Originating in Africa and Asia, House sparrows are probably the most widely distributed bird species in the world, with populations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. So, are House sparrows considered an invasive species?
House sparrows likely originated in Africa and the Mediterranean before spreading throughout Europe and Asia, which is considered their native range. Populations elsewhere, e.g., in the Americas, were introduced in the 19th century and are considered invasive.
House sparrows are incredibly adaptable, hence why they’re thriving on practically every continent where there are plenty of houses or buildings to reside in.
In fact, they’ve developed into one of the most numerous bird species in the US, despite only living there since around 1850!
There’s quite an interesting story behind why House sparrows came to be in the US - so read on to learn more!
In the Americas, House Sparrows are considered invasive
House Sparrows are classified as an invasive period, as they aren't a native species, and due to their aggressive nature during the breeding season, they can often drive native bird species out of their nests. Also, house sparrows have a tendency to nest in buildings, which can sometimes lead to damage.
House sparrows are an introduced species everywhere except Africa, Asia, and Europe, which is their native range. They were introduced to the US in 1852 by entrepreneur and amateur ornithologist Eugene Schieffelin.
Schieffelin was a proponent of so-called “acclimatization” and president of the American Acclimatization Society. Acclimatization involved importing animals, including birds, from overseas and observing how well they acclimatized to their new habitats. The American Acclimatization Society was responsible for importing House sparrows and European starlings.
House sparrows were initially released near Schieffelin’s Madison Square home with the intention to ‘preserve the trees.’ Instead, the sparrows multiplied rapidly, much to the delight of the American Acclimatization Society, which redoubled their efforts to establish this non-native bird.
By 1900, the House sparrow had spread to the Rocky Mountains, and other introductions in San Francisco and Salt Lake City increased the bird’s foothold in the West.
The rest - as they say - is history, as the House sparrow is common throughout North America, except for Alaska and northern Canada.
House Sparrows often build their nests in houses and buildings
In the USA, House sparrows are generally viewed as a pest. This is because they’re numerous and often build their nests in and around buildings, which can be considered annoying.
Also, House sparrows tend to be quite aggressive in the breeding season and seize nesting sites from native birds. Some even accuse House sparrows of killing the nestlings of other birds, though this is likely extremely rare.
The true ecological impact of House sparrows is debated, but one study by Cornell found that House sparrows account for 43% of all competitor species and rate a severe threat against native species like bluebirds.
By and large, House sparrows are considered a pest when they out-compete native birds for food and nesting sites or destroy crops. Though small in size and seemingly benign in behavior, House sparrows are persistent birds that vastly outnumber native species in some regions.
Female House Sparrow at a bird feeder
In the US and Canada, House sparrows are a threat to some native cavity-nesting birds. Specifically, they compete with Eastern bluebirds, Purple martins, and Tree swallows.
In some regions, House sparrows account for 43% of competitor species and hugely disrupt the breeding dynamics of native species.
House sparrows are avid feeders of seeds and grains, causing damage to crops and backyard gardens. They also nest in cavities and tend to compete with native cavity-nesters like Eastern Bluebirds, Purple Martins, and Tree Swallows.
With careful positioning, House sparrows can be away from nesting boxes, as they prefer nesting boxes close to buildings. Keep nesting boxes away from houses - particularly at the height of the roof or eaves.
House Sparrow nesting in roof space
House sparrows are industrious birds that are fun to watch, and you can’t doubt their ingenuity, as that’s how they became so common in the first place. For the most part, House sparrows are considered a pest.
However, some consider them good to have around for pest control, as they feed on aphids and other crop-damaging insects. It depends on the region and/or environment and the presence of other birds.
House sparrows can be deterred from eaves or rafters through the use of netting, which prevents them from building nests. You can also buy specialist repellants, such as gels.
Ultrasonic pest repellants can also deter House sparrows but will deter other birds too. In gardens, place birdboxes away from buildings and withhold food when House sparrows tend to feed.
House Sparrows perched on top of a bush
As one of a few non-native bird species in the US, House sparrows are not protected by Federal laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Therefore, it’s generally legal to dispatch them humanely using any means possible, including killings birds. But, does that mean you should? Absolutely not - it depends on the sparrows' impact on their local environment.
In the UK, House sparrows are a native species and remain protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, general licenses are often issued for controlling House sparrows when they become pests.
House sparrows were deliberately introduced to New York in 1851 by entrepreneur and amateur orthithoolgist Eugene Schieffelin. The introduction of non-native species was called “acclimatization” and was pretty common at the time. Unfortunately, most didn’t realize the consequences of introducing non-native species until years after.
Sparrows aren’t the only bird Schieffelin introduced. He also successfully introduced the European starling and attempted to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks, but he was not successful.
Three male House Sparrows at a coconut bird feeder
House sparrows are native to Europe, north Africa, and much of Asia. They’re extremely common in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand, where they’re considered non-native and/or invasive.
House sparrows are aggressive in the breeding season and will turf smaller birds and their eggs from nests. This isn’t an uncommon behavior, but nevertheless, it does place additional pressure on cavity nesters like Eastern bluebirds, Purple martins, and Tree swallows.
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