The house or English sparrow is a brown, chunky bird about 5 3/4 inches (15 cm) long, and very common in human-made habitats. The male has a distinctive black bib, white cheeks, a chestnut mantle around the gray crown, and chestnut-colored feathers on the upper wings. The female and young are difficult to distinguish from some native sparrows. They have a plain, dingy-gray breast, a distinct, buffy eye stripe, and a streaked back. The black bib and chestnut-colored feathers on the wings are the first signs of male plumage and appear on the young birds within weeks of leaving the nest.
Range and Habitat
The house sparrow was first introduced in Brooklyn, New York, from England in 1850 and has spread throughout the continent.
The house sparrow is found in nearly every habitat except dense forest, alpine and desert environments. It prefers human-altered habitats, particularly farm areas.
While still the most common bird in most urban areas, house sparrow numbers have fallen significantly since they peaked in the 1920s, when food and wastes from horses furnished an unlimited supply of food.
Sparrow nests are bulky, roofed affairs, built haphazardly and without the good workmanship displayed by other weaver finches.
Sparrows are loosely monogamous. Both sexes feed and take care of the young, although the female does most of the brooding.
They are aggressive and social, both of which increases their ability to compete with most native birds.
Sparrows damage crops by pecking seeds, seedlings, buds, flowers, vegetables, and maturing fruits. They interfere with the production of livestock, particularly poultry, by consuming and contaminating feed. They often feed in large numbers over a small area, which often causes an area to quickly become over picked.
House sparrow droppings and feathers create janitorial problems as well as hazardous, unsanitary, and odoriferous situations inside and outside of buildings and sidewalks under roosting areas. Damage can also be caused by the pecking of rigid foam insulation inside buildings. The bulky, flammable nests of house sparrows are a potential fire hazard.
Because they live in such close association with humans, they are a factor in the dissemination of diseases (chlamydiosis, coccidiosis, erysipeloid, Newcastle’s, parathypoid, pullorum, salmonellosis, transmissible gastroenteritis, tuberculosis, various encephalitis viruses, vibriosis, and yersinosis), internal parasites (acariasis, schistosomiasis, taeniasis, toxoplasmosis, and trichomoniasis), and household pests (bed bugs, carpet beetles, clothes moths, fleas, lice, mites, and ticks).
The house sparrow is afforded no legal protection by federal statutes because it is an introduced species. A few states, however, may offer them some protection by requiring permits or otherwise restricting control activities. Check with state or local governments before poisoning or shooting house sparrows.
Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Block entrances larger than 3/4 inch (2 cm). Design new buildings or alter old ones to eliminate roosting and nesting places. Install plastic bird netting or overhead lines to protect high-value crops.
Remove roosting sites. Plant bird resistant varieties.
Fireworks, alarm calls, exploders. Scarecrows, motorized hawks, balloons, kites. 4-Aminopyridine (Avitrol®).
Capsicum. Polybutenes. Sharp metal projections (Nixalite® and Cat Claw®).
Fenthion in Rid-A-Bird® toxic perches.
Funnel, automatic, and triggered traps. Mist nets.
The above information was adapted from PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission of the editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee).