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House Sparrow

From Opus

Female on left, Male on rightPhoto by christineredgate
Female on left, Male on right
Photo by christineredgate
Passer domesticus

Includes: Indian Sparrow


[edit] Identification

L 16–18 cm (6-7 in).

[edit] Male

  • Grey crown with chestnut sides
  • Black lores and eye region
  • Bold black bib with whitish throat sides, most prominent in the breeding season. Cheeks dusky grey (white in bactrianus and indicus)
  • Heavily black-streaked brownish back
  • Broad white wing-bar
  • Horn coloured bill (black in non-breeding season)
Male domesticus on the left, male bacterianus on the rightPhoto by china guyChina
Male domesticus on the left, male bacterianus on the right
Photo by china guy

[edit] Female

  • Duller without head pattern
  • Cream eyestripe (lacking in the male)
  • Heavily black-streaked brownish back

Juveniles are similar to females but paler and more washed-out

[edit] Similar species

Especially females are similar to females of other species like Italian Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Russet Sparrow or Iago Sparrow. Sind Sparrow is very similar but smaller.

[edit] Distribution

Worldwide. Deliberately introduced by man on several continents, this bird is an unwelcome addition to the local ecologies, and another glaring example of the folly of introduction of alien species. They are now widespread on all the continents but Antarctica, and compete with native species. In the UK their numbers have been in severe decline over the years and they are now on the "Red List" of species at risk.


Original range
Italian Sparrow; year-round - now regarded as full species
Result of introductions
Maps/Texts consulted2

[edit] Taxonomy

Photo by G6 UXULytham St. Annes, Lancashire, September 2015
Photo by G6 UXU
Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire, September 2015

Twelve or more subspecies share the original distribution area, with P. d. indicus being smaller with whiter cheeks and more rufous in the crown. P. d. bactrianus is similar to P. d. indicus and is found in a different habitat than P. d. domesticus in the same area. In Central Asia P. d. domesticus is a resident species while P. d. bactrianus migrates to the Indian Subcontinent. Some authors therefore split P. d. bactrianus (with P. d. indicus) as Indian Sparrow.
Italian Sparrow has traditionally been included in House Sparrow, but some authorities think it is a form of Spanish Sparrow, some think it may be a stable population of hybrids between House and Spanish Sparrows, and there are more and more sources treating it as a full species. Below is a link to a discussion thread on the taxonomic status of this form.

[edit] Habitat

MalePhoto by robby thaiBung Borapet, Thailand, January 2018
Photo by robby thai
Bung Borapet, Thailand, January 2018

Mostly human settlement.
Bactrianus and parkini are found in grassland along riverbanks and avoid human settlement.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Breeding

Nests of grass, wool, feathers and other soft materials are made in holes in buildings or other structures, though house sparrows will also breed in thick ivy and natural structures. The clutch consists of 4-5 glossy pale blue eggs which are incubated for about 12 days. The young fledge after about 3 weeks. There may be up to 4 broods in the season which runs from April to August (UK), though 2-3 broods is more normal.

[edit] Diet

Includes seeds, soft buds, fruit, insects, spiders and any food scraps from humans or on bird tables.

[edit] Vocalisation

A flock of about 200 sparrows, recorded at Titchwell bird reserve, Norfolk

This is the classic sparrow chirp, often heard at length (up to half an hour!) in the Spring from an unmated male at the nest site trying to attract a female; although most persistent at that time the chirp can be heard from either sex all year round though for much shorter periods. Observation seems to indicate that as well as the breeding period usage of attracting a mate this call is also used to keep the flock aware of where other individuals are. A lone sparrow arriving may start up a chirp which attracts other sparrows. There is another variant of this, which has a disyllabic chirr-up, giving rise to an old English name for the house sparrow, "Phyllip sparrow" where the "phyll-ip" is onomatopoeic It is the loudest vocalisation of this bird.

This 'chattering' sound is common where there are sparrows in proximity. Although it is hard to avoid an anthropomorphic association with angry scolding, observation shows this sound can also be uttered by an individual on discovering a new food source, and may therefore also simply draw attention. It is also used to warn of ground predators

Low level churrs. Though the house sparrow is a common bird not many people have heard this sound because it is emitted at a fairly low level. This was recorded about six inches from sparrows feeding at a confined location (squirrelproof mealworm feeder) and seemed to enable the sparrows to feed in a closer proximitiy to each other (< 1 inch) than even this social bird normally permits.

Listen in an external program

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliott, and D Christie, eds. 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8496553507
  3. Bird Watching
  4. Discussion thread about the taxonomy of Italian Sparrow
  5. BTO House Sparrow Information sheet
  6. RSPB House Sparrow page
  7. Kate Vincent House sparrow decline PhD thesis Kate Vincent studied potential reasons for the decline between 2000 and 2005 part sponsored by the RSPB and English Nature.

[edit] External Links


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