Scavenger

August 14, 2021

During my sophomore year of High School one of my favorite games was the Scavenger Hunt.  The idea is to make a diverse list of items needing to be found.  Teams are sent out with instructions that you could use any means necessary to find the items, and the first team back with all the items is declared the winner.  While I was not yet old enough to drive, there was always someone who was of age.  Four or five people of a mixed group of boys and girls would pile into the car and the hunt was on.  Some of the items on the list were readily available, while others were more difficult to find.  This was not only a good way to get to know someone of the opposite gender, but it also tested the groups ingenuity to scavenger the various items.  I liked finding the harder items best.  

The Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) is a medium-sized New World sparrow.  It is easily one of the most abundant, variable, and adaptable species among the native sparrows in North America.  Song Sparrows tend to flit through dense, low vegetation or low branches, but occasionally move into open ground after food.  Flights are short and fluttering, with a characteristic downward pumping of the tail.  Scientists recognize 24 subspecies of Song Sparrows and have described some 52 forms.  In general, the coastal and northern birds are darker and streakier, with southern and desert birds wearing paler plumages.  The Song Sparrow is a common scavenger of bird feeders and are abundant on ours.

You may recall that I misidentified the Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum subsp. Durum) that had grown beneath the feeder on the east side of our back fence as millet.  In my defense, wheat was not listed in the ingredients of the bird seed, so I had ruled it out while the plants were young.  Browntop millet (Panicum ramosum) is a native of India and was introduced into the United States in 1915.  It is grown in the southeastern US for hay or pasture and for the birds and quail to scavenger on game preserves.   It is a cheap staple in many of the bird seed packages I find at the market.  The millet has replaced the wheat that I cut earlier at our house, and several plants thrive just inside the fence on the north of the patio.

Thoughts:  One of the Millet stalks had headed several weeks ago and had continued to ripen.  I watched its progress but did not think much about it.  When I got up yesterday the Song Sparrows had discovered the large head and were fighting over who would scavenger the seed.  There were 2-3 birds hanging on the head and another 10-15 sitting in the fence even as more arrived.  The birds would fill their beaks with seed, flit to the ground, spit the seed out, and then eat the seeds one at a time.  Early humans thrived because they were good at being scavengers.  While we are now at the top of the food chain, our scavenger heritage keeps much of the human population alive.  I found it funny when the sparrows clamored around the meager food available on my porch.  It is not so funny when we see humans struggle to find food near their homes.  Do the work.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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