Thursday 8 September 2011

Hand-feeding the Notre Dame sparrows

Every time I stay in Paris there are new surprises. One of the highlights of last week's visit was hand-feeding the sparrows in front of Notre Dame. The box hedges on the parvis are bustling with them, mostly juveniles – their breasts and wings still downy. Every day I was drawn back. The first day I just watched as two regulars hand-fed them and a few tourists joined in.  The second day one of the men gave me a handful of birdseed and I stood up on the low concrete wall around the privet and held out my hand. I waited, and quite soon a young female sparrow hopped onto my fingers. Her claws grasped me and she bent down and picked up a seed with her yellow and fawn beak. It took her quite a while to crack and eat it and I managed to glimpse her peach tongue. She stayed on my hand for half an hour, batting off all intruders by raising her wings and fiercely beating them, cheeping at the same time.

The second day
I had up to three sparrows feeding together, some fully grown males as well as females and juveniles. The males have darker colouring around their heads, black and brown markings. By this time I'd been to the Marché aux Oiseaux and bought some small wild-bird grains. On the third day (I would pass there on my evening walk after a day's writing) I had six sparrows feeding together, males and females. At one point pigeons landed and starlings. That day I fed the moineaux for an hour and a half, as I was leaving the next morning, to return to London where sparrows are scarce. These pictures were taken on my iPhone with my free hand, though the last six-sparrow day I didn't take any as I wanted to just concentrate on the experience. It was the same with Notre Dame, every time I looked at the cathedral, especially the facade and towers, I saw more. I looked and looked harder.

 The young female who stayed on my hand for half an hour the first day

 Here you can see the beginning of the sending-off display, as one bird starts to raise her wings to beat them at the other.

The man with the black hat is one of the two regulars. They come every day, all day. The other one told me he comes because it makes him feel better when things aren't going well.