(This is part of the Growing Up In Utah's Dixie series, by LaVarr B. Webb)
Throughout my younger years, I was an avid hunter. I
cringe now, physically and emotionally, as I think of the
ignorant and wanton destruction of life that I participated
Now I wish someone would have taken me, as a boy,
out into the natural world as an observer rather than a
hunter - would have taken me out to teach me about ecology
and the balance of nature - would have taken me out
to teach me about beauty, uniqueness, and reverence for
When I was a boy, no one seemed to understand the
relationship between lizards and crawling insects, between
bats, swallows, and kingbirds and flying insects, and be-
tween linnets, song sparrows, juncos, and white crowned
sparrows and weed seeds. To me, reptiles, birds, and small
mammals were there, available for me to shoot, trap, and
The first gun I ever owned was a Daisy lever action,
repeating BB rifle. A friend and I, in Virgin, would sit in the
neighbor's grape arbor and shoot sparrows. To us, all spar-
rows were alike, other than the coloration of their heads.
There were brown headed sparrows, white headed
sparrows, black headed sparrows, and red headed spar-
rows. My friend and I placed values on the birds.
The brown sparrows, which I now realize were English
sparrows, and the females, that we could not recognize, of
a host of other birds, therefore, making them the most
numerous, were worth one point. Those with white heads,
which I now know as white crowned sparrows, the white
throated, and even black throated sparrows were worth
Red headed sparrows that I now know as linnets or
house finches were worth three points. Once in a while we
would even bag a black headed sparrow, those that I now
know as juncos, and they were worth four points. We considered
ourselves very lucky when we killed the larger birds
that we knew, the robin or the meadow lark, because they
were worth five points.
So, we would sit in the grape arbor, taking turns, alternating,
one shot each, the birds piling up in front of us,
the points to be tallied up at the end of the hunt.
Now, I hang my head in shame because I not only can
put names to all of those birds, but I know them, love them,
and appreciate them not only for the insects and weed
seeds that they consume, but also for their voices, their
songs, and their friendly chirps.
That white headed, two-point sparrow, is the one that
I now know congregates on winter evenings in scrub patches
such as wild rose and Himalaya bushes and sings a good
night song--a chorus, a choir of indescribable beauty and
good night cheer.
The red headed three point sparrow that I now know
as the house finch or linnet is he that I listen for every
spring. In large cities such as Salt Lake, he sits on power
and telephone lines, window ledges, gable peaks, power
poles, and TV antennas, his red head and red breast stained
by smog and soot, and sings as if he were perched in the
sun on a favorite limb of a flowering cherry tree.
In the rural areas, he is found around the houses, barns,
and orchards. He likes fruit orchards, especially, because
he loves those first bites of pungent, cherries, apricots,
The linnet is the red headed, brown bodied bird that
expresses his love for life by singing while he flies, undulating
in lazy flight from pole to tree, from tree to shrub, and
all the while, singing his "Spring is here song."
The black headed four point sparrow, that I now know
as the junco, does not have a cheerful song, but he is the
best harbinger of winter and spring. He announces winter
by his presence. He comes down out of the mountains,
gathering in flocks, flitting here and there in his earnest
search for food.
He loves dooryards, where children have played, leaving
scraps of food on the ground. He is one of the first
birds to come to feeding stations, and his black head and
the two white shafts in his tail feathers, that become obvious
when he flies, make him easy to recognize.
The junco announces spring very silently. One night
in the spring he just disappears, heading back to spend the
summer months in his beloved mountains.
Now, again, I hang my head in shame and sorrow as I
realize how many voices I stilled, how many songs I cut
short, how many vital lives I destroyed with my Daisy, lever
action, repeating BB gun.