Invasive Species Spotlight – House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is perhaps the most adaptable and prolific bird species on the planet.  Often called English Sparrow, its scientific name Passer domesticus, is Latin for small, active bird belonging to the house.  It is native to Europe and has spread to all corners of the world.  Its adaptation follows human civilization.  Where there are people, there are House Sparrows.

Description

House Sparrows are about six inches in length and are cavity nesters.  They are about the same size as Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.  That’s why they all compete for nest boxes.  Make sure your boxes have an entry hole no larger than ONE inch in diameter.  If larger, another invasive, non-native, European bird, the European Starling, will invade the box.

House Sparrow male. Photo by my birding friend, Marshall Faintich

 

House Sparrow female

House Sparrow female. Photo by my birding friend, Marshall Faintich.

They are Not Native to North America

This bird is not native to North America.  It is an aggressive species that will take over the nesting sites, territories, and food sources of native birds.  Therefore; it is an invasive, non-native species that is very difficult to manage.  For a more detailed description of the bird go to this link at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

House Sparrows Attack and Kill Nesting Native Birds

Some years ago, I opened one of our nest boxes to find a House Sparrow sitting on her eggs.  She quickly flew away.  Something was unusual.  She built her nest on top of a Tree Sparrow nest.  I removed the aggressor’s nest, tossed it on the ground and crushed the eggs.  Underneath the nest was a dead female Tree Swallow.  Her head had been crushed in by the attacking beak of the aggressor.  The Tree Swallow’s eggs were still in tact.  How horrible a death.

For more information on House Sparrow attacks and management of this invasive, aggressive bird, click here.

Identification of House Sparrow Nests and Eggs

Their nests are easy to identify.  They always have a “dome” or roof over the nest and they always have feathers in them.

House Sparrow nests always have a dome and various feathers.

The presence of the dome, in a nest box, is a tell-tale sign that it is a House Sparrow nest.  The nest material is rather “trashy”, made up of all kinds of material including various feathers.

The eggs are dark brown and white speckled.

House Sparrow Eggs

House Sparrow Eggs

If you find a dome shaped, trashy nest with feathers in your nest box, take it out and destroy it.  You will be helping native birds find a home.  But be vigilant, the House Sparrow will persist, so must you.

© Robert N. Whitescarver 2017

Comments

  1. Yikes. These little guys are all over my bird feeders. And here I was thinking they were sweet …

  2. I’ve yet to find a way to keep these exotics away from my feeders. Maybe I need to put up a kestrel box. Birds aren’t their preferred food but they occasionally go for sparrows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kn8fW0vhE0

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Good idea, Bill. We let them nest in boxes near the house and check them for eggs. Once they lay eggs, we destroy the eggs and the nest.

  3. Beth McGee says:

    Good info, Bobby! I knew they were non-native, but didn’t know they were so aggressive.
    Thanks for sharing. Happy Easter!

  4. Aggressive little bird, perhaps they are descendants of the dinosaurs. Thank-you for the education. I will let our cats know who to target (just kidding). Good article.

  5. Derek van Bergen says:

    Yep, we’ve got them in SouthAfrica

  6. roni freeman says:

    oh, it’s tree swallows we have in our bluebird box! I was thinking they were swifts, because they don’t have the forked swallow tail. thanks! one is always standing sentinel on the top of the box. they’re so beautiful and brave and seem unconcerned by our getting close to them. there are house sparrows nesting not 10 feet away. trying to see whether I’m capable of murder..

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Roni, thanks for your note. Yes, Tree Swallows are way cool. They mate for life and the same birds will return to the same box. They are one species that is expanding their range.

  7. Anne Nielsen says:

    This is an important post, Bobby, thanks! I am part of a group from the Rockingham Bird Club that maintain the bluebird nesting trail at the fairgrounds. We check every week during nesting season and regularly pull these nests and eggs. Messy, aren’t they? The bluebirds are doing very well out there. Of the 7 boxes, at least four regularly fledge birds, and often twice a summer. Cheers, Anne

    PS. I saw them in Tanzania also!

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Anne, thanks for your update and thanks for monitoring the boxes. Yes, they are messy. They are one species that has expanded to the whole globe except the poles.

  8. Jane hanger says:

    Just clean out a nest in one of my bluebird houses! 5 eggs! With blue jay feathers

  9. Marie Majarov, Winchester VA says:

    Hi Bobby,
    Great post and images! Milan and I are monitors for the 132 box Blandy Shenandoah Audubon Bluebird Trail and we also have a short 4 box trail here on our property. We have found some methods that are better than just destroying the House Sparrow (HOSP)eggs and removing the nest…all that seems to do is rile the HOSP up and they not only rebuild but often go on a rampage destroying nests in other boxes. We have seen heartbreaking damage to chickadee eggs and bluebird eggs as well as to adult birds.

    One solution is to use slot boxes which have a slot as tall as a regular bluebird hole and as wide as the box. House Sparrows do not like these slots, and if they were to go inside, mama birds have room to escape. Thes boxes are also shorter, not as deep, and HOSP don’t have room to build that dome they they like on their nests. Since using these boxes we have had no problem here…they are also used at Sky Meadow SP.

    At Blandy we have had only a few HOSP; we replace the HOSP eggs as soon as they are laid with wooden eggs and mama birds (not very bright) will sit on the wooden eggs for weeks. While are busy sitting on the wooden eggs they or the male do not bother other boxes. You can alsao chill the eggs in the refrigerator overnight, I have done this, one at a time till all were chilled. I marked each egg as I chilled them so I was sure to get them all…again the mama sat on the now not fertile eggs for weeks! This is difficult though if the nest boxes are not failry close to a kitchen, and if teh HOSP nests are numerous.

    Using all these methods we have not had any HOSP hatch here or at Blandy or Sky eadows for the last few years since we implemented these methods. Number of HOSP seen has gone down dramatically.

    I will send you some images and the designs for our box to your email Bobby, I don’t know how to attach here.

    We do have to get that trip for you to come see us and Blandy soon!

    Best to you and your readers,

    Marie

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Marie, thank you so much for this information and for posting. Yes, please send photos so I can forward to my friends. I can update this post with your photos. Would that be okay? We have 44 boxes here on the farm.

      • Marie Majarov, Winchester VA says:

        Yes of course that would be OK. I am delighted to help others fight House Sparrows, they can be very damaging to our native birds. A sad example of how an introduced non-native species can wreck havoc. Thanks Bobby!

  10. Sally Copp says:

    Wow that’s great info on how to control the English sparrow . I just checked my box and sure enough they are nesting in it. That tell tail nest had three eggs in it. I am going to try the fish line trick. Although my bluebirds already have eggs. I hope that putting the line on won’t scare them. Great advice guys !!

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