Monday, April 25, 2016

The Two Worlds of the House Sparrow


The Two Worlds of the House Sparrow
Dr Abe V Rotor
   House sparrows (Passer domesticus)  frolic in a pool left by rain. 
 Photo Credit: Google, Wikipedia


Gordiun (or Gordion), that's how we call this bird in Ilokano, almost a password for us kids in our time with slingshots worn necklace style, our pockets bulging with carefully picked gravel stones. We were soldiers of fortune when the gordiun is fat at harvestime, and how we relished it grilled in today's term, and how we raided its nest and took its young. 

Passer birds are a product of co-evolution in rice territory - their life cycle jibes with that of rice - the traditional varieties that stay in the field for the whole monsoon season. And then comes October.  By then they number to hundreds, thousands over the horizon. What makes it worse is the gordiun is related to the maya, equally if not more destructive. raiding ricefields about to be harvested, stealing  grains from the mandala and the garung - a giant circular basket to keep threshed palay as buffer stock in today economic term. 

That's why our old folks allowed us to carry this deadly improvised weapon, traced to the history of David, with the enemy a hundred times more than a single Goliath - more elusive, more mean, more intelligent. 

Like its counterpart in the rodent world - the rat - the gordium has likewise learned to live with humans, but never, never allowing itself to be domesticated - unlike the cat and the dog.  Not the gordiun, not the rat as well - two stubborn co-inhabitants in man's dwelling. And the wonder of it all is that they can adjust to modern living, and in fact to today's postmodernism.  They live in cities among high rise and shanties, the rats on garbage, and the gordiun on food waste and pest.  

We were the Mark Twain kids of the fifties - the likes of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  Like them we were abandoned by time - shall w say, age - and ambition and industrialization and exodus to the city. We have surrendered our weapons, so with the adventure and fun we were supposed to hand over as heritage to our children and the younger generation of today. 

Pavlov is undoubtedly correct when we talk of the resilience of instinct, its ability to cope with fear, deprivation and aggression for the sake of survival of the species as a whole. That's how the gordiun - and all animals for that matter - succeed in adapting to the changing environment. 

But there is something strange going on, not anticipated by the great psychologist, similarly Darwin did not foresee the impact of modern science and technology: the steady annihilation of species to the point of extinction. In fact hundreds of species of the estimated millions have permanently perished, and more in accelerated pace will follow suit.

I look back as my Gordiun - the one that refused domestication, the one that played the most skillful hide-and-seek game, the most challenging target of our slingshots, the one that lives  up to 20 years among humans - not in the forest though, the one that never migrates in neither habagat or amihan - unlike the migratory birds of the north coming down south and returning after winter. And the one that is the symbol of joy and being carefree, yet the epitome to bonding as family and community. 

I have long dismissed the gordiun's destructiveness , and in fact explained to farmers and housewives, they do more good in housekeeping - picking morsels, ridding the place of vermin.  They are part of the food web and therefore help in maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem. They are insectivorous and predators, and they keep weeds population down that would otherwise compete with our crops, by eating their seeds during the off season. It is for this matter that their dispersal all over the world in all continents except Antarctica was assisted by man because they are excellent biological agents.  In general we have learned to accept them, as they have learned the same.  

A change of human attitude crept in when the gordiun's population has dropped from the flock we used to watch and admire, the chorus of songs though inferior to the canary, and by their very presence alone that keeps us company. This is what is happening all over the world because of pollution, global warming, loss of habitat, pesticides and the like.

I watched a gordiun lost its way and ended up in our sala trapped.  It was raining hard and I said, you can stay here.  Restless, it rammed against the wall and ceiling, then perched nervously on the curtain looking at me long and hard.

Suddenly I became a boy once more - this time without the dreaded slingshot around my neck.  I parted the curtain and out it flew to join its flock. ~  

"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet* I could have worn."
- Henry David Thoreau

*Mark of distinction worn on the shoulder to show rank in an organization; shoulder strap showing military rank or social standing.

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