Small, But Determined

I started to write this post about my song sparrow friends last week, but then world events, already dark, turned even more grim and made writing about small birds seem ridiculous.

Now I’m back to thinking that small things are sometimes the best subjects to hang onto at certain times. Also, their tiny determination seems somehow even more appropriate at this moment.

While Ben (the crow with broken foot I wrote about last time) is always the first crow to greet me in the morning, the very first birds there, every single day, are the song sparrows. Half a dozen or so seem to be in our garden at all times — more reliable companions than any other birds this winter.

Song sparrow on his favourite perch, as close as possible to the back deck..

The trees begin to rustle as soon as I open the door and small, drab, brown shapes emerge. At first it looks as if sad winter leaves are being blown loose, but it’s always the song sparrow gang.

They see the crows gathering but they always dive in fearlessly first, grabbing at least one peanut each before melting swiftly and seamlessly back into the foliage.

I always cheer them on.

And when I said they were drab — that is ONLY upon the most cursory of glances. Give these birds a single moment of inspection and it’s obvious that they’re one of nature’s more complicated works of art — and all created with a palette of infinitely varied browns, creams and a touch of pearl grey.

I’ve been spending time making simple bird figures by needle felting wool. Mostly it’s just an excuse to relieve stress and spend more time thinking about birds, but it’s also practice in noticing things about them that I might not properly see when photographing them. When I look at the intricacy of a song sparrow from the point of view of trying to reproduce it I am both defeated and filled with joy at their modest and complex beauty.

A pair of needle felted Mountain Bluebirds.

I have reference binder of my own photos to work from, and so far I’ve tackled rudimentary versions of bushtits, chickadees, a spotted towhee, a ruby crowned kinglet, mountain bluebirds and a whiskey jack — but, honestly, I don’t think I know where to start with the quiet but infinitely elaborate patterns in a song sparrow!

Song Sparrow with an acorn cup

While the feather markings seems truly daunting, I’d love to have a go at the facial expression of a song sparrow. They have, I would submit, the very best “judgemental” faces of all the small birds.

Midweek brought terrible news from Europe, and also a skiff of snow here.

That morning the sparrows left some cryptic messages. They looked like a combination of frost patterns and a more intentional series of documents in a forgotten script.

So many big and very small things to think about these last few days and, as usual, no real wisdom to be found aside from trying to find wonder where and when we can.

If your mind is drawn to those suffering in Ukraine, you can make donations to the Red Cross Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Appeal. (Funds donated will be matched by the Canadian government until March 18.)




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9 thoughts on “Small, But Determined

  1. Thank you – that was a lovely commentary. Plus the sparrow footprints in the snow…quite magical, in their own way. We really don’t have sparrows in our neighbourhood, and I miss them, as we had TONS of them when I grew up in Quebec.

  2. One of the things I learn from nature is how birds and 4 legged s live in the moment. They remain true to their nature, their essence shines through, so when it is time to fly, they leave without mental thought. Their radiance shines through their bodies and they are present. I am grateful for your posts and your nature sharing.

  3. The term ‘little brown bird’ doesn’t do sparrows justice – or other brown birds too. Their colouring is much more complex and interesting, Thank you for your posts

  4. I am so happy you have the sweet song sparrow already. I’m pretty sure I won’t hear or see one until May. I love how you describe them. I have shared your post.

  5. In the past few years I have come to love the sparrows. Our feeder is in front of our kitchen window, and I enjoy the various patterns and shades of brown on the different types. It’s also interesting that there are a couple that we don’t see all year long. The white- throated appstore and the chipping sparrow are two of my “new” favorites.
    Thanks for sharing your pictures & your thoughts.

  6. I feel the same about the English Sparrows in my garden. I enjoy photographing and painting them. These little birds are smarter than we give them credit for.

  7. June, you are such a gifted photographer! I always marvel at the beauty, clarity and poignancy of your photos and comments. Thanks so much for this one about song sparrows, about the complex beauty that they have. Of course top of mind at present is the fight for the 🇺🇦! Thanks for the tip for a good organization for donations to help the people of the Ukraine; done!

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