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[Sparrows] No plan survives first contact with the enemy

November 3, 2012

[This is the second in a series of posts on sparrow nest-monitoring over the 2012-2013 Austral spring and summer]

In order to monitor the sparrow nests and keep track of which egg is which, I need to mark the eggs, and for reasons of consistency between the international groups doing this research, I need to mark the eggs using a brown permanent marker. Two weeks ago, I scouted out all of the stationery shops easily accessible from home, only to find that none of them stock brown permanent markers – I have had to make a special order for them, and they have not yet arrived. This is one of the joys of living in an isolated island nation.

I have started looking for nests regardless – I have posted a request for information on birdingNZ, asking for sites with known sparrow nest locations. Sparrows are not massively interesting, but this is a very keen group of twitchers, so I might get some leads from them. The Internet tells me that sparrows often nest in hedges, so I have spent time wandering around footpaths peering suspiciously into people’s foliage. There are plenty of nests in hedges – three in the front hedge at my house alone, for instance – but so far they’re all Song Thrush or Blackbird nests. The sparrows who are visibly nesting are all nesting under the corrugated iron of people’s roofing, which makes them inaccessible to me unless I take up trespassing as a hobby.

Today’s nest searching was done with a friend and her two dogs. It was nice to have company, but I had to tone down the hedge-searching for fear of making her look creepy by association. We stumbled across a freshly-dead Spotted Dove. Because I worked in the pathology and post-mortem tent for three months during the Rena oil spill response, and because some habits are hard to shake, I instinctively gave it a basic post-mortem inspection. I don’t know if it’s possible to tell the sex of this species from the outside, but it had been dead between 6 hours and 1 day (sunken eyes but no rot or fly eggs), was an adult, and appeared to be in good body condition (other than being dead, or course). There was no sign of trauma, and unsurprisingly, no external oiling. I forgot to check the brood patch to see if the bird had been incubating. Cause of death: undetermined and a little confusing.

Having slightly rattled my friend, I put the ex-dove in the nearest rubbish bin and carried on. Tomorrow I shall scout out the University campus, in the hope that it will be more sparrow-dense than hedges appear to be.

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From → Scientist

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