Once one of the UK’s most common birds, House Sparrows are in decline. Our House Sparrow bird guide is here to help you spot those feathered friends and learn how to help them in your garden. Although there’s no clear explanation for the decline, fingers have been pointed at everything from pollution to disease. One of the best ways to encourage their return to your garden is feeding them.
According to Garden BirdWatch data, which has been collected since 1995, House Sparrows are most frequently seen during June, in around 77% of gardens. House Sparrows have declined in gardens since Garden BirdWatch began. Although reasons behind this decline are not known, the availability of food and nest sites in urban areas is thought to be a significant contributing factor.
How to identify House Sparrows?
Males have a black bib, black face mask and a chestnut brown head with a grey crown. They also have a broad white wing bar. Females and juveniles are dusky brown with greyish-white undersides and dull-brown, but streaked backs. They lack the black bib of the male and have pale brown crowns with a buff line above the eye.
What do House Sparrows sound like?
Their loud, chirping calls are very distinctive and can carry a long way.
What predators do House Sparrows have in gardens?
As with many garden birds, the House Sparrow’s main predator is the Sparrowhawk. However, House Sparrows have some useful adaptations in order to evade Sparrowhawks. House Sparrows put on more fat in places where there are no Sparrowhawks- so when they need to escape from Sparrowhawks, they stay lighter, more manoeuvrable and therefore, are more vulnerable to starvation. Find out more about this study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617206/
What do House Sparrows eat?
House Sparrows mainly eat seeds, but also shoots, berries and scraps. Nestlings are fed on invertebrates.
How numerous are House Sparrows?
The last population estimate of this species was undertaken in 2016. It showed that there were 5.2 million pairs in Britain and 5.3 million in the UK.
How long do House Sparrows live for?
Typically, House Sparrows live for around three years. However, the current longevity for record for this species is 12 years and 12 days old.
When are House Sparrows most frequently seen in gardens?
According to BTO Garden BirdWatch data, which has been collected since 1995, House Sparrows are most frequently seen during June, in around 77% of gardens. Average monthly maximum count data, which has been collected since 2003, has shown that the highest monthly counts tend to occur in August, with an average maximum monthly count of 6.7 birds per garden.
Are House Sparrows increasing or declining in gardens?
House Sparrows have declined in gardens since BTO Garden BirdWatch began. Although reasons behind this decline are not known, the availability of food and nest sites in urban areas is thought to be a significant contributing factor. England’s House Sparrow population fell by 70% between 1977 and 2016. A study that was led by ZSL Institute of Zoology in collaboration with RSPB and BTO monitored the House Sparrow population in in London. The study showed that 74% of the House Sparrows tested carried Avian Malaria, which is the highest prevalence recorded in populations of wild birds in Northern Europe. You can find out more about the study on the BTO website here: https://www.bto.org/our-science/publications/peer-reviewed-papers/avian-malaria-mediated-population-decline-widespread
When do House Sparrows nest?
House Sparrows nest from April to August, and have up to three broods a year. The breeding behaviour of this species has been well studied over the years and recent DNA studies have shown that up to 15% of House Sparrows are the result of copulations by both males and females with others’ partners. Also, widowed female House Sparrows have been known to destroy eggs and young of other House Sparrow pairs in an attempt to force the male of that pair to desert their current partner.
Do House Sparrows use nestboxes?
Yes. House Sparrows require a standard, small hole fronted nestbox with an entrance hole of 32 mm. As House Sparrows are colonial nesters, consider placing several boxes in close proximity. Nestboxes are best facing north-east and are sheltered from the prevailing wind and rain. Avoid obvious sun traps, such as south-facing walls. The boxes don’t need to be positioned within cover. The box is best positioned between two and three metres off the ground or higher if you think there is a risk of disturbance. You can download plan for a House Sparrow nestbox from the BTO website here: https://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/bto-nest-boxes-essential-guide.pdf
What can I do to help House Sparrows in my garden?
Provide bird feeders filled with seed and put up nestboxes for them. Although House Sparrows tend to bathe in dust rather than water, make sure you supply a source of clean water for them so that they can drink. Also ensure that any bird feeders that you put up in your garden are cleaned and disinfected regularly in order to minimise the risk of the diseases that affect garden birds spreading.
This bird guide has been written in collaboration with experts at the British Trust for Ornithology. To find out more about their vital work, visit: www.BTO.org