Photographer: Innota, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Source:www.commons.wikimedia.org Copyright:CC BY 2.0
The common sparrow (Passer domesticus) is also referred to as the house sparrow because of its tendency to nest on the walls of houses rather close to humans. Common sparrows are noticeably noisy when they emerge from their small nest to collect a piece of food dropped on the ground. Common sparrows are not related to native U.S. sparrows and have a different appearance. The overall shape of the common sparrow is stockier, fuller chested, shorter tail, stouter beak, and larger rounder head than native sparrows. Male common sparrows are brightly colored with gray heads, black breast, white cheeks, and rufous neck. However, some males living in highly populated urban environments are drab or dirty looking. Females are not bright like males and have plain brown or gray coloring.
Common sparrows exhibit unique behavior of taking dust baths to clean themselves. Following the dust bath a small indent in the ground is present and the common sparrow will defend this hole against other common sparrows. Aggressive territorial behavior is exhibited by common sparrows against many native species of birds as well. After establishing a nest, common sparrows will evict native bird species near by from their nests. In 1889 a scientist observed common sparrows attacking approximately 70 species of birds in defense of their nest. Common sparrows are known to steal food from robins and pierce flowers for nectar.
Average clutch size of common sparrows ranges from 1-8 eggs and 1-4 broods in a lifetime. Breeding occurs at any time of the year, but is most common from March to August. Eggs are incubated by the female common sparrow for 10-14 days in the nest constructed on man-made structures such as electrical boxes. Hatchlings emerge naked, blind, and completely dependent on parents to feed them. Young common sparrows remain in the nest after hatching for 10-14 days.
Introduction of the common sparrow occurred in 1851 in Brooklyn, NY where it became established quickly and spread west to the Rocky Mountains by the 1900's. Other introductions of the common sparrow occurred on the west coast in San Francisco and Salt Lake City in the 1870's. Spread throughout the U.S. was facilitated by introductions on each coast.
Native Origin: Europe
U.S. Habitat: Common sparrows prefer to nest in man-made structures such as eaves of buildings, street lights, and building walls, rather than more natural nests or bird houses. Common sparrows have become so ubiquitous in the U.S. its difficult not to see them present near any building. With a general lack of fear of humans, common sparrows take advantage of available food from people at zoos or parks.
U.S. Present: Common sparrows are present in all 48 contiguous states.
Common sparrows are not federally protected birds because of their invasive status. Before destroying nests and trapping birds its important to verify protection regulations on the state level. Prevention is the best way to manage establishment of common sparrows by closing off spaces in houses or other structures that could be used for nests. If establishment has already occurred, common sparrow populations can be eradicated with several methods such as nest destruction, net trapping, shooting, or the use of natural predators.
More management information - provided by William D. Fitzwater
Churcher, P. B., and J. H. Lawton. 1987. Predation by domestic cats in an English village. J. Zool. (London) 212:439-455.
Fitzwater, W. D. 1982. Outwitting the house sparrow [Passer domesticus (Linneaus)]. Proc. Great Plains Wildl. Damage Control Workshop 5:244-251.
Fitzwater, W. D. 1988. Solutions to urban bird problems. Proc. Vertebr. Pest Conf. 13:254-259.
Kessler, K. K., R. J. Johnson, and K. M. Eskridge. 1991. Lines to selectively repel house sparrows from backyard feeders. Proc. Great Plains Wildl. Damage Control Workshop. 10:79-80.
Weber, W. J. 1979. Health hazards from pigeons, starlings and English sparrows. Thomson Publ., Fresno, California. 138 pp.