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    House Sparrow Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat TownsHouse Sparrows are closely associated with people and their buildings. Look for them in cities, towns, suburbs, and farms (particularly around livestock). You won’t find them in extensive woodlands, forests, or grasslands. In extreme environments such as deserts or the far north, House Sparrows survive only in the immediate vicinity of people.Back to top

    Food

    Food OmnivoreHouse Sparrows eat mostly grains and seeds, as well as livestock feed and, in cities, discarded food. Among the crops they eat are corn, oats, wheat, and sorghum. Wild foods include ragweed, crabgrass and other grasses, and buckwheat. House Sparrows readily eat birdseed including millet, milo, and sunflower seeds. Urban birds readily eat commercial bird seed. In summer, House Sparrows eat insects and feed them to their young. They catch insects in the air, by pouncing on them, or by following lawnmowers or visiting lights at dusk.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest CavityHouse Sparrows nest in holes of buildings and other structures such as streetlights, gas-station roofs, signs, and the overhanging fixtures that hold traffic lights. They sometimes build nests in vines climbing the walls of buildings. House Sparrows are strong competitors for nest boxes, too, at times displacing the species the nest box was intended for, such as bluebirds and Tree Swallows. House Sparrows nest in holes in trees somewhat less often.

    Nest Description

    House Sparrow nests are made of coarse dried vegetation, often stuffed into the hole until it’s nearly filled. The birds then use finer material, including feathers, string, and paper, for the lining. House Sparrows sometimes build nests next to each other, and these neighboring nests can share walls. House Sparrows often reuse their nests.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:1-8 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-4 broods
    Egg Length:0.8-0.9 in (2-2.2 cm)
    Egg Width:0.6-0.6 in (1.4-1.6 cm)
    Incubation Period:10-14 days
    Nestling Period:10-14 days
    Egg Description:Light white to greenish white or bluish white, usually spotted with gray or brown.
    Condition at Hatching:Entirely naked upon hatching with bright pink skin, eyes closed, clumsy.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Ground ForagerHouse Sparrows hop rather than walk on the ground. They are social, feeding in crowded flocks and squabbling over crumbs or seeds on the ground. House Sparrows are a common sight at bird feeders; you may also see them bathing in street-side puddles or dustbathing on open ground, ruffling their feathers and flicking water or dust over themselves with similar motions. From living in such close company, House Sparrows have developed many ways of indicating dominance and submission. Nervous birds flick their tails. Aggravated birds crouch with the body horizontal, shove their head forward and partially spread and roll forward their wings, and hold the tail erect. This can intensify to a display with wings lifted, crown and throat feathers standing on end, tail fanned, and beak open. Males with larger amounts of black on the throat tend to dominate over males with less black. When males display to a prospective mate, they fluff up their chest, hold their wings partially open, fan the tail, and hop stiffly in front of the female, turning sideways and sometimes bowing up and down. Sometimes, other males who spot such a display in progress will fly in and begin displaying as well. In flocks, males tend to dominate over females in fall and winter, but females assert themselves in spring and summer.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernHouse Sparrow populations declined by over 3.5% between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 84%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 540 million with 13% in the U.S., 2% in Canada and 2% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Scale. As a non-native species, it is not included on the 2016 State of the Birds Report. Nest holes in trees and nest boxes are valuable commodities for birds that require them for breeding. House Sparrows are fierce competitors for these, and their abundance can squeeze out some native cavity-nesting species. After becoming common in North American cities, House Sparrows moved out to colonize farmyards and barns during the twentieth century. With the recent industrialization of farms, House Sparrows now seem to be declining across most of their range. Back to top

    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.

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    Credits

    Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Lowther, Peter E. and Calvin L. Cink. 2006. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Partners in Flight. (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link. (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, Maryland, USA.

    Sibley, David Allen. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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