I discovered this week that there is something lacking in the intelligence of sparrows.

salmon faverelle chicken
Ethel looking fluffy and extra beardy

Last week on Sunday James was testing the heating lamp for the chicken coop and when he went out he chased several squirrels and a bunch of sparrows out of the run. The squirrels were no surprise, they sneak in there frequently when the door is open and the chickens are free-ranging. They like to eat the chicken feed. Apparently, sparrows have now discovered the “bird feeder” too.

When I got home from work Monday afternoon I had no plans to open the run to let the chickens free-range because it was so windy and bitter out. We were expecting snow later that night, and it just seemed better to leave them in their protected run. But I looked out the window and across the garden and could see sparrows flitting about the chicken run. At first I thought they were outside of the run, but then I realized they were inside it. What the heck?

I went out, and as I got closer the sparrows really freaked out. Human! No escape! They frantically bashed themselves against the wire of the run. I opened the run door as fast as I could, and about a dozen sparrows zoomed out. The chickens, of course, came out too. They were unconcerned and couldn’t have cared less about their uninvited guests for the day. I was baffled. How did James manage to close up so many sparrows in the run when he closed the coop door the night before? Had the sparrows been roosting up in the rafters of the covered run and he just didn’t see them?

I told James about the sparrows when he got home a little while later. He was certain there weren’t any sparrows in the run the night before when he put the girls to bed. He went out to look at the coop and run, and discovered a small opening in the run wire at the peak of the roof. Maybe they got in there? Maybe, but why? And why wouldn’t they know how to get back out the way they came in? James made sure the run was sparrow-free that night when he put the girls to bed.

Tuesday James got home before I did, and went out to the chickens to find about three sparrows in the run, freaking out. He let them out and then covered over the small opening in the wire he had found the day before. That did the trick. When I got home Wednesday afternoon there were no sparrows in the chicken run. Clearly, sparrows are not as smart as I gave them credit for if they can manage to squeeze in through a small hole to eat chicken feed, but then not know how to get back out. It’s not as though they had eaten so much seed that they got stuck like Pooh Bear in Rabbit’s door.

black australorp chicken, barred rock chicken, and rhode island red chicken standing together scratching in the dirt
Helper chickens! Left to right: Lucy, Mrs Dashwood, and Elinor

But I really wish the chickens could tell me what they thought about all of it. They were so wholly unconcerned about all the freaked out sparrows flying around their run. Did they not mind the company? Were they annoyed at first and so kept the sparrows from landing on the ground to eat their food, forcing them to cling to the wire and rafters? Or perhaps the Dashwoods set the tone of polite condescension towards their uninvited guests and were quietly relieved when they finally left

Monday night we did get our snow; 1.8 inches/4.6 cm to be exact. A nice Halloween trick, that. I didn’t believe it would actually snow, or if it did, I figured it would just be a dusting. But there was enough sticking to the street that I had to make a quick change of bicycle and rode my snow bike instead of my little Brompton to work. Wednesday the snow was gone but for a few shady places, so I was back on my Brompton.

Halloween/Samhain being a time to remember our ancestors/roots, we have a meal of food that reminds us of people who have died. This year we had tacos for dinner. We had planned on lighting a little fire outdoors and enjoying cinnamon toast by firelight, but it was too cold and windy. So we lit a candle and enjoyed our toast indoors.

The snow and wind finally knocked most of the leaves off the trees. Today was rather balmy in the mid 50sF. James got the plastic sheeting up around the chicken run. I think this might be the first time in all these years we managed to do it on day that wasn’t either freezing cold or outrageously windy. Yay James!

a bundle of green nettle stalks
Nettles ready for winter retting

While he was doing the chicken run, I was stripping the nettles I cut last weekend of all their leaves and laying them out on top of the garlic bed for their winter ret. I also raked up all the leaves from the sidewalk in front of the house. I don’t rake and bag the leaves and get rid of them like everyone else does. I rake them into garden beds and pile them up under the trees they fell from. So getting the leaves off the sidewalk basically means raking them into the yard where they compost back into the soil and feed the trees and native perennials like they are meant to.

I did fill one small “trash” barrel with leaves though and took them into the garden in back and poured them out onto a vegetable bed that needs a bit of extra nutrients. Judging from the horrendous and irritating sounds of leaf blowers bombarding me from all directions, I was not the only in the neighborhood out playing with leaves.

It’s good to be done with the garden and ready for the cold and dark. Time to rest and dream for a little while. Of course, the seed companies are already sending me emails to be on the lookout for their 2024 seed catalogs that will be in my mailbox soon. My imagination is already off and running after reading an article in the Global Bean Network newsletter about a woman in Spain and all the gorgeous beans she grows. I, of course, had to look up the beans she names and whether I could grow them in the cold north. Some of them I can and I want to give them a try—some of the lima bean varieties and the succotash bean, which is from the Narrangansett people of what is now Rhode Island.

The garden has barely been put to bed, and I’m already dreaming of next year’s garden full of beans, beans, and more beans, squash and herbs and flowers—flax?—potatoes, garlic, and probably a quince tree. My natural food co-op had quince yesterday when we were shopping—expensive!—but we bought a small one to taste it to see if we’d like it. It smells lovely. The fruit itself is rather dry and fibrous, but it does have a pleasant citrus-like tang. We tried a small slice raw, the rest of it we are going to cook up into a compote to put on top of pancakes and oatmeal. How it tastes once cooked will produce the final decision, but at the moment, I think it’s a yes. And since the fruit really does need to be cooked, it helps that it ripens after all the other garden fruit, then needs to cure for about a month before using. Apparently the fruit will also keep for two to three months as well, which means it doesn’t have to be dealt with in the midst of all the busy end of season preserving. More points in its favor!

  • Podcast: The Great Humbling: The Ruined Church. This is the first episode of season five of the podcast, and Dougald Hine and Ed Gillespie chit chat about what they’ve been up to and what they have been reading before setting up the topics for the upcoming season. I just started listening to this podcast recently beginning with their first episodes that were recorded just as the COVID-19 pandemic was getting going in spring of 2020. I have lots of catching up to do, but Ed and Dougald are smart, caring voices to listen to in the midst of breakdown. Their podcast asks “What if our current crises are neither an obstacle to be overcome, nor the end of the world, but a necessary humbling?”

It wasn’t much of a week for watching


Sadness comes when we continually postpone what is to be achieved to a future that we never see coming, and as a result we are blind to what is possible in the present.

Silvia Federici, “On Joyful Militancy” in Beyond the Periphery of the Skin
James’s Kitchen Wizardy

Lacto-fermented hot sauce. We got the red jalapeños in our csa box along with the ferment recipe. James followed the directions and we ended up with a quart of hot sauce. It is so hot, that it’s not something to wildly spoon onto your burrito or anything else. It is being used sparingly in various dishes to add a bit of flavor and kick. As such, this stuff is going to last us a long time. Here’s the recipe in case you want to try it yourself.

Red jalapeños
3/4 cup of salt
3-4 garlic cloves

Roast the peppers until blistering. Remove the stems and chop into halves or
thirds if desired.

To make the salt brine for fermentation: Dissolve 3/4 salt into a gallon of

Place the jalapeños and garlic into a wide-mouthed mason jar and then cover
the peppers completely with the brine. Use a clean rock or a glass weight to
make sure they remain completely submersed to prevent mold growth. Place
the jar on a counter where you can keep an eye on it and make sure the chiles
stay submerged. Allow the chiles to ferment for a week or two. You should see
bubbles forming. Once the ferment is at a point that you like blend the mixture
and store in the fridge.

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21 thoughts on “Caged Birds

  1. Agree re leaf blowers (the noise for a start…let’s have peace in the garden).

    And yes, I forgot to mention Quince Jam to Stefanie, but in fact I prefer quince jelly to jam on my toast. So delicious.

  2. Oh we ADORE quince. Friends who live in the country, just outside my city so only about 30 minutes drive from us, have quince trees. For years they didn’t like quince so another friend and I were the happy beneficiaries, but then she discovered how nice they were. Now we still get some, but not as many. Mr Gums cooks up a whole bunch and then we freeze them in small quantities to use in crumbles, with yoghurt and muesli, on pancakes, etc. The first meal Mr Gums cooked me was veal with quince (back in 1976/7 when veal was something we all ate.) I had never had quince before but loved it. I hope you enjoy them too. They do need long cooking to get the texture right – and the glorious colour – and the right amount of sugar or other sweetener otherwise they can be pretty astringent. I love quince paste too – but we usually buy that.

    Sparrows. In my experience many types of birds get into places – homes, for example – and cannot work out how to get out again. So, I would not cast aspersions on the poor sparrow in particular!!

    Leaves. A big issue for Mr Gums and me, one that we have now left behind with our downsizing. he loves a leaf-blower and piling up all the leaves into the green bin (for the local government to take away for composting, so at least there’s that). I prefer raking, and leaving them on the garden. I admit though that we had a lot of big deciduous trees on our property and there may have been too many leaves for the garden to manage.

    1. So many people like quince jam/jelly! I am confirmed in adding a quince tree to the garden come spring 🙂 James ended up boiling and mashing ours and we had it on sourdough waffles at breakfast. It was delicious!

      Good point about many sorts of birds getting into places and not being able to get out again!

      There can never be too many leaves in my opinion, but I do understand! Too many leaves and it will smother a lawn, if you have one 🙂

    1. Do you mean Melanie, how do you know when the peppers are done fermenting and ready to blend up? In the case of the peppers you can take a nibble of one and see how it tastes, or you can give it a good sniff and see how sour it smells, or you can just wait two weeks and blend them up.

      1. Yes, that is what I meant. I wasn’t sure if more fermentation made them taste differently, and if it was based on sight alone, like “Well, that jar looks ready to explode, time for the next step!”

        1. The longer something ferments, the stronger the fermented flavor, so it all depends on how strong you like it. For instance, with sauerkraut, we tend to like it strong so will ferment it on the countertop for two to three weeks before putting it in the fridge, which slows down the fermentation process significantly.

  3. Just as I started to type that I love the sounds of the hot sauce, WP decided to submit the comment as is. We only had small manageable quantities of jalapenos this year though; our current CSA challenge is carrots. The latest batch are as big as my forearm and I am not exaggerating. In combination with the fact that I’d fallen behind with some of each of the past two week’s carrots, I had a lot of carrot-ing to do this weekend. It’s a good challenge but I admit that I miss having more access to variety, with city-distribution-networks (like your coop for instance).

    1. oh, carrot cake and carrot-ginger soup. I love carrots! Yours sound enormous! Hopefully next year you will have a quantity of jalapeños and can make some fermented hot sauce!

  4. Haha The Brian Jacques Redwall series depicts sparrows in a rather uncomplimentary way. I like how the chickens simply accepted them at the table however and Julé’s idea about a tea party. Sparrows I love though, and I have especially fond memories of sitting for long spells with the youngest stepkid, while she and I watched their young families learning how to feed on our back room (at the time). One thing we’ve been shocked by, living for a time in a more northerly location, is how different the sparrows are. Squirrels too. Quite surprising in terms of which specific species are more populous and where. We are lucky to have a lot of chickadee visitors too, which many say are mean and peck-ish, but they’re quite sociable little creatures at times too. I wonder if, in the end, all that is just as it is with people–more variation than we suspect initially and tendencies being more individual than we tend to think, being so people-focussed.

    1. In spite of sparrows turning out to be so dimwitted, I too love them. They twittering is so cheerful and they are some of the few birds that flock and sing so loudly in winter. Interesting wondering about the chickadees and character varieties. I suspect there is something to it. Chickadees here tend to be sociable, at least that I’ve seen. It probably has much to do with context, just like people behavior.

  5. You never know, maybe Mrs. Dashwood & co. invited the sparrows in for a visit and they overstayed their welcome…🐓 It’s become the done thing here to leave fallen leaves on gardens especially because many lawns have been killed off so that interesting gardens or native grasses can go in instead. But then we need to be really diligent about keeping street drains clear.

    Though I haven’t listened to any episodes yet, I took a look at the podcast and bookmarked it. It looks fascinating and besides in an episode in season they read one of my favorite Lucille Clifton poems, ‘Blessings of the boats’. Thank you for the heads up on that!

    1. So glad to hear folks in your area are leaving leaves on gardens and lawns! They do street sweeping her to get the leaves out of the street, but yes, they still escape and create problems, so very important to get them out of the street.

      Enjoy the podcast! Lucille Clifton is great!

  6. OOOooo! I shall be making lacto-fermented hot sauce now!

    And yes, sparrows are dumb. Or rather, completely single-minded and unable to think of anything else. “Food in there. Go in there. Don’t like it in here. But… Food in here.”

  7. I enjoyed reading how you’re preparing for winter. And I hate leaf blowers so much! What’s even more irritating, though, is when people use them in places that don’t even have a fall season. They’re used quite a lot in Barbados, for example, just to blow around a handful of leaves that could easily have been swept up with a broom or a rake. The noise and wasetfulness drives me crazy!

    But oh, quince jam is the best! I think that a quince tree would be a wonderful addition to the garden.

    1. Thanks Andrew! I don’t know why people think leaf blowers are easier and more efficient than a rake. It seems to me my neighbors with the blowers take just as long or longer to get their leaves up than it does those with rakes.

      Oh, glad to know quince jam is so tasty! It will be a few years before a quince tree produces fruit, but I’m already looking forward to it and I haven’t even planted the tree yet 🙂

  8. You were host to a host of sparrows! I always think of Mary Poppins when someone mentions sparrows, because she says (in one of the Travers books) that she calls all birds “sparrers.”

  9. I’ve never had a quince but I’d like to try one!

    Silly sparrows! Glad you got it figured out.

    It is sort of nice to accept that it’s time to rest and dream. I’m trying to reframe winter since it’s a challenging season for me.

    1. I hope you get the chance to try a quince sometime Laila! I wish you all the best in reframing winter. It is a challenging season for many reasons, not least of which, we are expected to try and ignore it as best we can and behave as though it were July but with extra annoyances. Happy dreaming and resting!

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