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Lynn Hummel: My eye is on the sparrow

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

It started while there was still snow on the ground. I learned that blue jays like peanuts.

There are lots of colors I don't see, but blue jays appeal to me because their blue is clear and bright for me. So I bought some peanuts and threw them out on the patio and enjoyed watching the big, bright blue jays come, then pause on a table or chair, look around cautiously, then swoop down and pick them up, one at a time.

Some they picked up, then dropped for some reason, then picked up another one. Then they'd fly away with that one peanut to eat it somewhere else. I understand they pick up acorns, seeds and nuts and hide them for later consumption. Though other birds came to check the peanuts on the patio, the jays were noisy, bold and aggressive and tended to chase them away.

The jays were bright, colorful and fun for me to watch. Some stay all winter, so we'll have to keep that in mind when the snow flies again.

Then when the peanuts were gone and spring advanced, Eartha got into the act and concentrated on attracting Baltimore Orioles. The orioles were in my color range too — orange or yellow orange and black — plenty fun to watch. For the orioles, we had little plates of grape jelly and orange slices.

The orioles were cautious too. They flew close to the food, then perched and looked around before flitting down to enjoy the jelly and the orange juice.

We're not really like the serious bird feeders with little feeding stations and cupboards full of seeds, suet and bird groceries. But we did hang a few hummingbird nectar tubes, although the hummingbirds ignored them.

One day I was out putting grape jelly and orange slices on the little table for orioles and I heard a persistent chip, chip, chipping sound nearby. I looked around and couldn't see where it was coming from, so I kept looking. Soon it started again and I noticed a little sparrow in the spruce tree just a few feet away.

I talk to the birds, so I said "Good morning sparrow — I suppose you'd like some breakfast too." The sparrow chipped, chipped again and then flew to the table in front of me. Compared to the blue jays and orioles, the sparrow was not much to look at — the brownish gray of a mouse.

But the sparrow jolted me. He looked right up at me and said "Yes, I'd like some breakfast too — some wheat and oat kernels, but I'll bet you don't have any."

"Wait a minute — can sparrows talk?"

"Well, parrots talk, crows have been taught to talk and a few of us bright sparrows can talk too. I have a nest under the soffit at the high school and I've paid attention during English classes, so I know some English and I have a question for you."

I was stunned, but I thought I should join the conversation. "What's your question?"

"Why do people feed blue jays, orioles, hummingbirds, cardinals and all my bright and colorful fine feathered friends, yet never set out a single seed for a lowly sparrow? Are we considered too dull and ugly for kind treatment? We're here all winter, you know."

"Ah ...um...um..." I stammered. I didn't have an answer. Color blindness was probably no excuse.

The sparrow had more questions. "What do you suppose it feels like to be treated like we're invisible or unimportant? I'll tell you what it feels like — it feels like all our friends are at a birthday party and we weren't invited."

"It's just that when we hear birds singing, we ..."

"Birds singing? Don't tell me you're turned on by blue jay racket. Those jays are loud and obnoxious. They signal that they're nothing but bright blue aggressive, selfish, antisocial bullies. I agree the sparrow song may sound like incessant chipping, but we're social birds, we associate with human habitation. We eat many of your insect pests. We're a family. Our family is house sparrows, and we have 43 specie cousins. We're among God's creatures. The Bible says 'not one sparrow falls to the ground outside your Father's care.'"

I was embarrassed. My answer was quiet. "I had forgotten all that."

"Of course — we sparrows are the forgotten birds. Look, I'm going to let you off the hook this morning. But we live together in this neighborhood and we'd appreciate a few crumbs from time to time. Or some seeds. After all, we have an extra bone in our tongue for holding seeds. Can you keep us in mind?"

"Yes, I promise. My eye is on the sparrow."