We Found A Way to Thwart House Sparrows!

Frustration Yields to Creativity

Reprising the blog on thwarting House Sparrows. Here is a recap of our initial frustration and subsequent ways to encourage native birds and discourage exotics.

As we wrote earlier, hordes of House Sparrows almost made us give up feeding birds. We’d fill our feeders each morning and hope to watch juncos, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches visit on cold winter days. Unfortunately, hordes of House Sparrows began arriving. We don’t mind feeding a few, but dozens soon devoured all the expensive seed, leaving empty feeders for native species.

Coming Up Short on “Expert Advice”

We asked bird experts what we might do to discourage House  Sparrows and tried several of their ideas. Nothing worked well, so we experimented and came up with a few tricks that seem to discourage House Sparrows to a degree yet let other species eat. Our tricks aren’t perfect and sparrows still come, but not in huge numbers.

Here’s what we did:

Altered filling time:

We noticed that cardinals, jays, chickadees, and nuthatches visited feeders in the early morning and late afternoon, but House Sparrows came more late morning and toward the middle of the day. So, we put out small amounts of seeds early in the morning and again in late afternoon. Often our feeders are empty mid-day when the house sparrows prefer to visit.

Used a different type of feeder:

Male House Sparrow on platform feeder

Eating from platform feeder

Sparrows enjoy feeding on the ground, on horizontal tables and other flat surfaces, and from silo-type feeders with long perches and large openings. We took down our standard silo feeders and replaced them with a silo shape feeder made of hardware cloth with a quarter-inch mesh.

Used different types of feed

In our quarter-inch mesh feeder, we put a mixture of black oil sunflower seeds and hulled peanuts. Native birds seemed better able to extract the sunflower from the mesh than House Sparrows. The peanuts don’t fit through the mesh, but many native bird species peck at them through the wire and extract pieces of peanuts. House Sparrows seem less able, or willing, to do this.

We also stopped feeding cracked corn and millet on the ground. Sparrows love them.  Instead, we now toss full kernels of corn on the ground. Sparrows can’t swallow the big seeds and are unable to peck them apart. Woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays, and nuthatches swallow or carry away the big seeds.

Put up with some House Sparrows

Our system helps deter these pesky exotic birds but is far from perfect. House Sparrows still visit and eat seeds but not as many as before we started using these tricks. Maybe they’ll work for you.

A few of you have shared.  Now Others Can Share.

Winding Pathways is eager to learn other ways to deter House Sparrows. If you have discovered something that works, please let us know.




House Sparrow Blues

House Sparrow Blues

One of our favorite Thanksgiving Day activities is enjoying a sumptuous meal while watching chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and woodpeckers enjoy the seeds we put out for them just outside our window.

Thanksgiving 2023 brought mostly frustration. Crowds of House Sparrows swarmed our feeders with hardly a native bird in sight. Formerly known as English Sparrows, there seem to be more of these pesky immigrants every year.


We’re not alone.  A common phone call or email that comes to Winding Pathways seeks ways to feed native birds and discourage hordes of House Sparrows. Over the years we’ve tried these things to discourage the hardy and prolific Eurasian birds:

  • Putting only small amounts of feed out in the early morning and late afternoon when native birds visit and House Sparrows are mostly gone.
  • Cutting silo feeder perches short to make it harder for the somewhat clumsy sparrows to perch and eat.
  • Sprinkle some whole corn on the lawn. It’s too big for sparrows to eat but blue jays and woodpeckers devour it.
  • Sprinkle cracked corn way out in the backyard to entice sparrows away from our main feeders.
  • Eliminate sparrow nesting sites around our yard and pull out any nests that form under eaves or in tight spaces along the house.


None of these has worked particularly well.

Others More Fortunate

While we are frustrated, other people are fortunate. We recently enjoyed watching a procession of native birds visiting Jody Vrieze’s feeders in a rural area near Charles City, Iowa. It’s along the Cedar River and away from town. Perhaps her home and yard are a key to avoiding sparrow numbers.

What is a Synanthrope? How Do They Spread?

They are true synanthropes, meaning they need to live close to people. Backpack into a wilderness anywhere and House Sparrows are one bird that won’t be spotted. Jody’s home is in a wooded area away from town, which is probably why the pesky birds don’t visit her feeders often.

Although not liked by most birders, House Sparrows are amazing. A few were captured in Europe and released in Brooklyn, NY, in 1851. Within 50 years they had spread across the continent and are found in and near almost every town and farm. They may have peaked in numbers late in the 1800s when abundant urban horse manure provided plenty of food.

Although native to Europe and Asia, House Sparrows have spread, due to people importing them, to North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa. A surefire place to not see them is Antarctica.

Winding Pathways Asks for Help

Most people share their suburban and urban homes with plenty of House Sparrows, and moving to a wild area isn’t an option. So, what to do? Well, we listed what we do yet still have plenty of sparrows, so we’re asking for help from visitors to our Winding Pathways website. Please let us know if you’ve found a consistent and effective way to discourage this pesky bird.

Learn More

For much more information on this amazingly prolific bird go to allaboutbirds.org.  

Photos by Jody Vrieze.


What to Do When Spotting a “Bald-Faced Hornet” Nest?

Autumn Reveals Nature’s Wonders

Bald-faced hornet nest silhouette in early morning light.

Bare trees reveal a bald-faced hornet nest.

November’s wind stripped the leaves off one of our maples and revealed a big gray football-shaped bald-faced hornet nest. Although we’d walked under it all summer, we had no clue it was there.

This fall many people will discover similar “paper wasp” nests in their trees or shrubs or even tucked near a light fixture. Made of a paper-like material, the nest was really made by insects called “bald-faced hornets” that are related to other wasps, including yellow jackets.

These social wasps can attack in droves. Their sting hurts. Because their stingers are smooth, unlike honey bees, they can sting again and again.

So, what do you do when you spot a nest on a crisp fall afternoon? Leave it alone!

Life History

The insect’s life history gives the best clue on how to avoid painful stings.

Last fall the colony of 500, or so, worker wasps died as the weather cooled. The fertile queen survived by tucking herself under a rotting log somewhere to slumber through winter. Come spring she’ll make a tiny paper-like nest, usually in a tree, and lay eggs that become workers. These hard-working new insects expand the nest and forage widely.

They are omnivores eager to dine on rotting fruit, but among their favorite foods are caterpillars and adult insects. Bald-faced hornets are a gardener’s friend, removing vegetable-chomping insects.  They also sip on nectar so are good pollinators.

Aggressive or Protective?

Most sources claim they are highly aggressive, and they are if someone disturbs their nest. Several years ago, an adult neighbor spotted a nest above the doorway that the family had used all summer. He tried to knock it down and only damaged the nest. His misguided aggression unleashed an attack by dozens of upset bald-faced hornets. Stung many times, he’ll likely never again molest a nest.

We walked under and near the bald-faced hornet’s nest in our yard many times this summer and didn’t even know it was there. They didn’t attack us. Rather, they snacked on our vegetable gardens’ pests.

The lesson: leave these insects and their nest alone.

Ironically, by the time most people discover a nest in very late fall, the colony has already abandoned it. The best thing to do is NOTHING. Winter’s wind, rain, and snow will disintegrate the nest, and the queen will find a new spot to build next year’s colony.


Windows, Deadly for Birds

Why do Birds Fly Into Windows?

BirdStop spray clouds windows

The spray makes the window opaque.

Windows, deadly for birds. According to the National Audubon Society, about one billion birds are killed every year when they crash into windows. About half collide with low commercial building windows with the rest crashing into home windows. Surprisingly few seem to crash into the high windows of skyscrapers.

Birds fly into windows because they just don’t see them and assume they’re about to zip through safe soft air. Sometimes they may see reflections of vegetation behind them and think they are zooming to a convenient perch.

How to Help a Bird

When Rich was director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, he’d often get calls from upset people who had just found a quivering bird beneath their window. In his experience one of two outcomes is likely. Either the bird will soon die or it will fully recover and fly off. He suggests leaving the bird alone for at least an hour unless it’s likely to fall prey to a hungry neighborhood cat. In that case, it is probably best to gently place it in a cardboard box to give it a chance to recover…or die.

Unfortunately, there’s no effective first-aid technique to reverse death. Hopefully, the bird will soon recover and speed away. If not, a respectful burial is in order.


Here are some tips from the Portland, Oregon, Audubon Chapter of the National Audubon Society for reducing window collisions:

  • Place bird feeders away from large windows.
  • Avoid putting house plants immediately inside windows. Birds may see them and attempt to fly to a perch.
  • Put stickers/decals on the outside of windows. (Note: Many sources recommend these. Stickers can be bought online or at bird-feeding stores……but we, at Winding Pathways, have not found them very effective.
  • Stretch netting across the outside of the window to physically keep birds from crashing. We’ve found this best on windows that experience frequent bird collisions.
  • Put colorful tape on the outside of the windows.
  • Douse outside lights. Come sundown our nation is way over-lit. Lights block viewing the magnificent night sky while often disorienting migrating birds.

We Can Help

Songbirds face many challenges in our modern world. They crash into windows, hit poles, get gobbled up by house cats, and are confused by electric lights. They need all the human help they can get to stay alive and healthy.


Sweet Home Alabama

Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute

“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is a “heartfelt tribute to the state of Alabama.” Adopted by Alabama tourism as its slogan the “catchy” phrase indeed speaks to the variety and comfort of this truly Southern Hospitality state.

On a hot and muggy September trip to the deep South, we experienced Alabama hospitality and diversity from north to south.

Surprising Diversity

The northern third of Alabama is rugged where the Appalachian Mountains swing in from the northeast and finger down southwest toward the center of the state. The Tennessee River flows from Knoxville, TN, then cuts northwest through Huntsville and Decatur and on into the Tennessee Valley Authority.  It’s wet there and tent camping is an adventure when the waters run high. We quickly learned that most of the waterways flow south and spill eventually into the Gulf. Planning our crossings was important because there are limited bridges from west to east.

Ferry crossing Ohio River at Cave in Rock, IL

Quick way to cross the Ohio

Further north we did ferry across the Ohio at Cave in Rock, IL. This working ferry gets local and distance travelers across the broad river. The sounds of the ferry clanging and moaning of chains and engines at night recalled Jurassic Park! Then we wound our way through Kentucky and Tennessee to Alabama following parts of the Natchez Trace and the Trail of Tears.

Geologically, the ancient Appalachians of northern Alabama boast caverns, natural bridges, and tumbling waterways with falls. Cooler mountain air and vistas delight weary travelers’ eyes.

Birders find diverse birding from the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker that thrives in mature pine forests to the Bald Eagles that seem to soar everywhere nonplussed by humans. Nearer the coast migrating birds rest from their long flight over the Gulf. The State promotes varied birding trails.

Culturally, The Poarch Creek Indians hold Alabama sacred and are the only federally recognized Indian Tribe in the state. The Helen Keller home in Sheffield and Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center are great stops.

Black Belt of Alabama

This unusual phrase refers not to martial arts but to fertile calcareous soils that span central Alabama. Here, farming in plantations dominated.  This region is also where the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s. Montgomery hosts the new Legacy Museum that powerfully retells the story of kidnapped Africans who became slaves on plantations and the unjust, centuries-long suppression and incarceration of people. Along with The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, this important, interactive museum holds accountable past injustices and opens the door for reconciliation and cultural change where we ALL can be better people.

The Coastal Shores

The drive through large swaths of timber-harvested pine forests revealed a source of the nation’s telephone poles. So, thank Alabama’s logging industry the next time you pass a pole.  Our destination was Gulf Shores State Park and Lodge where we explored for three days.  The Lodge is LEED certified and surrounding modern “cabins” and RV camping accommodate most budgets. How smart of the state to get this piece of Gulf land.  It is one of the few areas not privately developed and with views of the Gulf waters. With miles of bicycle trails, fresh, brackish, and salt-water areas, and white sugar sand beaches, it is totally enjoyable. The habitat changes in a short distance depending on elevation (yes there is elevation along the coast) and proximity to the Gulf. We bicycled past freshwater ponds, palmetto areas, oak knobs, and back to beach habitat.

Lots for most people to take in. Our favorite was walking after dark along the shore looking for the ghost crabs. Herons stalked nearby, also on the hunt. Dawn found us sitting quietly along with others watching the sun rise over the Gulf. Each day crews set out and took in beach chairs and umbrellas. Flags flutter in strategic places alerting visitors to water conditions.  During our stay, small yellow flags rippled in stiff winds. Rip currents are a thing to pay attention to.

Rich took in a day fishing trip out of sight of land learning more about Gulf waters, sea bed, and the fishing industry.  Marion took in oyster harvesting. Owners of Admiral Shellfish and Navy Cove shared the aquaculture techniques to raise oysters from pinpoint size to eating size in a matter of months.  In northern waters, it’s years before edible oysters can be harvested. We both enjoyed several meals of oysters – who got the raw end of the deal!

Lodging & FOOD!

Uncle Mick offers pecan pie with ice cream and bourbon sauce to a customer

Uncle Mick’s Cajun old town Prattville is THE place to eat Southern.

We can’t say enough about Sweet Home Alabama hospitality and food. The front desk staff at the Hampton Inn and Suites, Prattville, AL, are some of the most friendly, efficient, and kind service workers we have ever met. They guided us to Uncle Mick’s Cajun just down the road in old town Prattville.  The unique and tasty dishes and personal touches by the owner made the meal memorable.  Staff kept dishing up small portions of truly Southern food for us to try and then loaded on our choices.  Uncle Mick himself visited and drawled, “Would you like the pecan pie warmed up?” Well, yes.  “How about a scoop of our local vanilla ice cream?” Well, yes.  “And we’ll pour over warm bourbon sauce. If you’d like.” Well, YES! All at no extra charge. Amazing!

At Gulf Shores, the Flying Harpoon is truly local. Unpretentious, funky, and busy! Eating our po boys, and shrimp baskets, and sipping a local brew we chatted with servers and residents. Down the road tourists dined at the “recommended” upscale restaurants.

One of our most curious adventures was the luxury RV water park Tropic Falls at OWA. Not much natural there, but a great time watching huge buckets fill with water and splash down soaking nearby visitors. It was hot so that was fine! Tropical falls and dizzying roller coaster rides were two hits along with mermaids serving beverages and food. Quite the place. Be ready to spend money.

Back up through pine forests, skirting rivers, crossing the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and on into familiar Midwest terrain. We carry memories and stories with us.

Furless Tailed Squirrel Update

Update on Furless Tailed Squirrels

Furless tail on squirrel

Even in winter, the squirrels’ fur looks healthy…except for their tails.

Two winters ago, we noticed squirrels with nearly furless tails visiting our bird feeders. Our blog about them on Winding Pathways brought hundreds of visitors. Some from other countries! Apparently, we weren’t the only people seeing these hapless animals.

Last winter we had almost no squirrels in the yard. We wonder if the malady that caused them to lose tail fur might have knocked their population way back.

This fall we’re seeing plenty of both fox and gray squirrels in our yard. Their populations have rebounded. And, they have long, furry tails! Squirrels make us happy. While many people don’t like them gobbling seeds at the feeder, we are OK with that and find them as fascinating and fun as cardinals, chickadees, and goldfinches.

Squirrels and the Derecho

Now three years since the disastrous derecho that felled thousands of trees in the Eastern Iowa area, we’re seeing the vital work squirrels do. In the wake of the storm, people planted thousands of trees. Then came three drought years. The National Weather Service placed Cedar Rapids into its exceptional drought category in 2023.

The drought killed many human-planted trees but the ones planted by squirrels are doing just fine. Thanks to them, baby hickories, walnuts, and oaks are poking through the soil in nearby woodlands and our yard.

This fall we’ve watched squirrels carry acorns and walnuts across the yard, dig frantically, and bury their treasure. These enthusiastic gatherers and diggers plan to return during winter’s lean months to retrieve dinner from underground storage. Fortunately, squirrels bury more nuts than they’ll ever need. Unfortunately for them, some of the furry hoarders die with their hidden hoard untouched to sprout in the spring. Squirrels are master tree planters.

American Ninjas in the Yard

An oak and a walnut live about 150 feet south of our back deck.  Acorns and walnuts are epicurean squirrel delights, and our trees attract the furry acrobats. Squirrels like to use treetops as highways, jumping from one to the next. Our oak and walnut presented them with a problem. There is a several-foot gap between their branch tips. We are fascinated watching the squirrels make the long leap from twig to twig, sometimes leaping up to reach a branch on another tree, often while clutching a nut in its teeth. Their athleticism is astounding. So is their courage.

Squirrels fall. Twice we’ve seen one lose its grip and drop from the top of enormous trees. Both times the furry animals spread eagle their legs and tails while descending and hit the ground with a thump. They are shaken, rest, and then scamper off. A fall that would instantly kill a person, is hardly phased by the squirrels.

This winter we’ll again welcome squirrels to our feeders. They can dine on whole or cracked corn and cobs. We are assured of entertainment with their romps, athleticism and enthusiasm.