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Saturday essay: Sparrows of winter

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 8:58 p.m.

The unusual movement was caught out of one eye's corner, through the window above the kitchen sink while peeling potatoes.

Upon further observation, yes, it appeared that another bird had become trapped in the greenhouse, likely gaining access through a torn screen in the cupola high atop, one that repair time had forgotten. Time for the “bird glove,” time yet again for man-assisted freedom.

But wait, no, the sparrow wasn't trapped at all. Neither was it alone. A family of sparrows had taken up residence in the greenhouse, still heated to just above freezing in hopes of making surprisingly resilient brussels sprouts the last crop of the season (after the previously planned last crop of the season, that is — romaine lettuce harvested for Christmas dinner).

At least four sparrows were busy commuting to the bird feeder just outside, filled with fresh black stripe sunflower seed. Two would partake as two others stood guard atop the cupola. They then traded off. All then would retreat to a pair of greenhouse ferns, where they were finding additional insulation.

Oh, indeed, the sparrows will love this weekend's January thaw. But what some forecasters say will be a “brutal cold wave” is about to set in. And keeping the greenhouse above freezing, already straining the budget, will become cost-prohibitive.

These hardy last sparrows of winter will continue to have shelter, though not nearly as toasty. But as nature goes her own way, so, too, will the sparrows, perhaps remembering their greenhouse way station, maybe returning to become the first sparrows of spring.

— Colin McNickle

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