As a child, whenever I was troubled about some worry or other, my grandmother’s standard comeback was, “If His eye is on the sparrow, He watches over me.” That was her way of telling my child self not to worry. Many of her answers to my troubles came from the bible and many responses were about birds. She’s been gone since I was 16, but her admonishings remain. The sparrow response was always puzzling because I could never see anything particularly special about these abundant backyard guys fluttering around my grandmother’s garden. She would throw out the toast crusts from breakfast to feed the sparrows every morning before doing the dishes.
Little did I know about the lowly little brown sparrow until I began to read up on these frequent visitors beneath my bird feeders in the winter. Its hard to pay attention to these drab fellows when constantly distracted by the bright green of hummingbirds or the brilliant yellow of goldfinches. The hummers are all gone south now and the bright yellow goldfinches have turned dull winter green. Cardinals are remain distracting with their bright red, but it becomes easier to spot the little chirping sparrows without the presence of all the eye catchers.
LBJ’s are what sparrows are known as to birders, according to The Spruce. LBJ’s, code for Little Brown Jobs, got that designation because of how notoriously hard to identify they are. Birds and Blooms, in a wonderful article by Sally Roth, says there are over 33 species of sparrows. Oh my! No wonder birders call them LBJ’s! House Sparrows like the one I painted are the most abundant according to All About Birds and have lived around humans for centuries. Audubon says House Sparrows live in military-like units with an identifiable male leader marked by the most distinct black head markings. Now I’m going to be out searching for him!
Sparrows come up in multiple stories from folklore. Owl cation has a great round up of the details of sparrow legend in many cultures. Ancient Greeks felt sparrows were associated with the goddess of love while Indonesians believed a sparrow meant coming marriage or the birth of a baby. In China, sparrows are harbingers of good luck. The Celts thought sparrows kept ancestral knowledge. To Egyptians, sparrows carried the souls of the deceased to heaven. The Bible and other ancient writings believed sparrows were symbols of God’s presence and His love for everything. When examining a sparrow on someone’s tattoo. the meaning could be any one of the above. Or at one time, sparrows were common tattoos for sailors who believed if they died at sea, a sparrow would carry their soul to heaven.
When seeing a representation of a sparrow, now you will have to stop and think what the intended meaning is. Is it good luck? Somebody’s pregnant? Could be any one of several meanings. To my grandmother, there was one meaning and one meaning only. God was watching over us all so worry was useless. She was evidently on to something because Audubon says the House Sparrow is one of the most abundant songbirds in North America for one reason: it associates with humans. Hmmm…
As for me, I think I’ll paint some more of these LBJs while I listen to their sweet singing in the shrubs outside my front window!