How to Attract Sparrows

Attracting Native Backyard Sparrows

White-Throated Sparrow Feeding
Photo © John Flannery/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

The common house sparrow is the most familiar sparrow in the world, and its invasive nature often gives the word "sparrow" an unpleasant association. House sparrows aren't actually sparrows at all, but are a type of weaver finch, and fortunately there are many beautiful sparrows that can be attracted to bird-friendly backyards. Birders who learn how to attract sparrows will gain a better appreciation of these sociable birds and all their positive characteristics.

Why We Love Sparrows

At first glance sparrows may seem to be no more than bundles of brown feathers, but while they are often camouflaged in earth tones, they have a subtle beauty and distinct markings. It can be a challenge for birders to learn how to identify sparrows properly, but with practice these little brown jobs will start to stand out.

Sparrows are active, social birds that eat great quantities of weed seeds, making them true friends in the garden where they can provide natural weed control. Because most sparrows are ground-feeding birds, they readily clean up underneath feeders, removing spilled seed before it has the chance to rot or germinate.

There are many different types of sparrows that will visit backyards. In North America and South America, the New World sparrows are members of the Emberizidae family, and sparrows that will readily visit bird-friendly backyards include:

  • American tree sparrow
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Eastern towhee
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Harris's sparrow
  • Lincoln's sparrow
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • White-throated sparrow

In Europe, Asia and Africa, sparrows are part of the Passeridae family, and the most common backyard varieties include the house sparrow, Eurasian tree sparrow and rock sparrow.

How to Attract Sparrows

As with any bird, a backyard must meet the proper requirements for food, water, shelter and nesting sites to be attractive. To make a yard sparrow-friendly, it is essential to meet sparrows' specific needs so they feel secure and comfortable in the habitat.

  • Food: Sparrows are generally granivorous and eat a wide variety of seeds and grain. Seed-bearing flowers and grasses for birds can be natural food sources, or offering millet, cracked corn or sunflower seeds is ideal. Seeds should be offered directly on the ground or in large, low platform or tray feeders that can accommodate foraging flocks. Leaving leaf litter intact and planting berry bushes as part of bird-friendly landscaping can also provide minor supplemental food sources for sparrows.
  • Water: These birds prefer to stay low and will be more attracted to ground bird baths than elevated water sources. Including a dripper, wiggler or other source of moving water will help attract their attention, and the water should be near suitable shelter such as a low shrub or dense thicket so they can feel secure. Shallow places are necessary for bathing, and a heated bird bath will provide liquid water even in the coldest temperatures.
  • Shelter: Sparrows can be skittish and will quickly retreat to dense shelter if they feel threatened or startled. Thick shrubbery, including evergreen foliage, can help make a yard sparrow-friendly, and adding a brush pile is good for supplemental shelter. Establish corridors of shelter throughout the yard, such as alongside buildings and pathways, to give the birds secure pathways where they can feel safe without being restricted to one small space.
  • Nesting Sites: Some sparrows will nest in bird houses with the proper entrance hole sizes; when in doubt, opt for a basic house with a somewhat larger hole. Thickets and trees are other ideal nesting spots, and providing nesting material around the yard will give the birds ample construction material to create their nests.

More Tips for Attracting Sparrows

Even when a backyard meets all of a sparrow's needs, the birds may be shy and reluctant to become regular guests.

If you're having trouble attracting sparrows, consider…

  • Providing a sunny area with soil suitable for dust bathing
  • Discouraging feral cats that prey on ground-feeding birds
  • Creating multiple thicket areas for birds to flit between
  • Establishing several feeding areas to accommodate larger sparrow flocks

While it can be a challenge to attract different types of sparrows to the backyard, the rewards are well worth the effort when these perky birds begin to congregate at feeders and show off their subtle distinctions. By providing for sparrows' specific needs, every backyard birder can enjoy the company of these birds.

Want to know what sparrow species you might expect at your feeders? Check out the photo gallery of North American sparrows!