BRITISH GOVERNMENT URGED TO DECLARE WAR ON SPARROWS
London (JFK+50) One hundred years ago today, February 17, 1917, the DAILY TELEGRAPH published a letter to the Editor titled "Crusade Against Sparrows."*
This letter is found inserted in between articles titled "The War Loan," "Hun Troops in Belgium," and "Italy and the Allies."
The letter, dated February 15 and written by L.W. Lyde of University College, began...
"The large amount of suburban land that is being brought under cultivation should call attention to the immense damage done to crops in this country by sparrows.
They not only destroy and damage crops but also drive away really insectivorous birds."
Mr. Lyde argues that 3000 sparrows consume a peck of grain per acre in a single day and that they waste "as much grain again when the grain is mature."
He maintains that sparrows cost 800,000 English pounds a day per 13,000 square miles and calls for an "organized crusade" and "immediate, simultaneous and ubiquitous" action.
Rob Dunn of Smithsonian Magazine writes that in the 1700s local governments called for the extermination of house sparrows "associated with agriculture," and that Chairman Mao of China saw the birds as being among the "great pests of his regime."
As it turned out, however, when sparrows were killed "pests of rice and other staples" increased to the point where 35 million Chinese people died of starvation. Seeing the error of his ways, in 1960 Mao ordered sparrows to be conserved.
Almost a half-century after sparrows were introduced in the United States, most Americans considered them to be pests.
*Sparrows are a family of small passerine birds which originated in Europe. They are primarily seedeaters but will eat virtually anything in small amounts.
Many foods were rationed in Great Britain during WWI. Men were allowed 1 pound of bread a day while women could eat 4 pounds of bread per week.
"Crusade Against Sparrows," The Daily Telegraph, February 17. 1917, www.telegraph.co.uk/
"The Story of the Most Common Bird in the World," by Rob Dunn, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2, 2012, www.smithsonianmag.com