British Garden Birds Site Map Album Info Quiz Shop Links About Visit us on facebook

House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow
Male: Chestnut streaky back, grey crown, and grey underparts with black bib.
Female House Sparrow
Female: Drab grey-brown with darker streaks.

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.

Being Fed
Being Fed

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.

Scientific Name Passer domesticus
Length 14-15 cm  (6")
Wing Span 21-25 cm  (8-10")
Weight 24-32 g  (¾-1 oz)
Breeding Pairs 3600000
Present All Year
Status Red

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


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


© Jean Roché,


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.


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 Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
May 3 3-5 11-14 11-16


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.


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:

  • methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in unleaded petrol is affecting abundance of insect for feeding young.
  • autumn sown cereal crops leaves little stubble for them to forage in or spilt grain to glean.
  • predation by the increasing number of cats.
  • modern buildings have fewer holes and crevices where the birds can nest.
  • Collared Doves compete for a greater share of the same food types as the sparrows.

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.