House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
The House Sparrow is an Old World sparrow that was introduced into Brooklyn, New York in 1851. It found ample food in the manure left behind horse-drawn carriages, plenty of breeding sites in human-built structures, and spread across the continent by 1910.
It is native to most of Europe and much of Asia, and has been intentionally or accidentally introduced to most of Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. It is now the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet! The House Sparrow is quite aggressive and takes nesting sites from other species, and is known to forcibly evict Purple Martins and Eastern Bluebirds from their nest boxes.
Description: The House Sparrow is a small, stocky songbird with a streaked back, an unstreaked gray chest, and a thick bill. The male has a reddish back, one broad white wingbar, white cheeks, and a black bib on the throat and upper chest. In winter, the black bib is partially hidden by buffy tips on the throat feathers (these tips wear off in the spring). The female is a dingy brown overall, with a large buffy eye-stripe.
Weight: 0.98 oz
Voice: The song is a very monotonous series of loud even-pitched chirps.
- Although the female House Sparrow looks much like other American sparrows, her stocky build, short tail, plain brown crown (top of the head) and buffy eye-stripe distinguish her from other species.
Habitat: Found in human modified habitats, including farms, residential and urban areas.
Diet: Seeds, especially waste grain and livestock feed. Also weed seeds and insects.
Nesting and reproduction: The breeding season for House Sparrows extends from March into August. They are very aggressive around potential nesting sites and will forcibly evict the occupants of cavities, sometimes building their nest on top of another active nest. House Sparrows will raise one to 4 broods per season.
Clutch Size: The range is from 2 to 8 eggs, with 4 or 5 eggs most common.
Incubation: The female does most of the incubation, and the eggs hatch in about 12 days.
Fledging: Both adults, and often helpers, feed the young, which fledge in 12 to 14 days.
Nest: The male and female usually build the nest in a natural or artificial cavity such as a woodpecker hole, nest box, or under the eave of a building. The nest is a ball of dried grass, feathers, string, and paper, with an opening on the side.
Status in Tennessee: The House Sparrow is a locally abundant year round resident in Tennessee. Numbers in the state have been declining in urban and suburban areas, but appear to be stable in agricultural areas. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not protect House Sparrows.
- Eight pairs of House Sparrows were released in the spring of 1851 in Brooklyn, New York. Their spread throughout the west was aided by additional introductions in many cities including San Francisco (1871), and Salt Lake City (1873). House Sparrows were breeding from coast to coast by 1910.
- Another common name for the House Sparrow is English Sparrow. This is because the first birds released in 1851 were from England. That first release was unsuccessful but releases in 1852 and 1853 established the bird in New York City.
- The first House Sparrows in Tennessee were probably the 4 pairs released in Knoxville in 1874. Birds were also released in Memphis at about that same time, and were established statewide by 1886.
- The oldest known House Sparrow in the wild died at 15 years, 9 months old.
Obsolete English Names: English sparrow
Best places to see in Tennessee: The House Sparrow can be seen in any urban area across the state and around farmyards in most agricultural areas.
For more information:
Lowther, P. E. and C. L. Cink. 2006. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), The Birds of North America, No. 12 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.