Micro-Season: “The Sparrow Builds Her Nest”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Sparrow Builds Her Nest”.  This is the first micro-season of the mini season of Spring Equinox. Each mini season contains three micro-seasons. The micro-seasons contained within this mini season are:

  • The Sparrow Builds Her Nest (Mar 20 -Mar 24)
  • The First Cherry Blossoms (Mar 25 – Mar 29)
  • Thunder Raises its Voice (Mar 30 – Apr 03)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point  for your personal exploration into the world around you. 


The Equinox and Changing Seasons

The March equinox marks the shift in the astronomical seasons. The equinox is the time when the sun is directly above the equator at noon and there are nearly equal hours of day and night. For us in the northern hemisphere, this marks the shift from astronomical winter to astronomical spring. This is why the March equinox is also known as the spring equinox or vernal equinox. For people in the southern hemisphere, the March equinox is the start of fall and is called the autumnal equinox.

The astronomical seasons, which are based on the earth’s position relative to the sun, are slightly different from the meteorological seasons, which are based on annual temperature cycles.  Meteorological seasons change about every 90 days and coincide with the months of the Gregorian calendar.  Astronomical seasons change with the movement of the sun, and shift during an equinox or a solstice.


The Sparrow

This micro-season talks about the time of year where sparrows begin nesting and courtship.  However, “The Sparrow Builds Her Nest” is a very vague statement and may lead to confusion. But in this case, the potential confusion became an invitation to do more research into the taxonomy of the sparrow.

The Order of Passeriformes

The term “sparrow” has the potential to refer to about 180 different species of birds that are part of the larger Passeriformes order of birds. Passeriformes make up more than half of all bird species and can be identified by the orientation of their toes.

All Passeriformes have three toes that point forward and one toe that points backwards. This toe configuration allows these birds to grip onto branches and perch.  This is the reason Passeriformes are also known as “perching birds.”

As we investigate the sparrow it is important to remember that all sparrows are Passeriformes, but not all Passeriformes are sparrows. There are actually close to 6,500 different species in the order of Passeriformes.(1)

Old World and New World Sparrows

Sparrows are further separated into Old World Sparrows and New World Sparrows.

Old World Sparrows are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia and generally like the open grasslands and plain. They are part of the Passeridae family of birds which also includes some finches. There are 43 species within this family.(2)

There is a genus of old world sparrows that are called “true sparrows” within the Passeridae family.  The genus for these “true sparrows” is called Passer.  There are 28 species within this genus and they make up a majority of the 43 species of the Passeridae family.(3)   

New World Sparrows are part of the Passerellidae family of birds.  These birds are native to North and South America.  There are 138 species of birds in this family.  However, only 68 of the birds in this family have “sparrow” in their name. The rest may be identified as bullfinches, tanagers, juncos, towhees, buntings, and brush finches.(4)

The birds in the Passerellidae family were previously included in the larger Emberizidae family of birds. However, in 2015 after some DNA testing the Passerellidae family separated from the Emberizidae family.  The Emberizidae family is known as a “super-family”  because it contains 16 sub-families, which includes the sparrows, warblers, grosbeaks, and others.

What sparrows live in Japan?

Although, I wasn’t able to specifically identify what type of sparrow that lived in Japan during the development of the 72 season calendar.  We can assume that the sparrow in question would be one of the old world sparrows. 

The “List of Birds in Japan” it states that there are only three old world sparrows commonly found in Japan.  These sparrows are: the House sparrow, the Russet sparrow, and the Eurasian Tree sparrow.  Out of these three, it seems like the Eurasian Tree Sparrow is the most likely bird in question.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow/Photo Credit-Ivan Sjögren, Macaulay Library
Eurasian Tree Sparrow/Photo Credit-Ivan Sjögren, Macaulay Library

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

The Eurasian Tree sparrow is a small bird that is primarily brown in color with lighter colored chest and a chestnut colored head.  These birds like to live in farmlands, parks, and villages. 

Eurasian Tree sparrows build their nest in cavities of trees, buildings, rock face, or nest boxes.  Both the male and female Eurasian Tree sparrow participate in the building of the nest. The nest is typically made of grass and straw, then lined with feathers, hair, cloth, and plant matter.  The nest takes on a dome like shape when it is all completed.

Eurasian Tree sparrows lay about 4-7 eggs in each breeding cycle. The Eurasian Tree sparrows breed in both spring and autumn.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the United States

Interestingly, you can only find the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in northeastern Missouri, west-central Illinois, and southeastern Iowa. The Cornell Lab reports that in “April 1870, a shipment of European birds from Germany was released in St. Louis, Missouri, in order to provide familiar bird species for newly settled European immigrants. The shipment included 12 hardy Eurasian Tree Sparrows.”(8) Since that time, these sparrows have stayed in this small portion of the United States and haven’t expanded their territory much. However, there have been sightings of Eurasian Tree sparrow in Canada and in the mid-Atlantic states.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Range Map/
Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Range Map/Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

 A Short Sparrow Poem

When I think about poems about birds, I often start looking towards Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson has written many notable bird poems including “A Bird Came Down the Walk” and “‘Hope’ is the things with feathers”.  However this one, “A Sparrow Took a Slice of Twig” seemed the most relevant for today.

“A Sparrow took a Slice of Twig” (1211) by Emily Dickinson 

A Sparrow took a Slice of Twig
And thought it very nice
I think, because his empty Plate
Was handed Nature twice–

Invigorated, waded
In all the deepest Sky
Until his little Figure
Was forfeited away –

Have you noticed any sparrows nesting near you? Can you identify them? Feel free to share your observations below.


Resources:

  1. “Passerine”: Wikipedia
  2. “Old World Sparrow”: Wikipedia
  3. “Passer”: Wikipedia
  4. “New World Sparrow”: Wikipedia
  5. “List of New World Sparrow Species”: Wikipedia
  6. “Eurasian Tree Sparrow”: Wikipedia
  7. “List of Birds in Japan”: Wikipedia
  8. “Eurasian Tree Sparrow”: All About Birds
  9. Emily Dickinson: “A Sparrow took a Slice of Twig” (1211)

Looking for something else to read? The Naturalist Weekly bookstore has several curated lists of books about poetry and birds. We even have gift cards that can be used throughout the store.   

Naturalist Weekly runs on coffee and a passion for writing. Your donation will keep the coffee pot full and the content flowing.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow/Photo Credit-Pavel Štěpánek, Macaulay Library
Eurasian Tree Sparrow/Photo Credit-Pavel Štěpánek, Macaulay Library

18 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Sparrow Builds Her Nest”

Add yours

  1. This is an excellent and thoroughly researched essay. Fascinating info here, Mark. I haven’t been out yet this spring to see what’s going on bird-wise, but I did find a traditional Japanese fable about sparrows (perhaps you came across it in your research) called “Shita-kiri Suzume” or “Tongue-cut Slparrow.” It’s kind of cool. You can find it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shita-kiri_Suzume I love reading about the symbolism of ordinary things in various cultures, and I’ve looked a bit into the symbolism of some birds and flowers in Japanese culture and used the info in my poetry. It’s intriguing stuff, just like your article. Well done, good sir! 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, thank you for sharing the fable. I haven’t heard of this one before. I agree that it’s always fascinating to hear the meaning others place on the natural world. Thanks again for your continued support! Talk soon,

    1. Hi Phil, I hear you on that one! Sometimes you think you have a great photo and then realize you can hardly tell where the bird is! I have lots of those pictures.

  2. Loved reading this as I watched the birds at my feeder outside. We may be in Spring but ice and snow still melting in the Adirondacks

  3. Loved reading this as I watched the birds at my feeder outside. Spring
    May have arrived but the snow is yet to disappear in the Adirondacks

  4. Thanks for sharing such a delightful post. Sparrows so underrated and intriguing creatures. I have a family of them living in the garden. The fill my day with sunshine watching their antics. Spring is in the air so they are busy with their courtship performances. Have a great day My Friend.

    1. Hi Goff, Thanks so much for sharing. I find it fascinating to be able to watch birds or small go about their daily business. This is especially true this time of year where there is so much activity. Thanks for adding to the conversation. Talk soon,

  5. So nice to read this article about beautiful birds story 🌷🙏👌 now spring started
    There all birds coming back and making nests👏🏼🌷 ,your home the birds making
    nest means very auspicious!!! Happy Wednesday 🙏

  6. Our mornings begins with adding seed to the bird dish hanging from our orchid tree. This is greetings and breakfast for our sparrows whose nests fill the dead drooping palm environment of our palm tree. We just love to stand and watch them while enjoying our morning coffee.
    Art

    1. Hi Art, Thank you so much for your comment! What a wonderful scene you are describing with the orchid, the palm, and the sparrows! Sound pretty magical. Thanks again for adding to the conversation.

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