House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
These common, non-migratory birds are members of the greater Sparrow family but they are not related to the North American or Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia). They are sometimes called English Sparrows. They can be found anywhere there are buildings or trees suitable for nesting near populated areas. They fly into Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo from the surrounding area, including Beardsley Park, and you may see them around your own home.
Since House Sparrows were first introduced in the United States in Brooklyn, New York, in 1851, they have adapted well to living with humans, so they are beneficiaries of our own success. They flutter down from nests made in trees, house eaves, even stop sign poles and traffic lights, to pick up crumbs or birdseed or eat insects off of car grills.
House sparrows are chunkier and have a fuller chest than other sparrow species. They have a larger, rounded head, stouter bill and shorter tail. They range between 6 and 7 inches long with a wingspan of up to 10 inches. They weigh only about 1 ounce.
Male house sparrows are brightly colored. Their plumage is gray on their heads, white on their cheeks and reddish-brown on their necks. They also sport a black bib. In cities, some House Sparrows have duller colors that may be an attempt to blend in more with the environment. Female House Sparrows are brown overall with gray-brown under parts. However, the brown plumage on their backs is actually striped buff, brown and black.
House Sparrows are noisy flock birds. The males make a “cheep” or “chirrup” sound singly, or in a series, incessantly. They also maintain a pecking order. Older males have larger black bibs and they are the leaders of the flock.
When on the ground, they hop rather than walk. They are considered ground foragers when it comes to eating.
House sparrows prefer dust baths over water baths. A House Sparrow will throw soil and dust into the air and all over its feathers. This sometimes makes a small depression in the ground that the House Sparrow will defend as bathing territory. They defend their nesting spots just as aggressively.
Although they are not water birds, House Sparrows can swim. They have been observed when caught in a water trap to swim underwater to another part of the trap to escape.
They prefer to nest in human-made structures but will nest in trees if the tree is near a populated area.
The House Sparrow can be found in most populated areas of the United States, Mexico, Canada and the eastern part of South America. They cannot be found in extreme environments like deserts or arctic regions.
House Sparrows are flock birds. They are social and often build their nests with adjoining walls, like apartments. They have between 2 and 3 broods per year and each brood consists of 1 to 8 eggs. The female with incubate the eggs for up to 2 weeks. When they hatch, the chicks are completely naked with light pink skin. Their eyes are closed and they are clumsy. Both parents feed the nestlings after hatching until they are ready to leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.
Omnivore. Their diet consists mostly of grains and seeds but in summer they eat insects.
The average life span is 4 years in the wild and 15 years in human care.