While House Sparrows may or may not be the most loved birds, they certainly are a part of our backyard bird watching experience.
Initially, some of these birds were imported from England hoping to control certain caterpillars that harm shade trees.
The first large introduction was in 1851 - 1852, 100 birds brought to Brooklyn NY and successfully released.
Additional releases in other areas of the country occured from 1871 - 1874.
In less than 50 years, this small bird has a range that includes the entire U.S. and well into Canada.
Unfortunately, they didn't go after the caterpillars hoped for. While intentions were good, the outcome has been less than stellar.
Our native cavity nesters have not evolved fast enough to compete with these highly competitive birds.
House Sparrows are 5 to 6 inches in length. The male has a gray crown, whitish check, and black throat.
The bill and breast are black in summer and in winter the bill is yellow and the breast is gray.
The female has a brown crown and a plain breast with a broad buff line over the eye.
Be careful when identifying female House Sparrows because they may look similar to female House Finches.
The female House Finch will have a stripped breast.
Although misnamed English Sparrow, and commonly known as the House Sparrow, it is not particularly a native of England and is not a sparrow.
It's thought to have its origin in the Mediterranean and is actually a member of the Weaver Finch family.
Their nesting, feeding, and mating habits can be observed easily due to their long multiple breeding season.
The mating habits or courtship behavior of the House Sparrow can begin as early as January and continue through July.
The males claim their nest sites and defend its immediate territory. There is no defined area outside the nest that the bird defends.
The male chirps by the nest site trying to attract a female. When a female comes by, the male chirps louder and more quickly.
Sometimes the male will follow the female a short distance and hop or wing quiver around her if she passes by him.
Other males may join in trying to attract the same female.
Mating occurs throughout the breeding cycle, (March through early August) near the nest site, and may occur several times during the day. Once the birds pair, nesting begins.
House Sparrows are monogamous, usually mating for life. Although lost mates are quickly replaced during the breeding season.
It's very common to see these birds dust bathing. To dust bathe, the House Sparrow hollows out a small divet, lays down with open wings and wiggles around in the dirt.
This behavior may be an effort to help remove parasites.
The nesting habits of House Sparrows plays a significate role in the birds life and activities. Since these birds use the nest nearly year around.
In spring and summer the birds use the nest for raising young, if successful, up to four broods a season will be raised.
In fall and winter it may be used for resting in the day and roosting at night.
The nest can be located in any available place in buildings, trees, and birdhouses near human habitation.
The adaptability and the number of broods raised is what enables this birds numbers to multiply.
The nest building is done almost year around. You are likely to notice most nest building activity in spring from February - May.
Some refurbishing may be done during the fall.
Like most birds, the bulk of nest building is in spring just before breeding. Both the male and female build the nest.
The nest is spherical in shape, 8 to 10 inches in outside diameter and is made of coarse material on the outside such as, straw, twigs, paper, leaves, grasses, and any other available material.
The inside is lined with feathers or fine grasses.
The female begins laying eggs about a week after nest building begins. Typically 5 eggs are laid but some nest can have up to 7 eggs.
The eggs are white to dull brown and speckled with brown. For the most part, incubation of the eggs is done by the female with the male sitting on the eggs about 20 percent of the time.
Towards the end of incubation the male may increase his egg sitting close to 50 percent of the time.
House Sparrow incubation, (gestation period isn't the term for birds) last for about 12 days and the young leave the nest in 15 to 17 days after hatching.
Both the male and female feed the young. After the young birds have fledged, the male continues feeding the fledglings while the female begins the next brood.
Their diet consist mainly of small seeds. They can be attracted to corn, oats, wheat, and other types of grain or weed seeds.
During spring and summer when feeding nestlings, the birds will switch their feeding habits to insects and spiders.
They readily eat scraps of food and bird seed provided by humans. These birds can be very aggresive at bird feeders and will keep other birds away while feeding.
This can be a daunting task as these birds are continually building nest.
Once a pair has built a nest, they will defend their nesting territory fiercly against the less aggresive species.
House Sparrows get a bad rap for the fact they harm other native species and eggs during nesting season.
But the truth is, their numbers have declined both in their native country and in the United States. In the birding world they are not considered to be causing populations declines in our native species.
There are other native species that also destroy nest sites and prey on birds.
The common House Wren for instance, is known to pierce eggs of cavity nesting birds. I've lost many Martin eggs due to the Wrens along with Bluebird eggs.
The rise in numbers of Accipiter Hawks such as the Cooper's and Sharp-shinned in towns and cities will have an effect on some species, especially at feeders.
Yes, House Sparrows are non-natives and cause a small imbalance in nature. But they won't cause the planet to spin out of control.
My personal conclusion, if you're hosting Bluebirds or Purple Martins do what you can to protect them from House Sparrows.
If you like having them around, enjoy. They're not bad, they're just birds.
Preadators of House Sparrows birds include hawks such as Coopers, Sharp-shinned, and Kestrels. Other birds are Owls and Shrikes.
On the nest cats, dogs, and black snakes will eat adults, young, and eggs.
Typical lifespan of the House Sparrow is 3 - 5 years in the wild with the current record just over 13 years. Only about 20 percent of young survive their first year.
Just under 60 percent of adult House Sparrows survive annually. Cold weather and food availabilty are factors in how long House Sparrows live.