One bedroom, perfect for large family

The lack of affordable housing is a problem in Ipswich, there’s no denying it.

And now the problem has hit home for me in a very personal way.

A breezeway connects the back door of our 205-year-old house to our even-more-rickety 50-year-old garage, and every spring, a pair of sparrows nest in the breezeway rafters just outside our back door.

The birds spend days assembling their domicile from twigs and leaves and the stuffing from easy chairs abandoned by neighbors at the side of Linebrook Road.

Then the mama lays her eggs, and the sparrow-couple swap turns sitting on them.

Eventually the eggs hatch, and the babies scream for food more or less continuously for a week or two, while the parents fly out and back in an endless search for sustenance for themselves and their brood.

Finally the youngsters flop out onto the back stairs, one by one, and quickly learn to fly.


But the affordable housing crisis is real. Here’s how I know. This spring, we had two sparrow families on our breezeway.

One family set up as usual in the rafters just outside the back door. But soon, another sparrow-couple set up housekeeping in the rafters midway between house and garage.

It seems NIMBY is not just a human thing. The original squatters appeared to take enormous offense at the arrival of the second set of squatters. There was lots of screeching, squawking, and what looked like dive-bombing as the couples competed for the best bits of trash for nest-building. One day on my driveway the moms-to-be screamed and snapped at each other for half an hour over a torn corner scrap of “Tales from the Scanner.”

The harsh reality is that, when these innumerable babies were born, our quality of life was significantly diminished. The newborns’ screeching for food, coming from two nests instead of just one, was twice as loud — which is to say, half as ignorable — as ever before. Out on my screen porch, to get any work done, I had to turn off my hearing aids, don noise-cancelling headphones, and hum “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder.

Yet the First World problems just kept coming.

For example: Sparrows have no concept of hygiene. The notion that they fly till they find a clean windshield and then unload? That’s a myth. I am a witness: Sparrows blithely relieve themselves wherever they happen to be at the moment. And where these four parent-sparrows happened to be most of the time, with two nests full of hatchlings to tend to, was my breezeway. My back stairs became a public health emergency. Leahy launched a mobile hygiene workshop just for birds. I was contacted by a Peruvian guano broker looking to expand the market for fertilizer.

Sadly, furthermore, affordable housing is not a self-contained crisis. It’s dominoes; one issue leads to another. Once you add housing units to your property, you’re subject to all kinds of Ipswich permitting requirements, not to mention state and federal regulations. If we get a third sparrow family next spring, I’ll have to ask Town Meeting for a change in the bylaws. Meanwhile, the building inspector will be in my face, demanding tiny guardrails up in the rafters — with PETA requiring tiny gates to let the young sparrows out when they’re ready to take flight.

If only Ipswich would construct more affordable housing. Then the sparrows might be able to comfortably settle closer to the train station, perhaps despoil the roof of the metal canopy over the commuter benches.

Next spring, I’m hoping the birds can find happiness in the Bruni project.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. If you check him out at rather than dropping by in person, you avoid the biohazards.

One thought on “One bedroom, perfect for large family

  1. I do believe you meant Lacey. A rare typo?

    Be Safe. Stay Well. Keep your Distance


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