The Taste of Maine sign
The Taste of Maine sign
On occasion Free Press readers play a role in determining the content of my bird articles. A recent example is a reader’s inquiry about a roadside osprey nest: “In the lobby of Taste of Maine Restaurant there is a TV screen showing the osprey nest outside. Can you tell me what small bird has chosen to live underneath and inside the nest? There is a pair and they remind me of a chickadee. They are in the lower left of the screen.”

Two Saturdays later, we stopped by the Taste of Maine on our way to Portland. I had some possible “suspects” in mind for this mystery identification quest, but remained uncertain about the final outcome. From the restaurant’s Woolwich parking lot, we watched an adult osprey in the nest above us as it stood to stretch and shift its incubating position. Soon enough, a sparrow-sized bird landed and perched just beneath the jumble of thick nest sticks. A male house sparrow, it passed into an opening at the base of the osprey nest, delivering a small feather to help cushion its temporary dwelling. Other bits of weedy nesting materials would follow. Minutes later, its mate arrived, also gaining entrance to the inner sanctum of the bulky host nest.

Next we were joined by a tourist couple from Holland with obvious interest in observing the nest. Equipped with only a mobile phone, they were generally unfamiliar with ospreys in their native country. While my wife showed them an osprey image on her own phone, the Dutch lady photographed the online image to capture the information. We then learned that this sojourning couple had made 10 visits to the U.S. Before leaving us, the gentleman returned from his rental car carrying a fuzzy stuffed toy — a softball-sized bald eagle! He explained that this toy eagle had served as travel mascot on all their previous visits to America.

Now let’s focus on those squatting house sparrows, aka English sparrow. House sparrows were introduced into Brooklyn, New York, in 1851, with subsequent introductions in San Francisco and Salt Lake City in the 1870s. Currently the species inhabits all parts of North America except Alaska and far northern Canada. Extremely adaptable in their nest locations, they prefer manmade (or, in this case, osprey-made) structures such as eaves and walls of buildings, streetlights and an array of other creative nest options. You may have heard and seen these noisy, chunky birds flitting amongst the interior rafters of big box stores. Recently I observed several pairs feeding nestlings at store lofts in Thomaston and Rockland.

Why would these opportunistic sparrows select an osprey family as their landlords? Perhaps a more appropriate question is, “Why not?” With the vigilant osprey pair residing upstairs, the sparrows receive free security and protection services from their capable raptor housemates. Doing a later check of the bird literature, I discovered that the osprey-sparrow nesting connection is well documented.

And as a bonus, I was able to confirm dual nesting status for the two species through the Maine Bird Atlas project. The ospreys and sparrows each rated “ON” or “Occupied Nest” code designations that confirm breeding activity. Now into my second year of Atlas project participation, I’ve confirmed 93 nesting species thus far. I’m confident, though, that this was my first “double-play” confirmation of a unique shared nesting situation.