Birds of Home
credit: Zeynel Cebeci, wikimedia commons

Birds of Home:
A History of European Songbirds
and Other Immigrants in North America

Frederick L. Brown, Ph.D.

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A walk around almost any neighborhood in the United States and southern Canada will reveal house sparrows and European starlings, flying, feeding, nesting, chirping, and singing. They are the feathered companions of our daily lives, reviled by many, loved by a few, ignored by most.

European-American acclimatizers brought thousands such European songbirds of at least sixteen different species to North America from 1851 to 1913, setting them free in order to improve cities and countryside, to serve as controllers of insect pests and as pleasant reminders of home in song and feather. While most of these bird species died out, starlings and house sparrows survived, becoming an ever-present, visible legacy of this acclimatization movement.

This book project explores the motivations of those acclimatizers, among whom German and English immigrants played an outsized role. It considers the evolving views of merchants, scientists, farmers, bird protectionists, and others toward these feathered newcomers, along with the experiences of the birds themselves. It portrays the many ways these immigrant birds have fit into immigrant humans' efforts at home-making and belonging in a new place, the many different ways humans and birds have created this history together.

Meet the Birds: Historical Field Guide

Chapter outline:

  1. Sparrows and Starlings at Home in Europe, 1800-1900
  2. Bringing House Sparrows to North America, 1842-1880
  3. Brooklyn and New York Bird Acclimatizers, 1850-1900
  4. German-American Bird Acclimatizers, 1870-1910
  5. Bird Merchants, 1850-1910
  6. Farmers, 1850-1940
  7. Scientists, 1850-1940
  8. Bird Lovers, 1850-1940
  9. Starlings and Sparrows as Invasive Species, 1940 to present

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Banner photo: detail from photo by Zeynel Cebeci, wikimedia commons
Last updated October 2021