The friendly house sparrow has learned to take advantage of its human neighbours and can often be found hopping around outdoor restaurant tables.
The house sparrow tends to present a rather unkempt appearance, with its plumage worn bushy and loose. It has a large head and a stout, prominent bill, which is black during breeding season and grey at other times. On top of pink or brown legs, the house sparrow has a broad, stocky body that is brown on top with dark streaks, and greyish underparts. Females lack the black bib and grey cap characteristic of males, and are drabber in general. They also lack the strong plumage patterning of the male and from a distance appear dull brown above and off-white below. Juveniles are similar to the female.
Male left, female right
Calls include the familiar chattering “cheep” or “chirp.” The song is a succession of chirps.
Gary Elton, XC617108. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/617108.
The house sparrow will primarily feed on seeds, berries and small insects. It is also often found loitering around the tables of outdoor cafes looking for food scraps. The bill of the house sparrow is strong enough to crack open seed cases whilst still being delicate enough to catch insects.
The house sparrow hybridises with the Spanish sparrow around the Mediterranean, resulting in hybrid populations of ‘Italian sparrows’ in Italy.
House sparrows have lived alongside people for centuries and can be found close to human populations in both rural and urban settings. In late summer, the urbanites sometimes travel to the countryside to feed on the ripening grain fields.
In flight, the house sparrow is somewhat clumsy, with continuously whirring wingbeats and an up and down drilling flight pattern. It is distinguishable by a broad white wing bar.
House Sparrow flying
House sparrows are gregarious in nature and will form flocks for roosting, feeding and dust-bathing. This sociability also extends to the mating season, because although they generally pair for life, house sparrows are known to be rather promiscuous, with one DNA study finding that 15 percent of chicks were from a bird different to the parents. House sparrows take advantage of their urban environment and nests will be built under roof tiles, in air ducts, and various recesses. A good nest site will be used several years running. Females will lay 3-5 eggs and can raise up to 4 broods a year.
The average lifespan of a house sparrow is 3 years.
House sparrows are generally a sedentary resident. Juveniles rarely wander more than a few kilometres from where they were born. However, there have been a few cases of British-ringed birds being recovered in France.
Given that they are common around human settlements, it is easy to believe that house sparrows are one of the more numerous birds in Britain. However, their numbers have declined rapidly in recent years, in some areas by as much as 99%. The cause of this is currently unknown, but cats are certainly responsible for killing large numbers of juvenile house sparrows.
Known collective nouns for a group of House Sparrows are as follows:
General collective nouns for a group of Sparrows may also be used: