Saturday, April 03, 2010

Murder in Milton

My backyard with its perimiter of birdbaths, raised flower beds and bird houses

Every year at this time in early spring migratory birds arrive in my back yard to begin their nesting. This year was no exception as the bluebirds, swallows, starlings and the sparrows swooped down and around, checking out the housing accommodations on the verdant green acre of lawn that is our backyard.

Two years ago I placed three blue bird boxes on the perimeter of the Back Forty. I also had a purple martin house installed by the Frank the Birdman of Milton. I’ve always wanted one of those multiple apartment purple martin birdhouses. Now that I had an open clear field of almost an acre I could do this. I also wanted to have those fence post bluebird houses like my dad used to have surrounding his three acres of land he used to lovingly farm his crop of corn, tomatoes and string beans.

My dad's garden in Pennsylvania

I couldn’t have those types of birdhouses at our home in Pennsylvania because we lived in the middle of the woods. The only kind of birdhouses that we had success with in Pennsylvania was the Jenny Wren birdhouses which my dad built for me. Here at our home in Delaware I only have one tree, an ornamental prune tree in the front of the house. Here in Delaware we no longer lived in home that attracted woodland birds.

My house in Delaware with its lone tree - no room for woodland birds

So I had had the bluebird and purple martin birdhouses installed. However I soon discovered my first visitors were the common house sparrow. I didn’t think too much about it at first. But then one day, Frank the Birdman was over adjusting my purple martin house and he happened to take a peek in one of the bluebird houses. Immediately after swinging open the door he discovered the sloppy bird nest of a house sparrow! Much to my shock he put his calloused hand in the bird box and scooped out the nest, eggs included, and tossed it into a nearby cornfield.

Swallow checking recently emptied birdhouse of sparrow nesting and eggs last summer

After tossing that sparrow nest in the cornfield he turned to me with a look of surprise and anger and said “That’s a damn sparrow nest! You don’t want that!” Well, excuse me but…….. Then he explained to me the trouble with sparrows. They are a very aggressive bird. They are not native to this country. The sparrow and the starling are the two species of birds mainly responsible for the decimation of the blue bird and other song bird population of the continental United States. If I permitted the house sparrows to nest on my property I was contributing to the extinction of the bluebirds. Frank’s comments caused me serious concern.

The Determined House Sparrow

Well, I did some research and he was absolutely right. In fact the sparrow and starling are so aggressive that they will kill any other bird that is in a nest they want. They will even build their nest over the dead birds and sometimes, the dead baby birds. I found this hard to believe until I witnessed it myself. Last year when I fought a six week battle to remove a sparrow from one of the purple martin apartment I found one nest of three baby purple martins that had been pecked to death by the sparrow. I wrote several blog postings last year about my frustrating battle with the Determined House Sparrow.

Baby purple martins last year - the type that were pecked to death by the house sparrow

So this year I was ready for their invasion. The house sparrows didn’t disappoint. This week they arrived. I was ready for them. I had taped the entrances to the six purple martin apartments. They couldn’t get in there. The purple martins don’t arrive until May 1st, so I had plenty of time to discourage the Determined House Sparrow.

My purple martin house

Of my three bluebird houses, there is only one in which the bluebirds nest. It is the one near the white fence of my neighbor Tom. For the past two years a bluebird couple has raised two batches of four baby bluebirds each summer. Early last week I saw the bluebirds checking out their house from their perch in one of Tom’s pine trees.

Baby blue birds in their nest last year

Then on Thursday I saw my worst fear. The Determined House Sparrow was on top on the bluebird house! Oh no! I have three other bluebird houses. I’m willing to let the sparrows in those houses but no, the Determined House Sparrow wants THAT bluebird house next to Tom’s fence. It ain’t going to happen.

Blue bird house next to my neighbor Tom's fence

At first I chased it away every time I saw it land on the bluebird house. But that was futile. Then I put a bucket over the house to discourage the damn sparrow. But that was only a temporary measure plus it prevented the bluebirds from using the house too.

The Determined Sparrow atop the blue bird house last year

So, I decided to do what I did last year. I would let them sort it out themselves. That’s what they did last year. I know the sparrow has a reputation for being the more aggressive the species but they did work it out last year. I think the reason the bluebirds won out because on of the bluebirds was pretty big. That one bluebird was like the Hulk Hogan of bluebirds.

The "Hulk Hogan" of blue birds guarding his blue bird nest last year

So yesterday, I took off to the 42nd Annual Kite Festival at Cape Henlopen. It was a beautiful, sunny day with lots of wind for all those colorful kites. After a morning of kite festival (and enough of the crowds) I came back home for lunch. But, before lunch I thought I would check the bluebird box to see if anyone had built a nest. As I put my forefinger in the bird box opening to bring the front down, a bird made quick exit from the hole, surprised by my invasion. As I lowered the front of the bird box I was shocked and saddened to see this: (WARNING – DO NOT LOOK IF YOU ARE SQUEMISH)

Dead swallow (pecked to death by the sparrow) in blue bird box yesterday

It was the body of a swallow that had been just pecked to death by that damn sparrow. I lifted it still warm body out of the bird box and took it to show to Bill, who was mowing the lawn on his riding mower. I wanted to show him what his “cute sparrow” had done. Bill is always sticking up for the sparrows, putting guilt trip on me every time I threw out one of their nests. Here was proof positive that this was a bird we do not want in our backyard.

With a sad heart I gently placed the limp body of the dead swallow in an empty planter on my back deck and went inside my house to have lunch.

After lunch I decided to take a trip to Milton to visit Frank the Birdman and ask him his advice.

He wasn’t at home. His wife told me he was out on a job. I told her my problem with the sparrows and asked her what Frank does to discourage the house sparrows. Frank has several purple martin houses in his yard which are always populated by a very noisy colony of purple martins throughout the spring and summer.

She went to a shed and opened the door and pulled out a cartridge of gold colored copper tipped bullets neatly arranged in a even row. She told me he shoots them with a 22! She assured me that shooting the 22 “didn’t make much noise.” Oh, well…..okay. Well, now let’s see. First I don’t have a gun. I told her that I didn’t have one which surprised her. Uh……okay. Another thing, I will never have a gun. The last time I fired a bullet was when I was in the Army during my annual qualification at the rifle range in 1962. My father was a lifelong hunter. None of his three sons were hunters. My brothers were also in the Army and fired rifles but none of us ever possessed the desire or need to have a gun. And I wasn’t about to start. Running through my mind at this time was a visual of me firing a Twenty-two from my back deck at my bluebird house. I’m sure my neighbor Tom and his wife Shannon would appreciate that especially since they have a couple of dogs who use their back yard and a two year old daughter. Talk about your Neighbor From Hell. I told Frank’s wife I would seek another solution to my sparrow problem.

This is NOT a picture of me firing a gun

Now what was really unusual about yesterday was the location where I was talking to the Birdman’s wife was only one road away from an actual murder that took place this past winter. The body was just discovered last week in the backyard of a singlewide trailer. It was under a blue tarp. Police suspect the badly decomposed remains were the son of the man who lived in the singlewide, his father. The police arrested the father on suspicion of shooting his son. So here I am yesterday, being given advice to use a Twenty-Two to get rid of a murderous sparrow. Do you not see the irony?

Michael Hudson, the arrested father suspected of shooting his son

Spencer Ashing, the suspected deceased son who decompsing remains were found under a tarp in the back yard of Michael Hudson

I taped the entrance to the bluebird box closed. The murdering sparrow was out there today pecking away at the blue painter’s masking tape. I went out and taped it about six more times. I think they gave up (they never actually give up) and began building their nest in one of the other bluebird boxes.

The taped entrance to the blue bird box this morning

My plan now is to let them build that nest. That should keep they occupied. Once they’re well on their way to building their nest I’ll take the blue tape off of the entrance to the prime blue bird box so the returning blue birds can use it to start their family.
Four blue bird eggs June 17, 2009 (the second batch)

The sparrows will never raise their family in my backyard in my bird houses. Once they build that nest and lay their eggs I will take that nest (and eggs) out. There were no sparrows raised on my property last year and there won’t be this year either. I don’t care how “cute” they are. There was nothing “cute” about that dead swallow.

A lone swallow from last summer keeping watch over my back yard


  1. And so it begins. "THE BIRDS" starring Ron Tipton.

  2. Mike,

    I just came in from the backyard bird habitat. I had to tape up all the bird boxes. The purple martins don't arrive until May 1st. I'll leave the bird boxes taped until then hoping that the sparrows take off somewhere else. If not, I'll have to let them build their nest, lay their eggs then trap them in the bird box at night and break their little fucking necks.

  3. I received this e-mail from my cousin Elaine, whose opinion I highly respect:


    You have certainly brightened my day today with your blog.

    I knew about the sparrows from other blogs, but you wrote this
    so well, and when it turned into the story of a real murder that
    was quite a surprise! When the music "Night on Bald Mountain"
    started playing, I was LOL.

    My Carole says when I really like something, I go too overboard,
    so on that note: I am really impressed with your writing -- has anyone else told you that you should do more writing than your blog?

    Happy Easter!


  4. Did I just use the F-Bomb in my comment? I guess I did. My apologies if I offended any of my readers. It's those damn house sparrows. They drive me nuts.

  5. Fucking as a word is perfectly harmless. It's only bad when some puritan says it is. When Biden said it I thought how else can a person express how big a fucking deal it really is.

  6. Mike,

    Bill just got on my case for using the F-bomb. I came on to delete the comment but after reading yur comment, I decided to leave it. It expresses my feelings exactly as regards to those damn sparrows.


  7. Make no apologies, stand your ground, never surrender. LOL

  8. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Your yard looks great. Any advice on getting rid of wiregrass...other than Roundup.
    We get swallows every year. While it is neat to watch them build their mud nest on my door light, it is not neat to watch the feces falling from the nest after the little ones are born. Me and my wife have put a bag over the light, but they just start building somewhere else on the house. Good luck with your birds

  9. Mike,

    You are 110% right! Just another reason why I like you. :)


  10. Anonymous (Fran?)

    Ah wiregrass the bane of our existence here in Delaware, next to the sparrows. The best advice I have heard for getting rid of wire grass is to...........move.

    Seriously though, you can never get rid of it totally but what we have found is if you fertilize your grass enough (we use Lawns Unlimited - expensive but well worth it) the grass will grow so thick that it will choke out most of the wiregrass. Not all of it unfortunately, but MOST of it.

    I love the swallows and their little mud nests too. My neighbor next door does permit them to build their mud nest above their door but it does create a problem with their droppings. I would let them build one above my door too but Bill won't hear of it. I have hanging gourds from the Purple Martin house but I have the entrances closed now because the sparrows are trying to build nests in them. I'm hoping the sparrows will give up and I can open the entrances to the gourds to let the swallows in.

    Don’t those baby swallows look so cute lined up in their little mud nests in the evening?


  11. Anonymous8:31 AM

    No Ron, it was not my post about the wire grass. I was busy all weekend preparing a big Easter dinner for the family. Last night I was so tired I went to bed with a few dirty dishes in the sink. Now that's a rare occasion. It's now Monday, 8:22AM & I'm still tired after a good nights rest. It seems it takes longer now to recuperate from the pressures of holidays. Not that I'm saying I'm getting old or I am fighting the effects of allergies so that doesn't help.

    I'm excited about spring & the continuing saga of Ron's battle of the birds. We have a few bird boxes on our property but after finding snakes in them a few years ago I don't care who nests in them cuz I don't check them anymore after the snakes took 10 years off my life.

    I want to do some weeding the next few days. Hopefully I'll have enough energy to sit on my butt & do it!


  12. Fran,

    Snakes in your birdhouse? Wow. Now that is one scene I haven't encountered before. I like snakes but I prefer not to be around them. I'll have to post some of my snake stories sometime. Especially the one time I was on a roadside litter crew and picked up a hubcap and discovered a lethargic rattlesnake! Talk about taking 10 years off of your life. All I could think of was "feets start running!" Thank goodness it was a cool spring morning and the snake was still slow to move.

    I know whereof you speak about getting bone tired after doing chores that you thought nothing of a few years back. This past week I've been planting, raking and spring cleanup in my back yard. I ache all over. At least it is a good ache. But I do need my rest. I haven't even been able to watch any of my Netflix rentals on the weekend because I fall asleep five minutes into the movie. Talk about an Old Man.:( That's me. :)

    Say, when are you going to start your blog? You sound like you have a very interesting life.

    Have you read the "Liberty and Independence" blog? He's another one of us Delawareans. He is also a good write (and funny.)

    Take care Fran. Enjoy this glorious spring weather that we're finally getting after our long and brutal winter.


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