As I’ve been recovering from back surgery—a recovery that is taking a bit longer than I was led to expect—I’ve had plenty of time to check my phone, and more specifically, my news feed. I had to laugh when this item popped up. Seems that USA Today needs to check with an actual birder before choosing photos to accompany their articles!
Note that this is not a yellow bird, rare or otherwise. Even more significantly, this lovely photo is of a House Finch, not a Northern Cardinal.
That would be bad enough, but there’s more:
Here we finally get to see the yellow cardinal (which happens to be male). However, this is a male House Sparrow, definitely not a younger cardinal—or its mate!
These are rather significant mistakes in an article on I topic I know a bit about. It makes me wonder how many mistakes (intentional or otherwise) appear in their articles on other topics!
House Sparrows are frequently despised by North American birders. An invasive species, they commandeer nest cavities needed by native birds, hog feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Agricultural pests, they’re the target of various, and usually unsuccessful, “control” strategies, yet I have to admire this species. In spite of all our attempts at thwarting them, House Sparrows continue to thrive.
You see them everywhere… singing outside your bedroom window, eating squashed bugs off your car windshield, cleaning up spilled crumbs at sidewalk cafes. They mob bird feeders full of millet and take up space in nest boxes intended for other species. I’ve even found them in a tiny town in the middle of the Utah desert, miles from anything wet or green. One would think that House Sparrows are one of the most successful species ever to populate planet Earth.
Not closely related to North American sparrows, House Sparrows are relative newcomers to the Western Hemisphere. They were deliberately introduced during the latter half of the 19th century in repeated attempts to establish a breeding population in the U.S.
While the story is a bit foggy, apparently the birds were imported to eat insects that were damaging crops. If so, it was an egregious error. House Sparrows are primarily seed eaters, and according to one study, 78% of those seeds come from agricultural crops intended for livestock or human consumption.