by Harry Styron, copyright 2010
“There was nothing in my textbook to explain it,” said Greg Mendel, a senior business major at a small Missouri college, who grew up in East Texas. Yet Mendel’s discovery is expected to bring the greatest rush of ornithological mythbusters to the Ozarks area since the unconfirmed sighting in 2004 of an ivory-billed woodpecker in eastern Arkansas.
After poking around Wikipedia for an hour, Mendel discovered Darwin. “Who knew?” he said.
Mendel’s observation, now confirmed by students at colleges in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, suggests that the sparrows which make their homes in the ceiling trusses of Lowe’s Home Centers and The Home Depot stores are dividing into two subspecies, with the breasts of the Lowe’s birds taking on a slight bluish-grey hue, while birds of the same type at The Home Depot stores appear to be sporting orangish vests. These trends in coloration correspond to the respective color schemes of each store.
Mendel’s biology professor, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that the observation is consistent with some of Charles Darwin’s earliest observations relating to the differentiation in the shapes of beaks of finches in the Galapagos Islands and rapid changes in the color of moths of the same species in England, apparently in response to coal soot in the air.
Darwin’s observations are considered by most mainstream scientists to be fundamental evidence that Darwin used to develop his idea of natural selection, the primary mechanism of Darwinian evolutionary theory. But the professor remained skeptical, “The ambient light bouncing around the ceiling trusses in the stores is probably responsible for the blue or orange casts on the birds’ white breast feathers.”
The professor explained that opponents of Intelligent Design pretend that it lacks nuances to accommodate what happens in nature. “If all the species were created at once, as many of Intelligent Design’s followers believe, there’s no rational basis for excluding the possibility of ‘tweaking’ to accommodate environmental changes,” he said.
First noted at the Lowe’s in Hollister, Missouri, the student who made the discovery said he couldn’t believe his eyes. “I was just going there to identify the birds for a term paper and try to figure out some way for the store to get rid of them. They’re a nuisance.” After photographing the birds in Lowe’s, he went to The Home Depot in Branson to see what was there. That night in his dorm room, he compared the digital photos on his computer’s monitor and noted the different colors.
“Then I posted the photos on Facebook, and within a few days there were hundreds more posted from other communities in the Ozarks with both stores. The funny thing is that if there is only a Lowe’s or only a Home Depot in the community, the birds don’t seem to change color.” Mendel was unable to provide his images to me, stating that his computer’s hard drive crashed.
There are many intriguing aspects of home improvement center ornithology. For example, ravens inhabit the home improvement centers in Fairbanks, Alaska. The ravens remain uniformly black in Lowe’s and The Home Depot in Fairbanks. In different regions, one would expect to see local birds, such as house sparrows, though other birds may travel long distances if they do not live close to a home improvement center. Birds which like people, but not darkness, might prefer Walmart Supercenters, which are open 24 hours a day.
From an economic perspective, the birds no doubt eat mosquitos, so in that sense they partially compensate for the extra janitorial work that they create. Reports that that swallows have learned to activate the motion sensors to get into The Home Depot in St. Paul, where it gets very cold, confirm that stress is the mother of ingenuity.
The famous swallows of San Capistrano have apparently moved to Lowe’s after the changes in the historic Mission made them feel unwelcome, despite their 7,000 mile trip from Argentina. Whether the swallows’ preference for Lowe’s over the Mission has to do with decades of abuse or climate change is a matter of considerable dispute. Perhaps the influence of secular avianism is at work.
The most unusual feature of this story is that it has not been widely reported. NPR and The New York Times, having been embarrassed by their gullibility on the 2004 ivory-billed woodpecker sighting, did not follow up. These outlets provide a huge chunk of the raw material for the left-wing blogosphere, which in turn fuels ridicule by Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere.
Since the story is finally out, maybe it will grow legs.