Unlike many wild birds who are putting on the grams in anticipation of the cold winter months, the sparrows at Ernst are relaxing in the rafters.
So why bundle up to bird-watch when you can view a flock of free-loading sparrows hovering above a popcorn machine?
Store employees at the Lincoln Heights Ernst Home and Nursery Center estimate that 25 to 100 sparrows call the hardware store home.
“In the mornings their chatter is so loud they drown out the P.A. system,” said Ron Ungari, an Ernst employee.
And some mornings it’s not unusual to witness a “gang of 20 sparrows fighting over a chunk of popcorn,” Ungari added.
The consensus among employees is that the sparrows come in from the cold through the open lumber supply door, glide through the garden center and nest above the “Wild Bird Deli” aisle, where the seeds are.
Although there is no source of water in the main building, the nursery is supplied with fresh water. But getting to the nursery is an obstacle course.
The automatic glass door leading to the nursery is usually closed. Just another challenge for the birds.
“The sparrows have learned how to open the automatic doors by fluttering in front of the electronic eye,” said Rosalyn Berkovich, who works in the nursery.
When they’re not eating popcorn or stealing moss from the artificial plants to insulate the rafters, the sparrows use their beaks to bore into the 5-pound plastic bags of wild bird seed.
Neither an artificial owl nor an inflatable snake has deterred them from pecking into the plastic.
But who cares?
Most customers “love” the sparrows, employees said.
“Sort of an added attraction,” said Boni Fletcher, referring to the chirping.
“They don’t bother me - as long as I don’t get hit on the head,” said shopper Jeff Hillburn.
According to Berkovich, who has worked at the Ernst store since 1989, Hillburn should be able to safely shop.
“Only once has a customer been hit,” she said.