The human mind gets bored easily.
When you smell something for long enough, you stop noticing it. We are equally inattentive to things we see routinely — our eyes see them, but our brain doesn’t pay much attention, and we sort of look right past them, as though they were invisible.
The same holds true for common species of birds.
I am willing to bet that on most days when you step outside in the Grand Valley, or even look out your window, you see at least one of the following three bird species: house sparrow, European starling and pigeon.
These birds are commonplace around cities, suburbs and agricultural settings. Some birders call them “trash birds” because they are like visual trash that your eyes have to sort through to pick out the unusual or desirable birds.
I am starting to think that term is a little unfair.
I now like to think of them as “invisible birds.” They are so common you look right through them.
These birds deserve a second glance. Like them or not, their ability to adapt to the habitats that humans create has allowed them to hitch rides with us as our settlements expand around the globe.
House sparrows now are the most widely distributed bird species on the planet.
The European starling, first introduced to this continent about 120 years ago, now ranges across North America and numbers more than 200 million.
Pigeons are now so associated with cities that when we see them in places such as Colorado National Monument, the birds may seem out of place, even though their natural nesting habitat is cliff faces rather than tall buildings.
Many bird lovers dislike these species for more legitimate reasons than simple commonness.
House sparrows and European starlings prefer to nest in cavities, such as tree holes or nest boxes. Cavities are a limited resource, and these two introduced species often displace struggling native birds.
Bluebird lovers may despise house sparrows in particular because birds will destroy nests and forcibly evict bluebirds from the nest boxes the birders install for them.
I don’t believe pigeons directly compete with any native species, but many city dwellers, perhaps annoyed by their droppings, refer to them as flying rats.
Personally I would prefer a pigeon to a rat any day.
Were it not for abundant pigeon prey, peregrine falcons may not have made a comeback and established themselves in many large cities.
Even here in Grand Junction, I have seen peregrines perched on the tower on the corner of Eighth and Main streets.
European starlings may be a dime a dozen, but take a moment to listen to them. These relatives of mynah birds are accomplished mimics and can do convincing impressions of hawks and other birds.
The cheeky house sparrow is easy and fun to watch as it squabbles over nest sites and takes dust baths.
It is easy to disregard these “invisible birds” because they are common or to dislike them when they displace native birds. But don’t blame them.
After all, we brought them here and created the conditions that have allowed them to thrive.
Take a moment to admire the boldness that allows these “invisible birds” to live amidst a large, noisy creature like humans.
Or admire their cleverness in exploiting new food resources like French fries and habitats like highway overpasses.
Have a little empathy for these immigrants whose fate has been so tied up with our own.
Meredith Swett Walker is a writer and wildlife biologist living in Fruita. She also writes a blog for the website fruitapulp.com.