There are always issues that seem to polarize opinion and there is no shortage of them in the bird world either. Keeping cats indoors or baiting owls are two examples of topics that can send birder’s blood pressure levels spiking. The House Sparrow is no exception and was likely responsible for more than a few hot collars when members met at monthly meetings during the society’s early years.
Bird Conservation History File: Five Fast Facts about the Sparrow War
#1. The House Sparrow population was well established by the time BPQ was formed. In 1919 it managed to incite what became known among members as the “Sparrow War.”
#3. Members like W.A. Oswald, was a Sparrow hater. A former farmer, he wanted them eradicated. He incited anger among members when, as a guest lecturer at a monthly meeting, he passionately made a case for the Sparrow’s obliteration from the landscape. He cited its detrimental invasive behavior toward other cavity nesting species like swallows, and its destructive seed eating habits. Oswald also provided alarming estimates about reproductive rates and the potential population explosion.
#4. Oswald called for the Sparrow to be shot, poisoned or trapped and for bounties on all dead sparrows, destroyed nests and eggs. After his impassioned lecture another BPQ member took to writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper decrying this anti-Sparrow viewpoint; arguing instead that there weren’t many seeds crops to be harmed in the streets of Montreal. Oswald was a prominent and active BPQ member so it must have caused quite a stir!
#5. Lewis Terrill, BPQ’s first President, took a more moderate stance and maintained that House Sparrow numbers were on the decline along with the number of horses in the city, and argued that many Sparrows did not survive the winter so the reproductive rates were not of concern. At any rate, the killing of Sparrows was perfectly legal and remained a sport as well. An article in The Gazette of February 1923 describes an event where Sparrows are released from a box and shot clay pigeon style. It also describes how a group of men turned up at previous such shooting event and protested against it with success. The event that was causing uproar and the subject of the article was mentioned to be opposed by both BPQ and the SPCA.
You can read more about the early history of the QSPB in A Bird in the Bush