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House Sparrow

House Sparrow Male House Sparrow Male
Chestnut streaky back, grey crown, and grey underparts with black bib.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Passer domesticus
Length: 14-15 cm  (6")
Wing Span: 21-25 cm  (8-10")
Weight: 24-32 g  (¾-1 oz) Female House Sparrow Female
Drab grey-brown with darker streaks.
Breeding Pairs: 3 600 000
Present: All Year
Status: Red
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
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Description

The House Sparrow is a familiar bird that has declined sharply and even disappeared from some parts of Britain.

The male House Sparrow has a chestnut brown back with black streaks, while the underparts, rump and crown are grey.  The nape is chestnut brown, the cheeks are dull white, and they have a black eye stripe and bib. They also have a light wing bar. The beak is a yellow-brown in winter, but black in the summer, and the legs are pale brown.

The female is paler and lacks the grey crown, white cheeks, black bib and eye stripe and chestnut brown nape, but has a straw coloured stripe behind the eye.

Juveniles are like the adult female.

The size of the bib indicates the dominance of the male bird within its community; the bigger the bib, the more dominant the bird.

The male House Sparrow is sometimes confused for a Tree Sparrow.

Voice

Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song
  Quicktime mp3

The song is simply an incessant collection of their calls, which comprise various cheeps and chirps.

Feeding

The House Sparrow's diet is diverse: seeds, nuts, berries, buds, insects and scraps, etc.

The House Sparrow will eat just about anything: sunflower hearts, high energy seed, peanuts, suet, kitchen scraps, etc. In fact, as reported in the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Handbook, research in the 1940 found 838 different types of food in the dissected stomachs of house sparrows.

During the spring, House Sparrows often damage plants with yellow flowers, such as crocus, for reasons that are not yet known.

Nesting

House Sparrows live in colonies around people and so nest in holes or crevices in buildings, or among creepers growing on buildings. The nest is an untidy domed or cup-shaped structure of rubbish: paper, straw, string. They will readily use nest boxes and occasionally oust tits that are already nesting.

The eggs are white with grey or blackish speckles, smooth and glossy. They are about 23 mm by 16 mm, and weigh about 3 grams (or one tenth of an ounce).

The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, but the female does most of the incubating. Both adults feed the young.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
May 3 3-5 11-14 11-16

Movements

House Sparrows are among the most sedentary British birds with even juveniles nesting not too far from their parents.

In late summer, after the breeding season, House Sparrows often disappear from their colonies for a few weeks to feed on grain and weed seeds in nearby farmland or grassland.

Conservation

The House Sparrow is a Red List species owing to a serious decline (over 60%) in its population over the last 20 to 30 years. The reason for the decline is not known, though several theories have been suggested:

Recent research (2003) has revealed that 2nd and 3rd broods in suburbia are twice as likely to fail as in rural areas, possibly because insects are less abundant in towns later in the breeding season.

While the decline in numbers is worrying, a more worrying prospect is if the House Sparrow population falls below a certain critical size then the reproduction and survival rates decrease and the species "loses the will to breed" - this is called the Allee Effect.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

During the winter, they form large social groups and, it appears, that sometimes scout birds leave the group looking for food, and when they find it, the group soon follows. For quite some time we included ourselves among the fortunate as, contrary to the nationwide survey results, we had a regular 30 to 40 house sparrows bathing, feeding and socialising daily in our suburban garden. Occasionally, they numbered about 60 when the different gangs meet. Sadly, the decline in the House Sparrow seems to be with us now.

The chart shows that the number of House Sparrows increases during the winter.


Last revision: 01 Jul 2010
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
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