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house sparrow

Passer domesticus

What do they look like?

House Sparrows are a stout, stocky sparrow, with shorter legs and a thicker bill than native American sparrows. Members of both sexes are brown backed with black streaks throughout this area. Their undersides are pale buff. Males have white cheeks and a black bib, while females do not. The tail is usually three-quarters of the length of the wing. Males are slightly larger than females. Wing length is 76 mm and average mass is 28.5 grams.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    28.5 g
    1.00 oz
  • Average mass
    25.3 g
    0.89 oz
    AnAge

Where do they live?

House Sparrows are distributed almost worldwide, excluding the polar regions. They are native to the Palearctic and Ethiopian regions and have been introduced to the Nearctic, Neotropical, and Australian regions. Their introduction into North America occured in 1851, when a group of 100 birds from England was released in Brooklyn, New York.

What kind of habitat do they need?

In North America House Sparrows prefer areas that have been modified by humans, including farms, residential areas, and urban areas. They are absent from uninhabited woodlands, deserts, forests, and grasslands.

How do they reproduce?

House Sparrows form monogamous pairs for each breeding season. Nests are built between February and May. House Sparrows nest in crevices inside and on buildings, and in coniferous and deciduous trees. Nests are built from dried vegetation, feathers, strings, and paper. Eggs are layed at any time in the nesting period. One to eight eggs can be present in a clutch, though there are usually 5, with the possiblity of four clutches per nesting season. Both males and females incubate the eggs for short periods of a few minutes each. Incubation lasts for 10 to 14 days. After the eggs are hatched, both males and females feed the young through regurgitation.

  • Breeding season
    February through August in North America
  • Range eggs per season
    1.0 to 8.0
  • Average eggs per season
    5.0
  • Average eggs per season
    5
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    11.0 (high) days
  • Average fledging age
    14.0 days

Both males and females incubate eggs and brood young until they have fledged. Both parents also provide their young with food.

How long do they live?

A wild House Sparrow lived to be 13 years and 4 months old, though most will live for only several years.

How do they behave?

House Sparrows tend to forage for food on the ground, using a hopping movement when not in flight. Their flight is direct, with continued flapping and no periods of gliding. House Sparrows aggressively protect a small territory just around their nesting site. This is believed to be strictly a protection of the nest site, and not of any feeding areas. Sparrows have been observed to threaten, and if necessary, attack 70 species of birds that have come into their nesting territory. In these attacks males attack males and females attack only females. House Sparrows are gregarious and active during the day. In North America there may be some local movements in response to weather changes but House Sparrow populations do not migrate extensively.

How do they communicate with each other?

House Sparrows use a set of postures and behaviors to communicate with others of their species. House Sparrows also have a set of vocalizations that are used to attract mates, deter intruders, and warn others.

What do they eat?

House sparrows eat various kinds of seeds supplemented by some insects. Rural birds tend to eat more waste seed from animal dung and seed from fields, while urban birds tend to eat more commercial birdseed, weed seed, and human trash. Studies of the contents of house sparrows' stomachs in Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have shown approximate amounts of seed to be 60% livestock feed (corn, wheat, oats, etc.), 18% cereals (grains from storage or from fields), 17 % weed seed, and 4% insects.

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Many hawks and owls hunt and feed on house sparrows. These include Cooper's hawks, merlins, snowy owls, eastern screech owls, and many others. Known predators of nesting young or eggs include cats, domestic dogs, raccoons, and many snakes. House sparrows avoid predation by foraging in small flocks so that there are many eyes watching out for potential predators.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

House sparrows are abundant near human habitations. In these areas they serve as an important prey base for birds of prey and they may have an impact on plant communities because they consume large quantities of seeds. House sparrows seriously impact populations of native birds, such as bluebirds, chickadees, cliff swallows, and some woodpeckers. House sparrows take over the nesting cavities of native birds, including expelling adults and nestlings by force.

Do they cause problems?

Because of their preference for human-modified habitats, house sparrows are considered a nuisance species, an aggressive competitor with native birds, and an agricultural pest. Large aggregations around buildings produce annoying noise and large quantities of feces.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

House sparrows are well-suited for studies of general biological problems, such as the way animals evolve and pest control.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • research and education

Are they endangered?

When first introduced into the United States in 1851, house sparrows were protected from predators and fed. However, populations expanded enormously in North America and they were soon considered a nuisance species. Since the 1960's, with the changes in farming to larger, single crop farms, populations have declined. They are not, however, seen as threatened and are not included in most Canadian and U.S. regulations.

Contributors

Jennifer Roof (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Lowther, Peter E. and Cink, Calvin L. 1992. The Birds of North America. No. 12. The American Ornithologists' Union.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Roof, J. 2001. "Passer domesticus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 23, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Passer_domesticus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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