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House Sparrow Information

House Sparrow Information


The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is one of the most common bird species in North America, although it is a non-native species. These sociable and tame birds can be spotted in backyards hopping along the ground pecking at seed as well as on city streets feeding on crumbs. This species has a long running relationship with humans and has come to rely heavily on human populations for survival. House Sparrows have healthy and stable populations across a wide geographic range and are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
House Sparrows are generally tame and sociable birds, within their flocks and with people, especially during the winter. Because these birds live in social communities, methods of communication have been developed to relay dominance, submissiveness, nervousness, courting and aggression. They often feed together to minimize predation and their flocks have social structures that are similar to that of chickens. Male House Sparrows with larger black throat  House Sparrow can most often be seen hopping on the ground rather than walking.patches tend to be dominant over males with smaller bibs. During the courting and breeding season females tend to be more assertive, but males are the dominant sex in the flock throughout the rest of the year. Nervousness is indicated by a flick of the tail. Aggression is communicated by a crouched posture with thrust-forward head, spread wings, erect tails and ruffled feathers (in extreme situations.) In a courting display, a male will puff up his chest and open his wings and tail, hopping stiffly and bowing up and down in front of the female4. In addition to social dominance and behavioral communication, House Sparrows are a noisy species that uses a number of simple vocalizations to verbalize warnings, threats and defense, or to attract a mate. The most common sounds include a chatter (often used by females toward her mate or to chase away competing females,) a cheep (used in a series to attract mates and in a flock to communicate submissiveness,) wheezy calls, and chirps.

House Sparrows tend to have more direct and higher flight than native species of sparrows. Their flight is continuous and lacks periods of gliding5. Because of their stature and short legs, House Sparrows can most often be seen hopping on the ground rather than walking.
House Sparrows tend to have life spans of just a few years. However, there are recorded instances of wild individuals living as long as 13 to 15 years.



House Sparrows are unrelated to other species of sparrows that are native to North America, such as the white-crowned sparrow, and therefore, differ in appearance. They may be identified by their shorter, stockier appearances, accentuated by full chests, shorter tails and legs, large round heads and shorter, thicker beaks. House Sparrows reach a mature size of 5.9” to 6.7” in length and 27g to 29g in weight. Their wingspan, when full grown, is 7.5” to 9.8”1. Geographic variations exist due to the House Sparrows immense range. Colder climates tend to produce larger birds with shorter wings and legs, whereas populations with darker plumage tend to be found in humid climates2.

Coloration may differ between sexes and during different seasons. Both sexes generally have buff, brown and black stripes on their backs, although males tend to be more brightly colored, with gray heads, black patches or “bibs” on their necks and white cheeks. Females are generally dull tan-gray, with gray undersides, buff eye-stripes, and a bill that is more yellow than males. During the summer, breeding males will display a black bill, mask, throat and chest, a gray cap, and a white stripe on their shoulders. Their main coloring is a reddish-brown with black streaks. Non-breeding males lack the vibrant reddish-brown coloration because those feathers become obscured by gray feather tips. Non-breeding males also have less black on their throats and chests, and yellow at the base of their bills3. This seasonal variation is due to an annual molt. Juveniles are plain in color, in appearance to females.


House Sparrows tend to be found in areas inhabited or affected by humans, including cities, towns, suburbs, farms, and parks. Because of their dependency on humans, House Sparrows are unable to survive in areas such as uninhabited woodlands, alpine forests, grasslands, or deserts. In extreme climates House Sparrows must maintain a close proximity to human populations for survival.

In their habitats House Sparrows (and their eggs and young) are vulnerable to a number of predators, such as hawks, owls, cats, dogs, raccoons and snakes. Their tendency to forage in flocks increases their awareness and survival rates.


They are year round residents of their native environments of Eurasia and North Africa. Introduced, invasive populations are also non-migratory and thrive in South Africa, South America, New Zealand, Australia, and North America. Their lack of migration increases survival rates because of a diminished demand for energy and exposure to predators.
The House Sparrow was introduced to Brooklyn, New York in 1851, when 100 birds from England were released. This may have been done to control certain insect populations or to make the area more familiar to European immigrants. By the turn of the century, their populations had spread to the Rocky Mountains. Additional populations were released in San Francisco and Salt Lake City in the 1870’s, expanding this species range across North America (excluding Alaska and northern parts of Canada6.)


The house sparrow is an omnivorous ground forager that spends much of its time hopping along the ground pecking at food. They have also been known to steal food from larger species of birds and drink nectar from flowers. Their diets consist mainly of grain and seed (corn, oats, sorghum, wheat,) crumbs and food waste, ragweed, grasses, buckwheat, commercial birdseed, and insects.


House Sparrows are monogamous and form breeding pairs each season, with nesting beginning in late winter and courtship occurring in early spring. Nesting may begin only a few days before the first egg is laid. They prefer to build their nests in man made structures such as the walls of buildings, on streetlights, in nest boxes or in the eaves of houses. They have been known to evict other birds from their nests, destroying existing eggs and physically attacking the opposing birds. House Sparrows tend to reuse their nests. And have been known to aggressively defend their nesting areas.

Both males and females construct the nests by stuffing their nesting cavities with dry vegetation until the hole is nearly full and then lining the interior with softer materials such as string, paper, and feathers. House Sparrows often nest in close proximity to each other, the nests sometimes sharing a common wall.

A House Sparrow may lay up to 4 broods in a year, each containing between 1 and 8 white/light-green/blue-white eggs, speckled with gray or brown and approximately 7/8” in length. Parents alternate incubating the eggs for a period of 10 to 14 days. Young chicks are born naked and uncoordinated, with closed eyes. During the nestling period of 10 to 14 days both parents feed the chicks through regurgitation. House Sparrows reach sexual maturity by around 9 months of age.

Notes of Interest:

House Sparrows enjoy dust baths and can often be spotted coating their bodies with dust and dirt. They also take baths in puddles or shallow water, using a similar flicking motion to coat their feathers.

Because the house sparrow is so numerous and tame, they are often the subject of avian biological studies and have been the subject of nearly 5,000 scientific papers7.

Although House Sparrows are common and numbers are stable, some populations have experienced a sharp decline, possibly due to farming practices, and changes in land-use. Despite this, they are not considered threatened and are not protected under any laws or regulations.


1. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
2. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/house-sparrow/
3. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
4. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
5. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Passer_domesticus/
6. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id
7. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/house_sparrow/id


White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrow

General: I set a feeder up in front of a window in a garden close to the house and was surprised to see a White-crowned Sparrow scurrying through the brush borders. After research I found that their presence would be short lived since they were migrating north into Canada. After doing research I found this is a flocking bird and seeing a flock is common.(2) This is a stunning bird with really distinct markings.

The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrowWhite-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave. (1)

The White-Crowned Sparrow migrates across northern Canada and the western United States where it breeds. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Females build nests out of twigs, coarse grasses, pine needles, moss, bark, and dead leaves. The female lays 3–7 pale green eggs spotted with brown. Incubation is 10 – 14 days. The chicks are born with sparse down feathers with closed eyes. They fledge in 8 – 10 days.

Identification: The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrow with a small bill and a long tail. White-Crowned Sparrows are approximately 5.9”–6.3” long and have a wingspan of about 8”-9.5”. They weigh between .8 – 1 oz. The head can look distinctly peaked or smooth and flat, depending on the bird’s attitude. The White-Crowned Sparrow has a black-and-white head, pale beak (pink or yellow), and crisp gray breast. The wings are brown with bars and the under-parts are grey. They are similar in appearance to the White-throated Sparrow but do not have the white throat markings or yellow marking on head.

Habitat: Look for White-crowned Sparrows in places where safe tangles of brush mix with open or grassy ground for foraging. For much of the United States, White-crowned Sparrows are most likely in winter (although two races live year round in the West, along the coast and in the mountains). (1)

Territory: Depending on time of year (see migration below) they are residents or transients in much of the US and Canada.

Migration: White-Crowned Sparrows migrate north to Alaska and northern Canada – from Manitoba to Newfoundland and into the western US mountain Areas (Washington and Oregon) in the spring. Their southern migration in the fall is to Southern US from Gulf States through to California north to New Jersey. They are year round residents in New Mexico and Arizona.

Food: The majority of foods White-crowned Sparrows eat are seeds, grains, fruit and insects such as caterpillars, beetles and other insects. (2)


(1)    Cornell University

Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds

Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerina

General: The Chipping Sparrow used to use hair in its nest, accordingly, it was given a nickname of “hairbird”. They are frequent visitors to birdfeeders. They are a timid bird that makes way when other birds are present.

Chipping Sparrows typically build their nests low in a shrub or tree. The female lays 2–7 Pale blue to white eggs lightly streaked or spotted with black or brown. Incubation is about 10 – 15 days. When the chicks hatch they are naked, helpless with their eyes closed. They fledge in 9 – 12 days.

Identification: The Chipping Sparrow has a dark, conical bill. The crown of the head is a rusty color. There is a black stripe that runs through the eye. It has a gray face and under-parts (these two features help identify the Chipping Sparrow). Its back is tan with dark streaks the wings are brown with brown bars. Chipping Sparrows are between 4 ½” – 6” long with a wingspan of approximately 8 ½”. They weigh roughly ½ oz.

Chipping SparrowJuvenile Chipping Sparrows are prominently streaked below. Like non-breeding adults, they show a dark eye-line, extending both in front of and behind the eye. The brownish cap and dusky eyebrow are variable but generally obscure in juveniles.

Habitat: Chipping Sparrows inhabit grassy woodland pastures, gardens, city parks, brushy pastures and suburban neighborhoods.

Chipping SparrowTerritory: Depending on time of year – during breeding season from the Yukon, Manitoba and Newfoundland south through the entire US, south into Mexico and Northern Latin America.

Migration: The Chipping Sparrow is partially migratory, with almost all high northern birds migrating in winter to the southern United States and Mexico. Chipping Sparrows migrate by night.

Chipping Sparrow nest

Food: Most of the foods Chipping Sparrows eat are seeds – grass seeds, grains and flower seeds and at times fruits. Insects will be eaten in spring and fed to chicks. These birds are frequent visitors to feeders. The pictures here are from my feeder.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow


White-throated sparrows are fairly common species. They are fairly abundant and their range is substantial. Compared to many migratory bird populations white-throated sparrow numbers appear to be comparatively stable.

White-throated SparrowThe White-throated Sparrow The White-throated Sparrow comes in two color forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. What is interesting is that individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite coloration. Additionally, both male and female white-stripe birds are more aggressive than the tan-stripe birds.

White-throated sparrows nest either on the ground under shrubs or low in trees. Their eggs are approximately .7″ and  are pale-green flecked with brown. The chicks hatch in about 11 – 14 days and fledge in 7 – 12 days. The White-throated Sparrow The White-throated Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco occasionally mate and produce hybrids.


The White-throated Sparrow is a large, full-bodied sparrow, roughly 6″ – 7″, with a fairly prominent bill, rounded head, long legs, and long, narrow tail.
White-throated Sparrows are brown above and gray below with a striking head pattern. They have a black-and-white-striped head and a bright white throat and yellow between the eye and the gray bill.


Woodlands, forest edges, residential areas, shelterbelts In the northeastern U.S. and across most of Canada, white-throated sparrows breed in semi-open coniferous and mixed forests that are regenerating following logging, fires, or insect damage, and where secondary growth provides a low, dense understory.
White-throated SparrowTerritory: Found in their summer range from Alaska to Newfoundland, New England, the Great Lakes Region, and much of Canada. It migrates in the southeastern third of the United States.


They mainly eat seeds, insects and berries. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders and can be seen on the ground searching for seeds that have fallen.

Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
The Audubon Society – Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cornell Lab of Ornithology