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House Sparrow

Key Information

Scientific Name: Passer domesticus

Bird Family: Old World Sparrows

UK Breeding Population: 5,300,000 territories

UK Conservation Status: Red

The UK house sparrow is a small, gregarious passerine bird and a well-known and cherished urban dweller in the United Kingdom. Originally native to Europe and parts of Asia, house sparrows have successfully adapted to human-altered environments and are commonly found in cities, towns, villages, and even rural areas.

What does a house sparrow look like?

The house sparrow is a small bird, measuring approximately 14 to 16cm in length, with a wingspan of around 20 to 23cm. Both male and female house sparrows have a similar appearance. They have brownish-grey upperparts and pale underparts, with darker streaks on the back and wings. The male has a distinct black bib on its throat and a chestnut-brown nape during the breeding season. They possess a short and conical bill, perfectly adapted for cracking seeds and foraging for insects.

What do house sparrows eat?

House sparrows are omnivores, which means they have a varied diet that includes both plant and animal matter. They primarily feed on seeds with a preference for small, easily accessible seeds such as sunflower hearts and millet. Suet bird food is also a favourite for house sparrows, and will be attracted to any feeder holding suet balls, suet pellets and suet blocks. Insects and other small invertebrates are an important part of the house sparrow's diet, especially during the breeding season. They may consume mealworms, ants, caterpillars, and other insects. On occasion, house sparrows will eat fruits and berries such as apples, raspberries, currants, mulberries, and holly.

What to feed house sparrows?

House sparrows are known to frequently use bird feeders, mainly when they are consistently replenished and a reliable food source. Here is a selection of bird foods that are great for feeding and attracting house sparrows.

Do house sparrows use nest boxes?

Yes, house sparrows will happily occupy nest boxes sited in gardens, parks and outdoor spaces. Their preference is a box with a 32mm entrance hole, sited at least 3m above the ground. Providing nest boxes can be a helpful way to encourage these birds to nest in urban or suburban environments where natural nesting sites might be limited.

When do house sparrows nest?

The house sparrow breeds from early spring to late summer, typically between April and August, with some variations based on local climate and food availability. The female house sparrow constructs the nest using various materials to create a cup-shaped structure. Nests are often built close to human habitation, under the protection of building eaves or in suitable cavities. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 5 pale blue or greenish eggs, with brown spots. She incubates the eggs for about 12 to 14 days before they hatch. Both parents participate in feeding the chicks, and the young house sparrows fledge after about 14 to 16 days.

Are house sparrows common in the UK?

Though house sparrows are regularly spotted at bird feeders across the UK, their population has still experienced a massive decline in recent decades. Changes in urban landscapes, including reduced nesting sites and food availability, contribute to the reduction. Rural house sparrow populations in England have nearly halved, and urban populations have declined by 60%. Due to these significant declines, the house sparrow is now classified as a red-listed species, signifying high conservation priority.

Do house sparrows migrate?

House sparrows in the United Kingdom are primarily non-migratory, so they do not undertake long-distance seasonal migrations across continents as some bird species do. Instead, they tend to stay in their local habitats all year round. However, they may make short-distance movements within their local area in search of food or suitable nesting sites. Some individuals may also move to slightly different locations in response to changing environmental conditions, such as during periods of extreme weather.