Adaptable and competitive, the House Sparrow is ubiquitous wherever we live and one of the few bird species that truly thrives in urban environments.
House Sparrows are small birds, frequently seen in pairs around farmland, towns, and cities. In the United Kindom and Old World, they are most easily confused with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (P. montanus). That species also has a limited distribution in the Midwest of the United States.
Male and female House Sparrows have very different colors and markings, which makes identifying them easy to distinguish. Adult males have a black mask, throat, and bib, and whitish cheeks. The crown of the head is gray, and the back of the head is rufous brown. Their underparts are grayish, and their wings and backs have rich, warm brown and black markings.
Female House Sparrows are relatively drab little birds with few distinguishing features. They are grayish below and tan above, with a pale brown bill and pinkish legs. Their most prominent markings are a small pale wing bar and a pale stripe from the eye to the nape.
Juveniles look very similar to adult females and are difficult to sex until young males develop their dark bib and chestnut wing feathers. The throat is also grayish in juvenile females and whitish in males.
Male (left) and female (right) House Sparrows
House Sparrows are small, chunky birds with large heads, short, thick bills, and medium-length tails.
Most adults measure about six inches (14 - 17cm) from tail to bill. Male and female House Sparrows are very similar in size.
House Sparrows are stocky birds with an average weight of approximately one ounce. Adults weigh between 24 and 38 grams.
Adult House Sparrows have a wingspan of seven and a half to ten inches (19 - 25cm). Males have slightly longer wings than females.
House Sparrow perching on a thorny branch
House Sparrows are highly vocal little birds with a simple but familiar song.
Many people are familiar with the ‘chirrup’ song of the House Sparrow. These birds are most vocal in the mid-afternoon, although you might hear them at any time of day.
They use variations of their simple chirping call in various contexts and produce other simple call notes during aggressive encounters, when alarmed, and when interacting with their partner.
House Sparrow in song
Associating with humans allows House Sparrows to capitalize on our food scraps and compete with livestock for feed. Continue reading to learn more about the House Sparrow diet.
House Sparrows have a varied diet, consisting primarily of grains and seeds but including invertebrates and occasionally buds and fruits. Food scraps and animal feeds are very important in urban, suburban, and farming areas.
House Sparrows can be a pest in farming areas due to their habit of eating grain crops and stored grains and animal feeds. They frequently visit bird feeders to feast on sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and many other birdseed varieties.
House Sparrow chicks eat regurgitated insects and plant-based foods like grain and animal feed provided by both parents.
Hatchlings are fed almost exclusively with insects for their first few days but receive increasing amounts of vegetable matter as they mature. The young birds fledge the nest after about two weeks but rely on their parents for a further week or so.
Female House Sparrow feeding her young
House Sparrows occur virtually everywhere people live, particularly near farming, suburban, and urban centers. They are associated with humans in most terrestrial habitats except deserts, dense forests, and high alpine areas.
The House Sparrow has an extensive distribution on every continent except Antarctica. Their native range includes most of Europe and much of Asia and North Africa, and they were successfully introduced to North and South America, Australia, and Southern and Eastern Africa.
House Sparrows live in gardens, parking lots, streets, around restaurants, farms, and pretty much anywhere they can find grain and food scraps. They often enter buildings like barns and even supermarkets to search for food and nesting opportunities.
House Sparrows are very common in towns, cities, villages, and farming communities. They are generally rare in undisturbed and uninhabited environments.
House Sparrow perching on a branch
House Sparrows occur everywhere in North America except Alaska and Northern Canada. They are also common in Hawaii. Look out for these birds in cities, towns, parks, and farming areas in every state.
House Sparrows are found virtually throughout the United Kingdom, except for high-lying areas in Scotland and Northern England. These familiar birds are most common in towns, villages, and farmlands and frequently visit garden bird tables.
Female House Sparrow drinking from a watering hole
House Sparrows that survive to adulthood have a typical lifespan of about three years. Wild birds can live for over 13 years, and one captive specimen reportedly survived 23 years.
House Sparrows are vulnerable to a wide variety of small carnivores. Hawks from the Accipiter family, such as the Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Sparrowhawk, are important predators, but others like owls, hawks, harriers, and falcons also hunt them opportunistically. Mammals like domestic cats, dogs, raccoons, foxes, and many more will hunt them too.
House Sparrows are not protected in the United States. However, they are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom, where they are a native species.
House Sparrows are not endangered, and their species is listed as ‘Least Concern’ at a global level. However, these birds have a red conservation status in the United Kingdom, where their population declined significantly towards the end of the 20th century.
House Sparrow collecting nesting materials
House Sparrows are cavity nesters. They have found human buildings and dwellings provide excellent nesting opportunities, which often puts them in conflict with us.
Apart from eaves, roof vents, and other suitable cavities, they will also use nest boxes and natural holes in trees and rocky areas. They may build nests in vines and dense tree foliage where suitable cavities are unavailable.
House Sparrows begin nesting in February and March, and their breeding season runs through August. Their success in colonizing North America is due, in part, to their prolific breeding abilities, sometimes producing four broods in a single year.
House Sparrow eggs are whitish and heavily streaked and speckled in gray/brown. Each egg measures approximately ⅘ inch long and ⅗ inch across (21mm x 15mm), and clutches consist of one to eight eggs.
House Sparrows are socially monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds. However, they will find a new mate if their partner dies.
Would you like to learn more about the nesting habits of House Sparrows? Explore this in-depth guide for more information.
Young House Sparrow peeping out from its nest
House Sparrows have fascinating behaviors, although their competitive nature has brought them into conflict with other bird species in the United States. Continue reading to learn more about House Sparrow behavior.
House Sparrows remain wary around humans and quickly flee at the slightest hint of danger. However, they can be very aggressive towards native birds in North America, particularly when it comes to nesting. House Sparrows outcompete native North American birds like Martins and Bluebirds by occupying suitable nest cavities and even killing chicks and adult birds on nests.
They are social birds, which often involves dominance struggles at food sources. They may engage in severe and even fatal conflicts with one another. Unfortunately, they can also outcompete and crowd out other bird species at bird feeders.
House Sparrows roost communally in trees and shrubs outside of the breeding season. They will sleep on the eggs when nesting, and females spend the night brooding the chicks.
Two House Sparrows in a slight conflict
House Sparrows are generally non-migratory. Populations from their northern limits in Canada may retreat south for the winter, but these birds are seen all year round in North America and the United Kingdom. There are some migratory populations in Central Asia, however.
House Sparrows are an introduced, non-native species in North America. They were first brought over from Europe in 1851 and spread rapidly south and east. Supplemented with introductions in California and Utah, the species has now colonized most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
House Sparrows are a native species in the United Kingdom, where they are still widespread and common despite significant population declines in recent history.
Family:Old World sparrows
14cm to 17cm
19cm to 25cm
24g to 38g
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