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House Sparrow


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

House Sparrow Photo

You can find House Sparrows most places where there are houses (or other buildings), and few places where there aren’t. Along with two other introduced species, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon, these are some of our most common birds. Their constant presence outside our doors makes them easy to overlook, and their tendency to displace native birds from nest boxes causes some people to resent them. But House Sparrows, with their capacity to live so intimately with us, are just beneficiaries of our own success.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    House Sparrows aren’t related to other North American sparrows, and they’re differently shaped. House Sparrows are chunkier, fuller in the chest, with a larger, rounded head, shorter tail, and stouter bill than most American sparrows.

  • Color Pattern

    Male House Sparrows are brightly colored birds with gray heads, white cheeks, a black bib, and rufous neck – although in cities you may see some that are dull and grubby. Females are a plain buffy-brown overall with dingy gray-brown underparts. Their backs are noticeably striped with buff, black, and brown.

  • Behavior

    House Sparrows are noisy sparrows that flutter down from eaves and fencerows to hop and peck at crumbs or birdseed. Look for them flying in and out of nest holes hidden behind shop signs or in traffic lights, or hanging around parking lots waiting for crumbs and picking insects off car grills.

  • Habitat

    House Sparrows have lived around humans for centuries. Look for them on city streets, taking handouts in parks and zoos, or cheeping from a perch on your roof or trees in your yard. House Sparrows are absent from undisturbed forests and grasslands, but they’re common in countryside around farmsteads.

Range Map Help

House Sparrow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male breeding

    House Sparrow

    Adult male breeding
    • Black bill, mask, throat, and breast
    • Gray cap, rufous nape
    • Back and wings reddish with black streaks
    • White stripe on shoulder
    • © Robert J. Baker, Greene Co, Virginia, March 2007
  • Adult female

    House Sparrow

    Adult female
    • Underparts grayish, upperparts brownish
    • Back and wings brown with dark streaks
    • Bill thick and yellowish
    • © Kevin Bolton, Franklin Lake, New Jersey, November 2008
  • Adult male nonbreeding

    House Sparrow

    Adult male nonbreeding
    • Less black on throat and breast
    • Gray cap, rufous nape
    • Underparts gray
    • Bill yellowish at base, darker towards tip
    • © Sam Wilson, Phoenix, Arizona, December 2008
  • Adult female

    House Sparrow

    Adult female
    • Brown face with indistinct eyestripe
    • Bill thick and yellowish
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 2008
  • Adult male nonbreeding

    House Sparrow

    Adult male nonbreeding
    • Black throat and mask, black on breast diffuse
    • Gray cap, rufous nape
    • Underparts gray
    • © Jim Paris, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, January 2009
  • Adults nonbreeding

    House Sparrow

    Adults nonbreeding
  • Adult male transitional

    House Sparrow

    Adult male transitional
    • Black mask, throat, and bib
    • Amount of black intermediate between breeding and nonbreeding males
    • © Donald Metzner, January 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Black-throated Sparrow

    • Similar to adult male breeding House Sparrow
    • Black throat and upper breast
    • Dark gray and white face pattern
    • Unmarked brownish gray above, pale gray below
    • © Gerry Dewaghe, Del Rio, Texas, April 2007
  • Juveniles

    White-crowned Sparrow

    • Similar to female House Sparrow
    • Rufous crown and eyestripe
    • Gray breast, buffy flanks
    • Thin white wing-bars
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, October 2008
  • Adult tan-striped

    White-throated Sparrow

    Adult tan-striped
    • Similar to female House Sparrow
    • Less stocky
    • Gray bill
    • Whitish throat contrasts with gray breast
    • © Kevin Bolton, North Arlington, New Jersey, February 2009
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Harris's Sparrow

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Similar to adult male House Sparrow
    • Fairly plain brown or gray face
    • Black forehead and throat
    • Pink bill
    • Some streaking on sides
    • © France Dewaghe, Wilmington, Delaware, October 2008

Similar Species

The female Dickcissel has a longer, heavier bill than a female House Sparrow, with a white chin, dark whisker stripe, and usually a tinge of yellow in the eyestripe and on the chest. Black-throated Sparrows of the dry western U.S. are all gray, white, and black on the head, with no rufous. Harris's Sparrows are plain brown on the face, without the male House Sparrow's white cheeks, and the forehead is black. Juvenile White-crowned Sparrows look like female House Sparrows but have reddish-brown crowns and thin white wingbars. Eurasian Tree Sparrows, which live around St. Louis, Missouri, have an entirely rufous crown and a dark spot on the cheek.

Backyard Tips

Many people regard House Sparrows as undesirables in their yards, since they aren't native and can be a menace to native species. House Sparrows are so closely entwined with people's lives that you probably will find them around your home even without feeding them. They are frequent visitors to backyard feeders, where they eat most kinds of birdseed, especially millet, corn, and sunflower seed. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

The best way to find a House Sparrow is to visit an urban area and watch for a conspicuous, tame sparrow hopping on the ground (it might help to bring a sandwich or some birdseed). You can easily attract them with food and they may feed out of your hand. In the countryside, look out for bright, clean versions of the city House Sparrow around barns, stables, and storehouses.

Get Involved

Why Did House Sparrow Numbers Rise, then Fall? Citizen-science data point to competition with House Finches.

You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project.

Keep track of the House Sparrows at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Help us find out how House Sparrow populations are doing in mid-winter by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Report nesting activities of House Sparrows to the NestWatch citizen-science project. To deter House Sparrows from taking over nest boxes intended for native birds, consider the options noted in the NestWatcher's Resource Center.

You Might Also Like

House Sparrows: Complex and Intriguing? (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

Can We Have Your Sparrows? (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

The Trouble with House Sparrows (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

Sparrow Spectrum (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

Lessons from the Rattus rattus of the Bird World (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

Sparrows that Open Doors (BirdScope, Winter 2004)

All About Birds blog, Not Just Sparrows and Pigeons: Cities Harbor 20 Percent of World’s Bird Species, April 29, 2014.

FeederWatcher’s Notebook: In autumn, male House Sparrows are “disguised” as females



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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The Cornell Lab will send you updates about birds, birding, and opportunities to help bird conservation. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell or give your email address to others.