The House Sparrow
(Passer domesticus) is a member of the Old World (Europa, Asia, and
Africa) sparrow family
Distribution / Habitat:
It occurs naturally in
most of Europe and much of Asia. It has also followed humans all over the world
and has been intentionally or accidentally introduced to most of the Americas,
sub-Saharan Africa and Australia as
well as urban areas in other parts of the world. In the United States it is also
known as the 'English Sparrow', to distinguish it from native species, as the
large American population is descended from birds deliberately imported from
Britain in the late 19th century. They were introduced independently in a number
of American cities in the years between 1850 and 1875 as a means of pest
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 remains wary.
The 14 to 16 centimetre
long House Sparrow is abundant but not universally common; in many hilly
districts it is scarce. In cities, towns and villages, even round isolated
farms, it can be the most abundant bird.
The male House Sparrow has a
grey crown, cheeks and underparts, black on the throat, upper breast and between
the bill and eyes. The bill in summer is blue-black, and the legs are brown. In
winter the plumage is dulled by pale edgings, and the bill is yellowish
has no black on head or throat, nor a grey crown; her upperparts are streaked
with brown. The juveniles are deeper brown, and the white is replaced by buff;
the beak is dull yellow.
So familiar a bird should need little
description, yet it is often confused with the smaller and slimmer Tree Sparrow, which, however,
has a chestnut and not grey crown, two distinct wing bars, and a black patch on
The House Sparrow is gregarious at all seasons in its nesting
colonies, when feeding and in communal roosts.
Although the Sparrows' young are fed on larvae of
insects, often destructive species, this species eats seeds, including grain
where it is available.
In spring, flowers, especially those with yellow
blossoms, are often attacked and torn to bits; crocuses, primroses and aconites
seem to attract the House Sparrow most. The bird will also hunt butterflies.
Call / Song:
The short and incessant
chirp needs no description, and its double call note phillip which
originated the now obsolete popular name of "Phillip Sparrow", is as
While the young are in their nests, the older birds utter a
long churr. At least three broods are reared in the season.
The nesting site
is varied; under eaves, in holes in 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 straw and rubbish, abundantly
filled with feathers. Large, well-constructed domed nests are often built when
the bird nests in trees or shrubs, especially rural areas.
Sparrow is 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, and Sand Martins are especially
susceptible to this behavior. 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 the USA.
Five to six eggs, profusely dusted, speckled or blotched with
black, brown or ash-grey on a blue-tinted or creamy white
ground, are usual types of the very variable eggs. They
are variable in size and shape as well as markings. Eggs are incubated by the
female. The House Sparrow has the shortest incubation period of all the birds:
10-12 days and a female can lay 25 eggs a summer in New England.
Sparrows in Europe
In large parts of Europe, populations of
House Sparrows are decreasing. In the Netherlands, the House Sparrow is even
considered an endangered species. It is however still the second most common
breeding bird in the Netherlands, after the Blackbird. The population of House Sparrows has
halved in the period around 1980 till now. Currently the number of breeding
pairs is estimated at half a million to one million. Similar precipitous drops
in population have also been recorded in the United Kingdom.
Various causes for its dramatic decrease in population have been
More and more houses were built without roof tiles, or
the construction of the roofs was so well done, that the sparrows did not have
space left for building their nests;
Decades ago, when the horse and
carriage were replaced by cars, less grain was spilt in the streets;
Agricultural changes: often other crops than corn and grain were cultivated,
and more insecticides were
used, which meant a decrease of the number of insects that can be eaten by
More efficient building in cities which resulted in less
rough areas within cities where the birds could find food;
less usual in households to shake the table cloths outside after the meals;
Changes in gardening fashions left fewer suitable nesting spots for
Sparrows in North America
While declining somewhat in their
adopted homeland, house sparrows are still possibly the most abundant bird in
the United States, with a population estimated as high as 400 million.
the United States, the House Sparrow is one of three birds not protected by law
(the others are the European Starling and Rock Pigeon, also introduced species). House
Sparrows sometimes kill adult Bluebirds and other native cavity nesters and their young
and smash their eggs. The House Sparrow is partially responsible for the near
extinction of Bluebirds in the United States.
House Sparrows often take
over unmonitored nest
boxes and Purple Martin houses in the United States. This invasion has led
many nestbox monitors in the United States to trap or shoot the adults and take
their eggs in order to allow native species to reproduce. European Starlings are aggressive enough to
take nests from House Sparrows in the United States if the entrance hole is big
enough for them to fit through.
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