the Sparrow(c) Cheryl Lynne Bradley 2006


We are all familiar with Sparrows here in the Great White North, from the frolicking bands of Snowbirds (Dark Eyed Juncos), in the winters, to the more common House Sparrow which inhabit our trees, outbuildings, eaves and hedges all year round. There are many varieties and relatives of the sparrow, from Buntings to Crossbills. Some people consider them to be a pest as they are determined nesters and will defend their nests vigorously, often taking over attempts to provide nesting places for more desirable and rarer backyard birds.

In the 1850's, these birds were imported from England by Nicholas Pike as they were known for eating the caterpillars of the snow-white linden moth, a serious pest to shade trees. They are called English Sparrows or House Sparrows but in reality are a Weaver Finch. They are about 5-6 inches long. The male is more colourful, I guess more shades of brown doesn't make it exactly colourful, than the female. He has a grey crown, black throat and white speckling and his colours change from summer to winter. In summer, his beak and breast are black and, in winter, the bill is yellow and his chest is grey. The female sparrow has a brown crown and plain breast which a broad line over her eyes.

Mating season can run from January to July, but March to July are most usual. Sparrows are monogamous but a lost mate will be replaced during a new mating season. They use their nests almost the whole of the year and nest nearly anywhere using any available materials. The female begins laying eggs about a week after nest building begins. Usually 4 eggs are laid but some nests can have up to 7 eggs. The eggs are white to dull brown and speckled with brown. Incubation of the eggs is done by the female and lasts for about 12 days with the young leaving the nest 15 to 17 days after hatching.

Due to their worldwide range, it is of little surprise that there are many superstitions and stories associated with this humble and common bird. Sparrows are thought to carry and embody the souls of the dead and it is considered bad luck to kill one. A Sparrow entering your house is though by most European cultures to be an omen of death. Variations on this theme indicate that if the person who caught the Sparrow doesn't kill it, they will die. It is thought to be very unlucky to keep a Sparrow in a cage and in Kent, it is thought that anyone who catches a Sparrow must kill it or their parents will die. Another variation on this superstition tells us that the Sparrow has to land on a piano in the house before it is predictive of a death.

In Indonesia, however, a Sparrow entering your house is a harbinger of a wedding in your family. If you kill a Sparrow, the tree in which the Sparrow nested will die. One superstition indicates that it is considered very fortunate if a Sparrow bulds a nest in a new house and this practice is encouraged for the good fortune it will bring. In some parts of Great Britain they relate the welfare of the Sparrows around your home to the welfare of the entire household. Hearing a Sparrow call is a sign of rain and if a woman sees a sparrow on Valentine's Day, she will marry a poor man and be very happy.

It is said that the Sparrow was at the crucifixion of Jesus and its' cries of "he's alive, he's alive", encouraged further torture of Jesus by the Roman soldiers. For punishment, God bound the feet of the Sparrow together with invisible twine which made the Sparrow to hop rather than walk. Superstition has it that this is the reason that if you see a Sparrow it doesn't fly away, it hops because it likes to stick around and see what is going on. Sparrows are also blamed for betraying the whereabouts of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Crossbill, which is a member of the Sparrow family, has a red bill with a curved end. The legend is that the Crossbill bent and bloodied its beak by trying to pry out the nails from Christ's cross.

There are several references to Sparrows in the Bible both in the New and Old Testaments. They are a common theme in popular Christian Children's Hymns.

God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall
by Maria Straub 1874

Verse 1
God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets his tender view;
If God so loves the little birds, I know He loves me too.

He loves me too, he loves me too,
I know he loves me too;
Because he loves the little things,
I know he loves me too.

Tell Me the Stories of Jesus
by William Henry Parker 1865

Verse 5 Tell how the sparrow that twitters
On yonder tree,
And the sweet meadow-side lily
May speak to me;
Give me their message
For I would hear
How Jesus taught us
Our Father's care

The first reference to Sparrows in the Bible occurs in the Old Testament and is a reference to Sparrows building their nests in the temples. Psalm 84: 3 Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God. This Psalm was written by David when he was in great despair after being driven from Jerusalem by the army of his son, Absalom. This verse expressed his wish for a safe and peaceful place such as the Sparrows had found in the House of the Lord. When David receives word that his son, Absalom, has fallen in battle, he laments in Psalm 102:7 I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. His reference is to Sparrows who have lost their mates, perching on roof tops and mourning their loss with a sad and inconsolable lament. This same reference of the lone sparrow on the roof is also compared to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he feels abandoned by his sleeping apostles.

In Matthew 10:29-31, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But by the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." and in Luke 12:6-7 it is echoed, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows." In the time of Jesus, young children caught sparrows, plucked their feathers and sold them for pocket change. 2 for a farthing, 5 for 2 farthings - the 5th sparrow was thrown in for nothing - a forgotten sparrow.

Sparrows were viewed as one of the lowest creatures and Jesus used the example of sparrows in his teachings about God's love for those who were persecuted. We had more to fear from the one who would steal our souls than those who would harm our body and hold us as worthless. We have value in the eyes of God. Early Christian tombs were often decorated with drawings of Sparrows escaping from cages. This represented the Christian's soul escaping the bondage of life and flying to the freedom and safety of heaven.

In the Gnostic Gospels of the Apocrypha, twelve Sparrows are used to represent the 12 Apostles. In the Gospel of Thomas, there is a story of young Jesus being caught playing on the Sabbath, he was making clay sparrows. His earthly Father, Joseph, corrected the young Jesus for his profanity of the Sabbath. The young man clapped his hands and the Sparrows flew away but he reminded them to remember him. To some it was sorcery, to others a miracle.

In Ireland, the Hedge Sparrow had much trouble reproducing because of the beauty of its' eggs. They were blue-green and were considered in certain communities to be a charm against the spells of witches, especially any spells which could come down the chimney.

Dreaming of Sparrows is a predictor of lean times ahead. If you were able to chase them away, it is a sign of good business news. It can also mean that your neighbours are jealous of your possessions and begrudge your success.

The Sparrow was an attribute of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and the length of the battle of Troy was predicted by nine Sparrows being eaten by a snake. Each Sparrow represented one year of war. Sparrows are a symbol of the Mother Goddesses, the cycle of rebirth typified by the return of the spring and of the Resurrection.

The next time you see a Sparrow, and you will, try not to think of them of some kind of annoyance or pest but look to their long history and the deeper meaning many have taken from the lives of this seemingly insignificant bird. Sometimes, in life, we may feel very much like the forgotten Sparrow, the extra Sparrow thrown in the bunch with no significant value, or the lonely Sparrow sitting on the rooftop lamenting a deep loss. It is good to remember that like these lowly and fiercely determined birds, we are always welcome in sacred places and we are not alone, lonely or forgotten. God's and Goddess's eye is always on the Sparrow.

Sources

Holy Bible
King Jame Version

Book of Common Prayer
1962 Canada
Oxford University Press, Toronto
Hymnal

The Meaning of Your Dreams
By Franklin D. Martini
Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc.
1962, 1993

The Dreamer's Dictionary
Lady Stearne Robinson and Tom Corbett

Tucker, Suzetta. "ChristStory Sparrow Page."
ChristStory Christian Bestiary. 1998.
http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/legend01/sparrow.htm (5 Jun. 2006).

Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions
by David Pickering 1995
Cassell Publishing, London, England
ISBN 0-304-345350

 



This page was created June 19, 2006 and updated 2010-06-11.