Totems: SPARROW, Part 1

by Cie Simurro- Thunderbird Starwoman

Whether the sun is shining brightly, or the rain pelts me unmercifully, I continue singing. Whether there are seeds a-plenty for me to eat, or a dearth of food, I persist. And when I find a better nesting site for the young I will bring forth, I take it over and move in, for I AM SPARROW; small of stature, but fierce of heart. Even if things are not the way you would wish them to be, you can be all right. I can teach you how to adapt to changing conditions, and how to persist in times of trouble. By my example, I will encourage you to find a core of strength and courage you did not know you possessed; a steadiness of spirit – even in hard times. Take heart, human. Flock with those of like mind. No challenge last forever. You will endure, as I have. Each day, we begin anew.

The word sparrow comes from old English. It was originally applied to a large group of African weaverbirds from the Mediterranean basin. Sparrows are perching songbirds of the order Passeriformes (which took their name from the house sparrow, passer domesticus, meaning, belonging to a household). They are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia, but sparrows are now everywhere except Antarctica.

Sparrows have successfully proliferated into every habitat in great numbers. They feed and roost in large flocks, and nest in colonies. If you can believe it, sparrow was introduced to some U.S. cities, only in the 1800’s to help control pests. BIG MISTAKE. This tiny bird is no lightweight! Don’t let appearances fool you. This little bird is plenty tough. Sparrow can be aggressive, taking over the nests of quite a few other species, especially those that congregate near human environments – urban, suburban, marsh and farm lands.

There are an amazing number of sparrow species. From the original few birds, there are now millions – exponentially more, if you classify them with other birds like weavers and finches. In the U.S. and Canada alone, there are dozens of species, and that doesn’t include the sub-species. There are more than 30 types of song sparrows alone. Nature is so various; adaptations arise as a species proliferates and expands into new territories. A primary quality of sparrow totem is adaptability – the ability to adjust to changing circumstances and conditions. Can you see how important that aspect of this totem’s Medicine might be in our current times? Are you one who likes to control every aspect of your environment? Good luck with that! Have you ever worked really hard to get things “just so” and then had Factor X come along and blow everything up? Being able to change with outer circumstances can help us maintain inner happiness, by remembering what’s essential and what is not.

Adaptability’s sidekick is flexibility. We know how important that is for our bodies, as we grow older, but have you thought how important it may be for your emotional life, as well? The definition of flexibility is being able to bend without breaking. When our outlook on life is brittle, we can snap at any moment. This occurs when we have unhealed issues from youth. Forgiveness is step one; after that, we must realize our power to create a life for ourselves that fulfills what will really make us happy.

Sparrows are typically brown and gray birds with streaks and/or spots placed carefully for camouflage. They are meant to appear inconspicuous, so you may wonder why I would choose, out of all the bird species I haven’t yet presented to you, the “lowly sparrow.” Unh-uh, no, don’t go there. This little bird has big Medicine. If you need a little moxie in your life, this is the totem to call upon.

The sparrows described here have some interesting traits:

The HOUSE SPARROW a.k.a English sparrow, a very sociable bird can be found congregating noisily, in cities and agricultural areas in large flocks – on rooftops, and under the eaves of barns and farmhouses. Unfortunately, that’s also where cliff swallows nest. The sparrows usually supplant the swallows. This is one of those sparrow species that prefers human habitation areas.

Sparrows were originally imported to Brooklyn NY around 1850, but soon radiated outward in all directions – and not just by flying. Some got caught in westward bound railroad cars while pecking at loose grain. Soon, there were coast-to-coast house sparrows. Since conditions were similar to what they were used to in Europe, they thrived in America, but no one expected that this diminutive little bird would be so aggressive that it would drive out bluebirds, and other gentle tree cavity-nesting birds, tear up nests, destroy eggs, throw out nestlings, and make their own nests of straw, rags, and string, for the three or four broods a year they have, with up to seven young in each brood. In the cold, high mountains, they line the nest with feathers. Favorite foods of most sparrows are seeds, grains, and flowers, but they’re not above having a juicy insect for dessert. The SALTMARSH SPARROW is an exception to this. Its summer diet consists of small snails, spiders and insects. The SAVANNAH SPARROW has proven to be the greatest eater of beetles of any member of the sparrow family. The GRASSHOPPER SPARROW is aptly named, both for the sound it makes – a few faint tiks, followed by a long, dry trill – and it also happens to eat grasshoppers.

The CHIPPING SPARROW got its name from the male’s song, consisting of a rapid series of dry chips, always in multiples of eight. EIGHT signifies the perfect balance of two worlds: as above, so below. It builds on the foundation energy of four, and brings balance to the manifestation energy of seven. Since it is the number of Big Business and Government, it can bring either financial abundance or can produce a crisis, if not reflecting the “above” energy. If you’re working with Chipping sparrow’s energy, be careful not to let yourself become authoritative, greedy, or careless of the welfare of others. Beware the abuse of power! However, if you are in balance, there’s no stopping you.

Chipping sparrows used to also be known as the “hair bird” back in the age of horse-drawn carriages, because it lined its nest with horsehair. Nowadays, chippys are relegated to using dog, cat, human, cattle or wild animal hair, but in a pinch, will use rootlets and grasses to make a soft nest for its eggs and hatchlings. Chippys can now often be found in ornamental evergreen shrubs around building foundations, or in orchards. In New England, they share spruce forests with juncos. With the Song, Savannah and other sparrows, they go south for the winter, travelling by night. They begin to move north again in early March.

The AMERICAN TREE SPARROW is the more rural species. Though it nests in holes in trees, cliff faces, and old buildings, it spends most of it’s time in fields of grain, ready to take advantage of the farmer’s occasional grain spills. Both Tree and House sparrows hang out together, outside of breeding time, and have similar songs, though the former also utters a tik-tik. Even temperatures of zero or below in the northeast and central states does not deter this chestnut crowned, brave heart from making musical sounds, as it browses on weeds sticking out of the snow. Though it weighs only an ounce, this sparrow eats a quarter of its weight each day in the seeds of weeds. Ornithologists estimate that Tree sparrows eats over 800 TONS of weed seeds each season in Iowa alone. Unfortunately, the favor is not returned. Agribusiness is the enemy of this species, because it decimates the seeds of weeds, (not to mention the pesticides) and changes the natural growing cycle of cereal crops.

Da-da! The hands-down winner of the sparrow serenaders is the …wait for it…SONG SPARROW. The male will sing at least 20 different melodies before breakfast, and by evening he’s improvised a thousand variations on those. The song sparrow is probably the most common and widespread of the sparrows. They adapt themselves to wet, dry, hot or cold environments. Even as they learn to fly, these sparrows begin to hone their vocal skills. It doesn’t take long for them to go from short calls to adult singing. The female’s song is softer and shorter than the male’s. No human performance can match the complexity or virtuosity of the song sparrow, because it has two independent bronchial passages, producing in effect, an internal duet. Amazingly, no two individual song sparrows sing the same song, just as no two snowflakes are the same – or humans, for that matter. If you know its song, you can hear all the heart this sparrow has. Song sparrows have 3 spots in an inverted triangle: 2 between the throat and 1 in the center of the breast/heart. The throat chakra is all about speaking up for oneself through right use of will, and connecting with higher knowledge… and well, you know what the heart is for… loving unconditionally.