The House Sparrow

25th June 2010

Distribution: This species is native to Eurasia and northern Africa, occurring from the United Kingdom east to Siberia with the exception of Italy where it is replaced bu its close cousin, Passer italiae , the Italian Sparrow - formerly considered the same species. But the current House Sparrow's range is much bigger than that, for it has been introduced in many areas and is now common in populated areas throughout the world.

Indeed, since the middle of the nineteeth century, the House Sparrow has followed humans all over the world and has been intentionally or accidentally introduced to most of the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, New Zealand and Australia -except for Western Australia, so far successful in preventing it from settling there- as well as urban areas in other parts of the world. The northern border of its range fluctuates between sixty and seventy degrees latitude. In the southern hemisphere, all continents have been settled with exception of tropical South America and Antarctica. It is now considered the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet.

This species was, for instance, introduced to North America when a group of one hundred birds from England was released in Brooklyn, New York, and today its range is spread from northern British Columbia to Labrador in Canada, and down through most of the United States through Central America.

A number of subspecies of Passer domesticus have been identified: Passer domesticus domesticus, Passer domesticus plecticus, Passer domesticus payni, Passer domesticus brutius, Passer domesticus maltae, Passer domesticus africanus, Passer domesticus balearoibericus, Passer domesticus tingitanus, Passer domesticus maroccanus, Passer domesticus biblicus, Passer domesticus niloticus, Passer domesticus indicus, Passer domesticus bactrianus, Passer domesticus parkini, Passer domesticus rufidorsalis, Passer domesticus hufufae, Passer domesticus persicus, Passer domesticus hyrcanus, Passer domesticus griseigularis.

Status: The House Sparrow is abundant in temperate climates, but not universally common, and it is even scarce in many hilly districts. In cities, towns and villages, even around isolated farms, it can be the most abundant bird.

Today, though, House Sparrow populations are declining across most of its range, notably in large parts of Europe. In the Netherlands, this bird is even considered an endangered species, and the population of House Sparrows has dropped by half since the 1980s. It is however still the second most common breeding bird in this country, after the Blackbird. Currently the number of breeding pairs is estimated between half a million and one million. Similar precipitous drops in population have also been recorded in the United Kingdom where this species remains, nonetheless, the most common garden bird.


Various causes for this dramatic decrease in population have been proposed, one of the more surprising being the introduction of unleaded petrol, the combustion of which produces compounds such as methyl nitrite, highly toxic for small insects, which form major part of young sparrows diet. Other theories blame the reduction in areas of free growing weeds, or nof umbers of badly maintained buildings, which are important nesting opportunities for sparrows.
India also has seen a massive decline of sparrow populations in recent years. Agricultural pesticides, predation by crows and cats, and modern architecture have all been cited as possible causes.

While declining somewhat in their adopted homeland, House Sparrows remain one of the most abundant birds in North America, with a population estimated at approximately 150 million in the 1940s.


American population numbers are believed to have peaked in the early 1900's, and since declined. The switch from horses to cars is believed to be at least partly responsible, since much of the winter nourishment house sparrows obtained came from horse droppings.


In the United States and Canada, the House Sparrow is one of only three birds (the other two being the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon) not protected by law. These three introduced species are now each more widespread and common on the continent than are any other birds.

Habitat: The House Sparrow is most abundant in populated areas where it is among the dominant species in terms of numbers. In many areas, it is even the most commonly found bird in agricultural, urban, or suburban areas. br> The House Sparrow's association with human beings has been in large part responsible for its successful invasion of many parts of the planet, notably North America. It is especially abundant in areas where grains are available, such as around farms and zoos. Along the Gulf coast of America, it can also be found in salt marsh scrub in disturbed areas. It is seldom if ever encountered in undisturbed areas, such as woodlands, forests, grasslands, and deserts.

General habits: The House Sparrow is gregarious at all seasons in its nesting colonies, when feeding and in communal roosts. It is virtually never seen on its own.

Wherever people build, House Sparrows sooner or later come to share their abodes. Though described as tame and semi-domestic, neither is strictly true; humans provide food and home, not companionship. The House Sparrow usually remains wary of man, though in places where they are used to being fed, such as parks and restaurants, they sometimes will be bold enough to feed in one's hand.

The House Sparrow is a frequent dust bather. It throws soil and dust over its body feathers, just as if it were bathing with water. Although not a water bird, the House Sparrow can actually swim if it needs to, such as to escape a predator. Sparrows caught in a trap over a water dish have been observed trying to escape by diving into the water and swimming underwater from one part of the trap to another.

Feeding habits: The House Sparrow's diet consists mostly of weed and grass seeds, grains, insects and invertebrates, and sometimes fruits. In the springtime, flowers — especially those with yellow colours — are often eaten; crocuses, primroses and aconites seem to attract the House Sparrow most. The bird will also hunt butterflies.

Although it forages mostly on the ground in open areas, this bird will perch on weed stalks to take seeds, and search tree barks for insects. It frequently also takes smashed insects stuck on cars. In urban areas the House Sparrow specializes on eating food and crumbs discarded by people. The House Sparrow is a frequent visitor to bird feeders .

Early in their invasion of North America, House Sparrows began attacking ripening grains on farmland such as wheat, oats, corn, barley, and sorghum, and were considered serious agricultural pests. Peas, turnips, cabbage, and nearly all young vegetables are also attacked, as well as apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, and raspberries. Additionally they are pests on poultry farms where they can consume fairly large quantities of chicken feed. On the positive side House Sparrows have been commended for feeding on insect species considered pests such as moths, cabbage worms, and cotton caterpillars.

Breeding habits: The House Sparrow is polygamous. Two or three broods are usually raised per year, although there are reports of as many as five broods raised per year. Breeding frequently occurs in small colonies.

The nesting season varies in length according to the climate. It usually avoids the winter months, extending from March to late September in the Northern Hemisphere. There are areas, though, such as Alabama, where breeding behaviours has been observed year-round.

The courtship behaviour involves the male attracting the female by hopping near her with his tail raised, wings drooped, chest puffed out, bowing and chirping.

Nest: The House Sparrow nesting sites are varied: under eaves, in holes in tree ir in buildings - houses, barns, city buildings - masonry or rocks, in ivy or creepers on houses or banks, on the sea-cliffs, or in bushes in bays and inlets. When built in holes or ivy, the nest is an untidy litter of grass, weeds, twigs, straw and rubbish, abundantly filled with feathers. Large, well-constructed domed nests are often built when the bird nests in trees or shrubs, especially in rural areas. When cavities are scarce, nests are built as large globular masses on open branches which have side entrances. In this sense, they can easily be distinguished from North American native sparrows of the family Fringillidae which build small cup-shaped nests. Both parents participate in nest building.

But the House Sparrow has another way of obtaining a nest:it is, indeed, quite aggressive in usurping the nesting sites of other birds, often forcibly evicting the previous occupants, and sometimes even building a new nest directly on top of another active nest with live nestlings. House Martins, Bluebirds, Carolina wrens Sand Martins, and a variety of woodpeckers are especially susceptible to this behaviour. However, though this tendency has occasionally been observed in its native habitats (particularly concerning House Martins), it appears to be far more common in habitats in which it has been introduced, such as North America.

Eggs: This species may lay anything between 1 and 8 eggs in a clutch, though usually 3 to 6. Research has shown that the clutch size tends to vary, in fact, with the latitude in the New World. Clutches from northern parts of the United States are typically larger than from southern parts of the United States, including the Gulf, and Central America. Eggs colour varies; they are profusely dusted, speckled or blotched with black, brown or ash-grey on a blue or greenish-tinted or creamy white ground. The brown and grey dots are concentrated towards the larger end The House Sparrow's eggs are variable in size and shape as well as markings, with an average size of 21.8 x 15.6 mm..

Eggs are incubated by the female (others say by both parents). The House Sparrow has the shortest incubation period of all the birds: 10-14 days, so that a female can lay up to 25 eggs in a summer in New England. The reproductive success increases with age and this is mainly by changes in timing, with older birds breeding earlier in the season.

Young: Both parents participate in caring for the young. They are fed on larvae of insects, often considered destructive species. The chicks leave the nest approximately two weeks after hatching. Juveniles resemble adult females, though they are a deeper brown, and the white is replaced by buff; their beak is a dull yellow.

Call: The Sparrow's most common call is a short and incessant mettalic "cheep, chirrup". The song consists of a few chirping sounds, or "cheeps" similar to the call.

It also has a double call note "phillip" which originated the now obsolete name of "phillip sparrow". While the young are in their nests, the older birds utter a long "churr".

Description: This small stocky bird measures 14 to 16 cm, weighs 26 to 32 grams, and has a wingspan of 19 to 25 cm. Its head is relatively large and its tail is relatively short and slightly forked.


The male House Sparrow has a grey crown, grey cheeks and underparts, it has a chestnut nape, and is black on the upper breast and between the bill and eyes. The throat is white with a black throat-patch, and the eyes are brown. The thick bill in summer is blue-black, and the legs arepinkish to brown. Fresh fall plumage is edged with gray, obscuring these markings. The bill becomes yellowish-brown. The female has no black on head or throat, nor a grey crown; her upperparts are streaked with brown, they have a buffy eye stripe and an unstreaked breast.

The House Sparrow is often confused with the smaller and more slender Tree Sparrow, which, however, has a chestnut and not grey crown, two distinct wing bars, and a black patch on each cheek.

Did you know: The House Sparrow is a member of the Old World sparrow family Passeridae, considered by some to be a relative of the Weaver Finch Family.

House sparrows were introduced to Australia between 1863 and 1870. They were released first in Victoria and then to other areas including Sydney, Brisbane, and Hobart. They quickly became a major pest throughout eastern Australia, but have been prevented from establishing themselves in Western Australia where every found specimen is deliberately destroyed.

The large North American population is descended from birds deliberately imported from Britain in the late 19th century. They were then introduced independently in a number of American cities in the years between 1850 and 1875 to control pests. The mistake was realized after they were well established and by 1883 they were already considered pests and their introduction a disaster. While declining somewhat in their adopted homeland, House Sparrows are one of the most abundant birds in North America, with a population estimated at approximately 150 million in the 1940s.


House Sparrows kill adult bluebirds and other native cavity nesters and their young, smash their eggs, and take over their nesting sites, and as such are major factors in the decline of bluebirds and other native cavity nesters in North America.


Because the House Sparrow is smaller than the less aggressive native birds with which it competes, it is impossible to keep them out of nest boxes built for many native birds. Attempts to counter the effects of the House Sparrow on native bird populations include the trapping and shooting of adults and the destruction of their nests and eggs.

The House Sparrow has been present in North America long enough for evolution to have influenced their morphology. Populations in the north are larger than those in the south, as is generally true for native species (a relationship known as Bergman's Rule).

The House Sparrow is also called: English Sparrow, Town sparrow [English]; Huismossie [Afrikaans]; Huismus [Dutch]; Haussperling [German]; Gråsparv [Swedish]; Gråspurv, Huskall, Husspurv, Spurv [Norwegian]; Gráspurvur [Faroese]; Gråspurv [Danish]; Gráspör [Icelandic]; Moineau domestique [French]; Passera europea [Italian]; Corbatita, Gorrión, Gorrión Cacero, Gorrión casero, Gorrión domestico, Gorrión común, Pinzón inglés [Spanish]; Gorrió teulader, Pardal comú, Pela-roques [Catalan]; Pardal, Pardal comú [Galician]; Pardal, Pardal-comum, Pardal-domestico, Pardal-dos-telhados [Potuguese]; Pasler da chasa [Romansh]; Dompasero [Esperanto]; Vrabie [Romanian]; Vrabac [Croatian]; Domaci vrabac, Vrabac pokucar, Vrabac pokucarac [Serbian]; Vrabec domácí [Czech]; Vrabec [Slovak]; Domaci vrabec [Slovenian]; Wróbel, Wróbel domowy, Wróbel zwyczajny [Polish]; Gealbhan, Gealbhan Binne [Irish]; Gealbhonn [Scots]; Aderyn, Aderyn y tô, Golfan, Llwyd y tô, Sbrocsyn, Strew [Welsh]; Házi veréb [Hungarian]; Varpunen [Finnish]; Koduvarblane [Estonian]; Etxe-txolarre, Etxe-txolarrea, Pardal comú [Basque]; Harabeli [Albanian]; Evcil Serçe, Serçe [Turkish]; Tnayin Chnchghuk [Armenian]; Indonesian: Burung gereja [Indonesian]; Iesuzume [Japanese]; Adaikalang kuruvi, Ur kuruvi [Hindi]; : Jia ma-que [Chinese]; Serobele [Southern Sotho]; Shomoro-kaya [Swahili]; Tswere [Tswana]; Enzunge [Kwangali] ; Gorrión, Guyra tupao [Guarani]; Mwano kay [Haitian Creole French]

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