English Sparrows in Nebraska

The English sparrow is one of the commonest birds in Nebraska and in the United States. It was brought to the U.S. in 1851, and to Nebraska in the 1870s. Several letters among the papers of Nebraska governor Silas Garber indicate that a group of one hundred sparrows was shipped from New York to Nebraska on June 1, 1877, in response to a request by Garber. The governor had been persuaded by William Stolley, prominent Hall County farmer and early settler of Grand Island, and others that English sparrows could help combat grasshoppers in this state. Whether this particular group of birds survived is not known, but the sparrow proved unnecessary as a solution to the grasshopper problem. The worst of these insect infestations had passed by 1877.

An account of another group of sparrows transplanted to Omaha is found in the Omaha Daily Republican of January 25, 1878: “We have noticed of late the large number of English sparrows swarming around the roof of the Grand Central hotel, and the roofs of other high brick buildings on Farnam and Douglas streets, and vicinity. They are like the ones that we saw in such countless numbers, flitting about New York City last year, especially in the public parks; these birds were imported by the New York City authorities, and are protected by law, for the reason that they are considered to be public benefactors. They destroy insects with marvelous rapidity, and breed very rapidly.

“Upon inquiry as to how these little birds came to Omaha, we ascertained that when Adolph Bowman, one of the porters of the U.P. company’s offices in this city, went to New York, in August, 1876, in charge of the Union Pacific directors’ car, he noticed the sparrows that were swarming around the railroad building in which the car was housed on the New Jersey side, and he obtained permission from the man in charge of the building to attempt the capture of a few for exportation to Nebraska. Bowman climbed to the roof of the car, and from that position he could easily reach the beams on which many sparrows were. He caught five pairs of young ones.” Two pairs died on the way from New York to Omaha. On reaching this city, he turned loose the four pairs that he had left. [Either Bowman or the reporter miscalculated.]

“The result has already become manifest, and in the near future will be even more apparent. The four pairs who were given the freedom of the city a year and a half ago, have increased most rapidly, and they are now very many in number. They are not yet quite ‘at home,’ and do not now show the same tameness seen in the sparrows in New York, but time and a proper exhibition of kindness toward these little strangers will overcome their present wild disposition, . . . These sparrows, when they are in sufficient numbers in the future, will devour and exterminate all the insects, grasshoppers, etc., that may visit Omaha’s vicinity.”

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