The Fascinating Habits of House Sparrows: Are They Bad?

Table of Contents

House Sparrows, some folks also call them Sparrow Bird or English Sparrows, may not be the most loved birds, but they 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 in the U.S.

According to the Cornell University All About Birds, the The first large introduction of these birds was in 1851 - 1852.

100 birds were brought to Brooklyn, NY, and successfully released. Additional releases in other areas of the country occurred from 1871 to 1874.

In less than 50 years, this small bird has a nesting and breeding 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 nesting birds have not evolved fast enough to compete with these highly competitive birds.

House Sparrow Call

Description What They Look Like

House Sparrows are 5 to 6 inches. The male has a distinctive appearance with a grayish-brown crown and nape, a black bib that extends down the chest, and a white cheek patch.

The back and wings are a mixture of shades of brown, black, and gray, and the underparts are a pale gray-brown.

Male House Sparrow at Bird Feeder

Male House Sparrow at Feeder

The bill is thick and conical, and the eyes are dark brown. During the breeding season, the male's bill turns a bright yellow color, and the black bib becomes more prominent.

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, or Common 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 a member of the Weaver Finch family.

Mating Habits

Their nesting, feeding, and mating habits can be observed easily due to their long multiple breeding seasons.

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 the immediate territory around the nest. There is no defined area outside the House Sparrow nest that the bird defends.

The male chirps by the sparrow 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, which is from March through early August.

Copulation takes place near the nest site and may occur several times during the day. Once the birds pair, nesting begins.

female house sparrow at feeder

Female House Sparrow

Do House Sparrows Mate for Life?

House Sparrows will mate for life. However, they are not always monogamous. Up to 20 percent of the eggs or young can be from a male that is not her partner.

If one of the pair dies, the surviving bird will quickly pair with another.

So specifically, how do sparrows mate? What's the physical process. Like most birds, sparrows reproduce through sexual reproduction.

The male mounts the female to transfer sperm, which fertilizes the eggs inside the female.

The female then lays the fertilized eggs, which develop and hatch into chicks.

Dust Baths and Sunning Behavior

It's very common to see these birds dust bathing. To dust bathe, the House Sparrow hollows out a small divot in the dirt, lays down with open wings, and wiggles around in the dirt.

This behavior may be an effort to help remove parasites. Sunning looks the same as the bird is on the ground with wings spread out.

Nesting Habits

The nesting habits of House Sparrows play a significant role in the bird's life and activities. Since these birds use the nest nearly year around.

In spring and summer, the sparrow nest is used for raising young, if successful, up to four broods a season will be raised.

In fall and winter, it may be used for resting during the day and roosting at night.

Male Chirping by Nest Site

The sparrow nest can be located in any available place in buildings, trees, and House Sparrow houses near human habitation.

The adaptability and the number of broods raised are what enable this bird's 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 but no egg laying is done.

Like most birds, the bulk of nest building is in spring just before breeding. Both the male and female build the nest.

What Does The Nest Look Like

The sparrow's nest is spherical, 8 to 10 inches in outside diameter, and is made of coarse material on the outside, such as straw, twigs, paper, leaves, grasses, and other like materials.

House Sparrow Nest with Eggs

House Sparrow Nest with 3 Sparrow Eggs

The inside is lined with feathers or fine grasses. The image of the House Sparrow nest shows twine and feathers, also added to the nest.

The female begins laying eggs about a week after nest building begins. Typically, 5 eggs are laid but some nests can have up to 7 eggs.

Eggs and Incubation

The Sparrow's eggs are white to dull brown and speckled with brown. (See Photo Above)

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.

Toward 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) lasts for about 12 days and the young will leave the nest 15 to 17 days after hatching.

House Sparrow Nesting Stats
House Sparrow Nesting Stats
Eggs 1 - 7
Incubation 12 days
Nestling Phase 15- 17 days
Broods 1 - 4

Both the male and female feed the young. After the young birds have fledged, the male continues feeding the fledglings while the female begins laying eggs for another brood.

Where Do House Sparrows Build Their Nest?

Some people would ask, "where do House Sparrows not build their nests?" Any cavity above 5 feet, sometimes even closer to the ground, is suitable for nests.

They'll use any birdhouse they can get into and sometimes evict other bird species to take over a cavity.

They prefer old woodpecker holes, nooks, and openings of buildings close to humans. It's common to find their nest in the garden centers of big box stores.

House Sparrows are one of the most adaptable birds when it comes to selecting a nest site.

What do House Sparrows Eat?

The House Sparrows diet consists mainly of small seeds. They will eat corn, oats, wheat, and other types of grain or weed seeds.

These birds primarily forage on the ground but will come to feeders for White Millet a favorite seed.

During spring and summer when feeding nestlings, the birds will switch their feeding habits and give their young insects and spiders to eat for protein and moisture.

They readily eat scraps of food and birdseed provided by humans. These birds can be very aggressive at bird feeders and will keep other birds away while feeding.

House Sparrows and Native Birds

House Sparrows compete with many of our native bird species for nesting sites.

Among the native species it competes with are Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Purple Martins.

If you want native species such as Wrens, Chickadees, and others to nest in your birdhouses, you'll have to control the House Sparrows. Do this by removing nesting material quickly and often.

This can be a daunting task, as these birds are continually building nests.

Once a pair has built a nest, they will defend their nesting territory fiercely against the less aggressive species.

Why Are House Sparrows a Bad Bird?

House Sparrows get a bad rap for the fact they are not native to the U.S. and will harm other native species and eggs during nesting season.

However, there are other native species that also destroy nest sites and prey on birds.

The common House Wren, for instance, is known to pierce the eggs of cavity-nesting birds. I've lost many Purple Martin and Bluebird eggs due to the Wrens.

The rise in numbers of Accipiter Hawks such as the Cooper's and Sharp-shinned in towns and cities will affect some species, especially at feeders.

But the truth is, House Sparrow numbers have declined both in their native country and in the United States.

In the birding world, they are not considered to be causing population declines in our native species.

While House Sparrows are non-natives and cause a small imbalance in nature, they won't cause the planet to spin out of control.

My thoughts, 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.

Natural Predators

Natural predators of House Sparrow birds include hawks such as Coopers, Sharp-shinned, and Kestrels. Other birds that eat House Sparrows include Owls and Shrikes.

In the nest, cats, dogs, raccoons, and black snakes will eat adults, young, and eggs.

How Long Do House Sparrows Live?

The typical lifespan of the House Sparrow is 3 - 5 years in the wild with the current record of just over 13 years.

Only about 20 percent of young live past their first year.

Just under 60 percent of adult House Sparrows survive annually. Cold weather and food availability are factors in how long House Sparrows live.

More About Sparrow Birds

How to Keep House Sparrows Out of Your Birdhouses

Common Types of Native Sparrows

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