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House Sparrow, English Sparrows

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Passeridae
Genus: Passer
Species: P. domesticus

General Sparrow Information    House Sparrow Description    Breeding and Nesting Habits    
Sparrows as Pests
    Interesting Sparrow Facts    House Sparrow Pictures  

The House Sparrow, also known as the English sparrow, is recognized as part of the old world, or ‘true sparrow’ family because they originated in Europe, Asia and Africa before being introduced into the United States.
They are also members of the weaverbird family.  Weaverbirds closely resemble finches because of their complex woven, untidy domed nests with many side entrances.

The House or English Sparrow is a small seed eating bird.  House sparrows are often confused with the tree sparrow which has a chestnut crown and a black patch on each cheek.
The adult male house sparrow has a thick black bill in summer and a yellowing bill in winter.  He has pink legs, a gray crown, black throat and upper breast and a small black area over his face that looks like a mask.  The male sparrow also has grayish sides on its neck and under parts, black streaks on its back, a white patch in its wing and a gray rump.  Picture of adult male House Sparrow.
The female house sparrow has a grayish-brown crown and a buffed colored stripe that extends backwards from her eye.  She has grayish-white under parts, black and tawny streaks on her back, black wing feathers, a white patch on her wing and a yellow bill.  Female House Sparrow picture.  The juvenile or young house sparrow resembles the female of the species in body shape.  While the male sparrow has a more rounded body shape, the female has a more narrow outline.  Young sparrows have slightly different color patterns, as can be seen in the young sparrow picture.

House sparrows are noisy birds that roost in flocks on branches of city trees, ivy covered walls and under the eaves of houses.  After arriving at a roost area, the birds will engage in a communal singing that can last up to an hour.  They have spread quickly over the United States due to the lack of natural enemies and their ability to adapt.  Sparrows have adapted to nest in urban structures and eat human scraps.  The messy or untidy nests as well as the preferred, urban structures chosen as nesting sites are one of the reasons why the English Sparrow (or House Sparrow) is considered a pest in many parts of the United States.

The adult female house sparrow can lay up to 25 eggs in one season. Each egg is speckled with black, brown and ash colors and is incubated by the female for up to twelve days.  Both the male and female house sparrow feed their young through regurgitation.  During the spring, the house sparrow eats yellow flowers, particularly yellow primroses and crocuses and has been known to hunt butterflies.

Another Creature Used for Natural Pest Control Becomes a Pest

The house sparrow was introduced into North America in 1851 (in Brooklyn, NY area) to help maintain and control agricultural pests, but the project was unsuccessful.  Instead, sparrows became a pest themselves.  News of the birds feeding on and reducing insect pests spread to other areas of the United States.  Sadly, the news of the beneficial sparrows becoming pests did not spread as quickly.  House Sparrows were also imported to California and Utah as beneficial birds (to help control insect populations which were destroying food crops) before the realization of them becoming pests was apparent.
By 1900 sparrows were considered the most plentiful of wild birds on the continent, overcrowding native nesters like bluebirds.  The number of sparrows was initially reduced with the elimination of the horse drawn buggy.  Being opportunistic feeders, the sparrows also fed on flies which bred in and fed on horse manure.  But their opportunistic feeding behavior enabled the small bird to find many other food sources in urban America.  House Sparrow populations may have slightly declined with the advanced numbers of automobiles (fewer horses, less horse manure and flies associated with manure) but their numbers quickly rebounded as they adapted to other foods and nesting areas.
Over the years sparrows have become aggressive in rural areas, often attacking and evicting bluebirds, woodpeckers and martins from their nests.  Today they are considered to be agricultural pests because they attack farms, eating the wheat, oats, corn, barley, peas, turnips, cabbage and all young vegetables.  They also eat apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, plums, strawberries, raspberries and even the chicken feed. 
The house sparrow also causes damage to manufacturing and food processing plants by clogging gutters and drainage pipes with their nests causing water damage and electrical shorts and fires in machinery.  The feces of the sparrow, if built up, can lead to structural damage and health risks.  Nests of the house sparrow are found in house shutters, drainage piping, building rafters and metal siding.  They are made of sticks lined with grass, string fabrics or straw and will hold several families. When defending the nest site, males will fight with males and females will fight with females.

The house sparrow is one of three birds not protected by law, along with the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon. They are attacked by hawks and owls as adults and by cats, dogs, raccoons and snakes when young.

Interesting Facts:
• Sparrows are being bred in south Yorkshire England and fed by miners 700 feet below ground level.

• From 1958 to 1962, China implemented “the great leap forward” project to eliminate pests including rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Sparrows were on the list because their grain eating habits that caused disruption to China’s agriculture. During the project, peasants were to run around in circles banging pots and yelling. This scared the sparrows, who having nowhere to land died from exhaustion. The elimination of the sparrows helped the harvest in China the following year, but they had overlooked that sparrows eat locust. So locusts swarmed China the following year causing a famine and an estimated thirty million people died from starvation.

• When the West Nile Virus was in the US four year ago, scientists analyzed blood from sparrows, pigeons and starlings. Of the three, the house sparrow developed the highest level of the virus in the blood. They also were able to carry the virus longer than any other species. They survived the virus because they came from Europe and have developed immunity to the virus. House sparrows were considered one of the birds that transferred the virus more because they were abundant all over the country and move around a lot. Over the past four years, the West Nile Virus has spread to forty six states, six Mexican states and seven Canadian provinces. 226 native birds have died from it.

Credits:  Our thanks to Lani Powell for her researching and writing this House Sparrow Information page!

Pest Control     Bird Control