Thursday, 21 January 2016

Narcissus the Sparrow

2 weeks ago at work my attention was drawn to a bird outside one of the schools meeting rooms. As I have mentioned in the past I am always called upon to look at injured animals on the school site and a member of staff, in this case, was worried that a sparrow was in trouble. They suggested that the sparrow was acting aggressively to its reflection in the mirrored window.



I made my way out thinking it odd for a sparrow to behaving this way and fully expected to see a Dunnock or some other more territorial species. Perched on the window ledge however was a male House Sparrow. As I watched he displayed what seemed to be aggressive behaviour, flying up and pecking at the reflection in the mirrored window.

House Sparrows are a colonial species that live in small flocks, in fact there numbers are quite robust on the estate around the school, with several flocks ducking in and out of the vegetation along the brook. Winter is a time when territoriality is often relaxed, it is not efficient to expend energy fighting instead of finding food.Occasionally birds will become aggressive at a food source establishing a pecking order for feeding. In this case this was not so. The male was alone and there was no food source.

It is possible the sparrow saw the reflected male as a threat but again this didn't ring true. When startled he would fly away some distance but soon returned again. This fluttering assault continued for a day or so and then he seemed to settle down and more often than not he was found just sat on the ledge. It was at this point where I felt the anthropomorphic need to name him, un-originally I opted for Simon but later that day I found that another member of staff had started to call him by the much more apt name of Narcisuss, the Greek hero who fell in love with his own reflection.



I then began to suspect that having being attracted to the window by its reflection and finding out it could not intimidate the individual had found that it was a warm spot in the cooling weather. The room inside was warm and toasty and I m sure some of that would radiate out.

Again this theory did not seem to fit the facts as on the following day Narcissus was once again fluttering at the reflection,this time however he carried a small leaf in his mouth. Could Narcissus really be in love with himself? Entering into courtship with his reflection by offering a gift.
A quick literature review revealed that male sparrows can become territorial around their nest sites. It is possible that during the mild weather Narcissus selected a nest site near the window, perhaps in the eves of the building in the process of collecting material he saw a potential rival and has been keeping an eye on him whilst he builds his nest. The abnormally warm weather and then the sudden cold snap has perhaps caught this poor sparrow on the hop and he is caught between behaviours.
Any other ideas are welcome.