Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)

French: Moineau espagnol
GenusPasser (1)
SizeLength: c. 14.5 cm (2)
Weight22 - 38 g (3)

The Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) is a widespread small bird with quite boldly marked plumage. The male Spanish sparrow has a deep chestnut crown and neck, and a black back, streaked with cream. The chin, throat and breast are also black, while the wings are streaked with dark brown, black and a warmer brown colour (2). There is a conspicuous white stripe above each eye (4).

In contrast to the male, the female Spanish sparrow is a duller grey-brown. Though similar in pattern to the male's, the female does not have the chestnut head and has less extensive black plumage. Both sexes have a stout, prominent bill. The juvenile Spanish sparrow is quite similar in appearance to the female, but its markings are less distinct (2)

The Spanish sparrow is slightly larger and heavier than house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and the male is bolder in colour (2). However, females of both species look so similar that they are almost indistinguishable (2).

The calls of the Spanish sparrow include soft chirps, as well as a nasal ‘chur-it-it’ or ‘quer-it-it’ as a sign of threat or alarm. To attract a mate, a continuous, rapid ‘cheeli-cheeli-cheeli’ is used, whilst ownership of a nest is proclaimed using a ‘tchweep’ sound (3).

The Spanish sparrow is widespread across Europe, ranging from Portugal and southern Spain east to Turkey. It is also found in various countries in the Middle East, as well as from Russia to central Asia, and in North Africa, where its range stretches from the Western Sahara, east to Libya and south to Sudan (5).

The Spanish sparrow is found in a variety of habitats. It usually occurs in open country, often in areas which are dry or arid (4), and is typically found near cultivated areas (3). However, it also commonly inhabits moist and humid areas which are close to water (3).

The Spanish sparrow often roosts in olive groves and date-palm plantations, as well as open woodlands, hedges and roadside trees, and is also found in large numbers roosting in trees in town squares (4).

The Spanish sparrow feeds mainly on vegetable matter, mostly consisting of the seeds of grasses and cultivated crops such as wheat, millet, barley and oats. It also feeds on leaves and fruit, and occasionally takes some insects, usually caterpillars, grasshoppers and flying ants (4). For the first half of their nestling period, the chicks of the Spanish sparrow are fed almost entirely on insects (3).

Spanish sparrows often breed in large colonies, sometimes of up to several hundred thousand pairs. The nests are packed close together, often with over one hundred nests in a single tree. The nest is built by both sexes and consists of a loosely woven, spherical structure of grass and plant stems. The inside is lined with fine grass and feathers. The whole nest is usually found firmly attached to branches of a tree, or may be built in the lower part of the nest of a bird of prey, or on a pylon (3).

The Spanish sparrow produces clutches of about 2 to 6 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 10 to 11 days. The chicks and fledglings are tended by both adults.

As a gregarious species, the Spanish sparrow takes part in many social activities, including ‘social singing’, in which the birds call together from bushes and trees. Groups of sparrows also dust bathe together, rolling in dust or sand on the ground in order to clean the feathers and remove parasites (6). Over one hundred Spanish sparrows have been known to take dust baths together (3).

The Spanish sparrow is generally a shy species, and even when feeding in crops will fly off for quite a distance if disturbed (4).

The Spanish sparrow is a common species which is very widespread, and is not currently considered globally threatened (6). In some of the countries it inhabits, such as Kazakhstan and China, there has been a major increase in cereal cultivation in recent years, which has caused an increase in the Spanish sparrow population. Often when the numbers of Spanish sparrows gets too high, local farmers make extensive attempts at controlling this species (3).

In Madeira, the Spanish sparrow has declined almost to extinction due the to careless use of insecticides (3).

There are no known specific conservation measures currently in place for the Spanish sparrow. 

Find out more about the Spanish sparrow and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London.
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. Clement, P., Harris, A. and Davis, J. (1993) Finches and Sparrows: An Identification Guide. Christopher Helm, London.
  5. BirdLife International (July, 2011)
  6. Daniels, R. (2008) Can we save the sparrow? Current Science, 95: 1527-1528.