House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

House Sparrow
Photo © Dan Pancamo/Flickr/Used With Permission

The plucky house sparrow is one of the most widespread birds in the world, having been introduced in so many places that it is often considered an invasive species. Ironically, however, its population is experiencing serious decline in many of its native regions and conservation measures are necessary to protect this bird from vanishing from its home range.

Common Name: House Sparrow, Common Sparrow, English Sparrow, Sparrow
Scientific Name: Passer domesticus
Scientific Family: Passeridae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Thick and conical, black in males and grayish with a yellow base in females
  • Size: 5-6 inches long with 9-inch wingspan, stocky body
  • Colors: Black, brown, white, buff, gray
  • Markings: Males and females look differently. Males have black chin and bib with white cheeks and rust colored cap and nape of neck. The black on the chin and breast can vary widely, with older, more dominant males showing more black. The underparts are pale grayish, and the back and wings show brown and black streaking. The rump is gray. Males also have a single white wing bar. Females are plainer, with a broad buff eyebrow, brown and buff-streaked wings and back. On both genders, the legs and feet are pale and the eyes are dark.

    Juveniles resemble adult females but with less distinctive markings and a less defined eyebrow.

Foods: Insects, seeds, grains, fruit, suet (See: Granivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

House sparrows were first introduced to North America in the 1850s and have become one of the most widespread birds in southern Canada, the continental United States, Mexico and Central America.

They are highly adaptable to urban, suburban and agricultural habitats but are rarely found far from human habitation. Worldwide, these birds are also common throughout Europe, Russia and the Middle East, including India, though their numbers are declining in much of their native range in the Old World.

House sparrows do not generally migrate but may become nomadic when seeking food sources.

Vocalizations:

House sparrows can be very vocal in large groups but are quieter when isolated. Their calls include a fluttery “cheep” and rapid chattering sounds. Young birds may use a variety of soft begging calls to attract their parents' attention in the nest.

Behavior:

House sparrows congregate in large flocks to feed and roost, and bird colonies may be made up of several family flocks. They generally forage on the ground, hopping and scratching with their feet, or in trees and bushes while looking for insects. These birds may become aggressive toward other birds feeding nearby and are bold around humans.

Being so used to humans has made house sparrows resourceful in finding unique food supplies. They have been seen inspecting car grills for insects, and will feed on farms searching for spilled seed and grain, even picking through piles of horse or cow dung. They will also visit compost piles and other unique options when looking for food.

Reproduction:

House sparrows are generally monogamous and will build bulky nests in roof crevices, nesting boxes and natural tree cavities, or they may chase other birds out of nests.

The nest is usually composed of grass, twigs, straw, weeds, feathers and similar material, and the oval-shaped eggs are light green or bluish with small dark dots. The female will incubate a brood of 4-6 eggs for 14-18 days, then both parents will regurgitate food for the nestlings for 14-18 days until they leave the nest. Depending on the climate, mated house sparrow pairs may raise 2-3 broods per year.

Attracting House Sparrows:

For many backyard birders, the challenge is not attracting house sparrows, but rather keeping them away because they are so abundant and aggressive. House sparrows will easily come to either platform or hopper feeders offering mixed seed, sunflower seeds or cracked corn, and they frequently nest along the eaves of houses.

Conservation:

While these sparrows are not considered threatened or endangered worldwide, they are experiencing varying degrees of population decline in their native range.

Providing suitable nesting sites, food sources and clean water, as well as discouraging feral cats, is essential to protect house sparrows, particularly in urban areas.

Similar Birds:

  • House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
  • American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)
  • Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
  • Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
  • Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae)
  • Sind Sparrow (Passer pyrrhonotus)
  • Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans)