The Great Sparrow Campaign

Sparrows are often thought of as pests the world over. The following story both exemplifies and questions this view of the sparrows.

During China’s Great Leap Forward China found itself with an ever-increasing population but lacking the food to feed all its people. Desperate to keep every grain for his people, Mao examined the various causes of grain loss. Each year sparrows eat tons of grain which humans could consume. Believing it best to eradicate the Tree Sparrows, Mao instituted a 4-year campaign to kill these Tree Sparrows plaguing China’s crops. This came to be known as the Great Sparrow Campaign or the Kill a Sparrow Campaign and was widely thought to be logical upon its inception.

How were they going to kill these sparrows?

All the peasants in China were encouraged to scare the sparrows by any means necessary. They employed such techniques as banging pots and pans together, running around like mad, tearing down sparrow nests, breaking their eggs and killing their nestlings.

It worked, ridding their land and crops of the hungry sparrow pests. But this eradication was not without consequence. Without the sparrows insects such as locusts flooded in devouring more seeds than the birds ever did and caused great famine—leading to many millions of deaths.

Mao stopped the campaign after only two short years but not in time to save the crops or many of his people. It begs the question, are house sparrows or tree sparrows really pests?

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