Have you ever wondered why the house sparrow seems to be everywhere, from rural to urban areas? These small birds are among the most sociable bird species in the world. In this article, we’ll explore some interesting facts about these beloved feathered friends.
1. They are small birds
The house sparrow is a member of the Passeridae family of sparrows. It’s a small bird measuring 5.5-7 in (13.97 – 17.78 cm) in length, with a wingspan of 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm). Male sparrows are slightly bigger than their females. This small bird has a broad, rounded head and a full chest.
The color of the house sparrow’s plumage fluctuates between various shades of brown and gray. You can easily differentiate males and females based on their color differences.
Breeding males have black parts on their bodies, from a black bill to a black circular “bib” on their breasts. The black coloration is also under their bill and around their eyes. They possess a grey crown and belly, a chestnut neck, white cheeks, and black-flecked wings.
Nonbreeding males display fresher plumage that appears less vibrant. They feature a beak with a slight yellow tinge, white feather tips, and a diminished amount of black hue on their chest.
On the other hand, female house sparrows are paler and lack specific markings that males have, such as the crown, the black bib, or white chicks. Females have a grayish-white underbelly and a straw-colored stripe behind their eyes.
The females possess a similar back pattern as their male counterparts but are comparatively lighter. During the breeding season, their brownish-grey bill tends to darken. Their Juvenile bear a resemblance to adult females.
2. Habitat and range
House sparrows, originally coming from Eurasia and North Africa, are now one of the most extensively distributed wild birds globally. They can be found present on every continent except for Antarctica, from urban to rural areas.
Their remarkable adaptability has facilitated their survival in nearly all corners of the world. However, these species are scarce in upland regions and they don’t live in the Scottish Highlands.
Despite their ability to acclimate to different settings, they tend to thrive in drier environments, particularly in damp tropical climates.
Although the bird is a familiar sight in America, it was not present here until 1851. It was introduced to the United States to help control the larvae of linden moths. Within 50 years, the bird had rapidly multiplied and spread throughout most parts of the country. Nowadays, it is considered an invasive species in the US and has become a concern. Besides the European starling, you’re allowed to trap, kill, or euthanize this sparrow.
3. They’re very social birds
House sparrows are highly social bird species. They can create flocks with any kind of bird species and even eat from your hand.
Living in groups has led these birds to develop several indicators to determine dominance and submission among themselves. These cues include fully lifting wigs and inflating all feathers, tail flicking, crouching and extending wings, and opening their bill.
In a house sparrow group, you’ll know which bird is dominant by looking at their bib. The size of the bib indicates the male’s power within the community. The larger bibs indicate greater dominance.
Throughout the winter, males typically dominate females. However, females with smaller sizes display dominance during feeding and nesting season, even fighting.
Social singing is also part of their social life. Under different circumstances, they generate chirping sounds at different frequencies. When the sparrows need to communicate with other birds or attract the females for mating, they employ notes like philip, chirrup, or tschilp.
Aggressive sparrows defending their nest territory emit “Chur-churr-r” chattering sounds. When experiencing pain, they make shrill calls. Chirping serves as a means of keeping track of every group member. Before and after roosting in a community, these birds produce a lot of chirping. They prefer to live in cavities.
These house sparrows eat in groups. They hop around when foraging on the ground, searching for pieces of food. Besides feeding, they also dust bathing or shower in the water in flocks.
The sparrows take a dust bath on dry and dusty patches of ground in order to rid themselves of parasites and other unwanted things from their skin or their plumage.
To dust bathe, they do the same as in a water bath, but instead of water, they throw dirt over themselves. This activity often leaves a small dent in the ground, and the sparrows may prevent other sparrows from using this spot.
House sparrows do not migrate.
House sparrows have a various diet. They can feed on berries, buds, bananas, seeds, nuts (sunflower seeds), and small insects like other birds. They can also consume our food and scavenge from the garbage. They are claimed to be able to eat around 800 different types of food.
The specific diet of a house sparrow is largely determined by its habitat. They can consume crops grown by humans, such as sorghum, wheat, corn, and oats. Wild plants like buckwheat, ragweed, and grasses are also parts of their diet.
Insects are also their favorite food. These creatures are skilled at catching insects while on flight or congregating around lights at night and waiting for their prey to appear.
They are also frequent visitors to bird feeders, where they happily consume various types of seeds including millet, sunflower, and milo.
5. Tree sparrow vs House sparrow
|Difference between house sparrow and tree sparrow|
|House sparrow||Tree sparrow|
|Appearance||light grey crown|
don’t have black cheek patches
males and females have different look
|chestnut-brown head and nape|
have small black cheek patches
males and females look similarly
|Diet||various types of food, from berries, seeds, insects, and buds to human food||seeds, insects, and cereals|
|Characteristics||more noisy and aggressive|
6. Life cycle
During the breeding season which spans from April to August, male sparrows sing their distinct sparrow song to woo a female. If the female finds the mating call attractive, the pair will mate several times before the female lays eggs.
Sparrows are monogamous, they mate for life. However, these birds can still cheat on their partners. They are frequently seen to mate with other birds outside of the nesting location.
Both males and females are in charge of making nests. The female will typically lay 4-5 white eggs with grey or black speckles at a time. Depending on the weather condition and food availability, most pairs will attempt to raise at least two, if not three, broods per year.
The parents will alternate incubating their eggs for 11 to 14 days. Once the eggs hatch, the young are fed by both males and females with a diet consisting of aphids and small caterpillars for 11 to 16 days until they fledge the nest.
In the wild, the average lifespan of a house sparrow is about five years, but in captivity, they have been known to live up to twice as long. However, some birds can live in their natural habitat as long as in captivity. The oldest one was 15 years old and lived in Texas.
7. Their nesting habit is a nuisance
Nesting is one of the most special behaviors of these birds. The birds build their nest that looks like a cup with various materials such as paper, dried grass, straw, feathers, hair, and even string. They are known to occupy nest boxes and even take over nests of other bird species.
To start their invasion, house sparrows will enter other birds’ nests, aggressively attack them to evict them from their nests, and prevent them from returning. They can even kill the female in that nest. This tendency has made them unlikable among many backyard bird enthusiasts.
In urban areas, these birds seem to prefer nesting in man-made structures such as traffic lights, birdhouses, ceiling ledges, street lights, eaves, barns, gutters, and even signs outside busy shopping centers. They appear to be comfortable nesting close to humans.
House sparrows nest in colonies, therefore their nests might be as near as 20 to 30cm apart! Juveniles will not nest far from their parents.
When it comes to nesting territory, these species will attack the bird intruders.
The mortality rate among immature house sparrows is notably high, with only 21-26% surviving the following mating season. This rate declines with age.
They’re preyed upon by various predators, including birds of prey, cats, and humans. These small birds are frequently killed by road traffic, making them the most commonly encountered roadkill.
(Juveniles are particularly vulnerable cats, which kill many of these inexperienced young shortly after they have fledged.
They are susceptible to various parasites such as the Proctophyllode mite, Argus reflexus flea, and Ceratophyllus gallinae bug. Lice are also a threat; some lice eat their body, and some consume their feathers and blood.
Moreover, bacterial pathogens affecting birds are closely related to those affecting humans. Salmonella is the most common disease that infects about 14% of house sparrows. Avian pox and malaria also pose a threat to these birds.
9. They make a good pet
Sparrows can make excellent pets due to their low feeding requirements and minimal maintenance needs. These birds are self-sufficient and won’t cause any disruptions in the household, making them ideal pets for families.
The house sparrow, known for their friendly and sociable nature, is a highly common species that enjoy coexisting with humans. While they are charming songbirds, they can also display aggression towards other birds if they perceive a threat.