House sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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Male house sparrow on roof tiles
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House sparrow fact file

House sparrow description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyPloceidae
GenusPasser (1)

The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is one of Britain's most well-known and best-loved birds. Both sexes have a brown back streaked with black. Males and females are easily distinguished; males have a black bib, a grey crown with chestnut sides, and white cheeks. Females and juveniles have a duskier appearance, and lack the black bib seen in males (2). It is a very vocal species, producing a great range of familiar chattering and chirping, and a 'cher'r'r' when squabbling (2).

French
Moineau domestique.
Size
Length: 14-16 cm (2)
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House sparrow biology

House sparrows feed mainly on seeds, but in the breeding season the adults will take some animal matter (mainly insects), and feed their young on insects for the first part of the nestling period (9). It is a regular visitor to garden bird tables and feeders (5).

This sociable species nests in colonies, the untidy feather-lined nests are built in crevices and holes in buildings, tree holes and nest boxes (4). House sparrows are also known to occasionally evict other species of birds from their nests, subsequently occupying them (6). During the breeding season, house sparrows mate very frequently, so much so that their eggs were once highly prized as aphrodisiacs (6). After May, three to five whitish, blotched eggs are laid (4). The female incubates the eggs for up to 14 days, after which time both parents share the task of feeding the young for around 15 days (4). Three or more broods may be produced every breeding season (4).

The gregarious nature of the house sparrow is often most obvious during winter, when most activities including feeding, roosting and bathing, are carried out in groups or large flocks (5).

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House sparrow range

The house sparrow is widespread throughout Britain although it has undergone a drastic decline during the last 25 years. There are regional differences in the decline, but it has been most severe in the east of England, with a shocking reduction of 90 percent since 1970 (8).

Elsewhere, this cosmopolitan species is found throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India and Burma, and across central Asia. It has been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, and North and South America (4).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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House sparrow habitat

The house sparrow is closely associated with permanent human habitations, including farmyards, villages, parks, suburban areas and city centres (4).

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House sparrow status

The house sparrow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (10). It is included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List (high conservation concern) (9). The house sparrow has undergone a drastic decline in the last 25 years; this is cause for conservation concern (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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House sparrow threats

Suggested reasons for the decline of house sparrows include predation by domestic cats, changes in agricultural practices including the loss of seeds in winter and autumn, stricter rules concerning seed storage, (resulting in sealing of buildings) diseases spread at garden feeding stations, pollution (7), and loss of invertebrates to feed chicks in urban areas (9).

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House sparrow conservation

The decline in numbers of the house sparrow is of such great concern, that this bird has been 'upgraded' to the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is currently running a house sparrow appeal, in order to raise funds to carry out research and monitoring of the species in order to understand the pattern of decline (8). House sparrow numbers have more than halved over the past 25 years. To help find out why, the RSPB asked for volunteers across the country to take part in a survey of house sparrows. The survey, which ran from the 3 to 11 May 2003, saw a quarter of a million participants and just over 1 million house sparrows seen. A UK city league table for house sparrows was produced from the results collected. Lincoln came top with an average of 9.41 sparrows seen per home. London came last with an average of only 4.53 sparrows per home (9).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on the house sparrow and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Gregarious
Tending to form a group with others of the same species by habitually living or moving in flocks or herds rather than alone.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
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References

  1. Walters, M. (1994) Eyewitness Handbooks: Birds Eggs. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  4. BTO Breeding birds in the wider countryside (November 2002)
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/wcrhousp.htm
  5. House sparrows. BTO (November 2002)
    http://www.bto.org/appeals/house_sparrow.htm
  6. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  8. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  9. Investigation of the Causes of the Decline of House Sparrow and Starling in Great Britain. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (November 2002
    http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/resprog/findings/sparrow/
  10. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
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Image credit

Male house sparrow on roof tiles  
Male house sparrow on roof tiles

© Jose B. Ruiz / naturepl.com

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Listen to the House sparrow

Male house sparrow on roof tiles
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House sparrow recordings by David S. Herr and Randolph S. Little

© Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Macaulay Library
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United States of America
Tel: +1 (607) 254-2404
Fax: +1 (607) 254-2439
Email: macaulaylibrary@cornell.edu
Website: www.birds.cornell.edu/MacaulayLibrary

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