Roosting in the records

Young Sparrow in grass at V.T. Ranch. Markings not distinctive., 06/28/1929 (79-ZBC-BC115)
Young Sparrow in grass at V.T. Ranch, Utah. Markings not distinctive, June 28, 1929 (ARC 520329; 79-ZBC-BC115)

Someone who read my post on Squirrel Appreciation Day alerted me to World Sparrow Day, which was Sunday, March 20. This inspired me to dive back into Online Public Access (OPA) on the National Archives web site. I typed in “sparrow,” and amid many references to the U.S. Marines, missiles, and Sparrows Point shipyard were a couple of photographs of the tiny bird and some quite interesting Indian School Journals from the early 20th century.

The Journal came from the National Archives at Fort Worth, among Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The magazine was published by students at the Chilocco Indian School and was printed in the school’s print shop. It contained articles about the Indian service and various tribes, stories, poems and inspirational paragraphs, and advertisements. There are also a number of photographs of students, faculty, school buildings, Indian houses, and artifacts.

I’m featuring a page from the February 1907 issue of the Indian School Journal that was featured in a  section called “Educational Department—Lesson For Teachers from The Office.” The suggested Q&A taught students about “Birds as Weed Destroyers.”

The Journal authors were not sympathetic to the English (house) sparrow, which is the bird celebrated on World Sparrow Day. Because house sparrows are not native to North America, they were long considered a pest. While the house sparrow still seems to be one of the most common visitors to American birdfeeders, its numbers have declined here, and the species is in steeper decline elsewhere in the world.

Still, we can use World  Sparrow Day to take note of the bird that seems to be everywhere, as well as other common backyard creatures. As noted bird guide author Donald Stokes wrote, “The general public believes that all of the common aspects of nature are already well known. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the field of bird behavior.”

Page 51 of the Indian School Journal, February 1907. (Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, RG 75)

If you would like to peruse the entire 74-page issue, it’s available through OPA, as are other issues. The Journal was published weekly from 1904 to 1906 and monthly from 1906 to 1926.

I highly recommended exploring OPA—type in any random keyword and see what you come up with.

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