An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 16, 2003
Issued from the woods not far south of
Natchez, Mississippi, USA

SPARROW COLORS

It's interesting that sparrows can be divided into two general groups according to whether their breasts are streaked or unstreaked. Both chest types provide sparrows with good camouflage. You can imagine a bug looking upward, seeing the Swamp Sparrow's dark, gray chest very like the wintry sky behind it, or the Song Sparrow's strongly vertically streaked chest blending with the sky-reaching tussocks of grass or sedge beyound. Chests are also lighter than back colors, to compensate for shadowing.

The backs, or tops, of sparrows are essays in brown and black splotches and streaks. From the falcon's perspective they look very much like the floor of a field or a forest's leaf litter.

Therefore, sparrow colors and patterns make sense. Still, you can't help feeling that something is going on there other than the sparrow species having blindly evolved random camouflage patterns. One senses a hand at work here that creates with a flair. If this Creator were to walk into the room, you'd not be surprised if She were whistling a jaunty little tune.

I think that the question of whether one finds a sparrow's plumage pretty or not is a good measure of how comfortable that person is with reality at large. I am struck by the general "earthiness" and "hominess" of sparrow colors and patterns. Since I regard "earthiness" and "hominess" as hallmarks of a peaceful, happy, sustainable life, it seems that sparrow colors and patterns abstractly express something to which I aspire. It's as if what I regard as the Creator's guiding principles for Life on Earth were somehow expressed in terms of sparrows.

I'm not suggesting that Nature teaches us to live exclusively in a subdued manner harmonious with earth-tone sparrow colors. After all, the Creator also produced Cardinals, Blue Jays and Painted Buntings.

But, if in your bird fieldguide you scan the species from cover to cover, you'll see that maybe 80% of the species are, you could say, modest looking but elegant -- like sparrows, sandpipers and thrushes. Maybe 18% are colorful (but not spectacular) or somehow novel in appearance, in the manner of woodpeckers and hummingbirds. And only a handful are outright bodacious, like the Cardinal and Blue Jay.

So I would say that if in nature the Creator provides paradigms upon which we humans should pattern our lives, the bird fieldguide reveals one view of the matter: The enlightened and fulfilled life will be 80% modest and dignified; 18% colorful but not gaudy, and; maybe 2% outright rip-roaring. Facebook Icon.