article and photos by Charly Mann
While the United States defeated Britain in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, England got her revenge in the spring of 1852 when 100 House Sparrows brought over from England were released along the East River in New York City. Now 150 years later they are one of the most abundant birds in the United States with a population estimated to be over 200 million. Their exponentially expanding population has caused steep declines in other cavity-nesting birds such as the Eastern Bluebird, Purple Martin, and several types of swallows.
Close-up of one of more than 40 House Sparrows that live in and around my house
House Sparrows are not really sparrows, but are Old World Weaver Finches. Until about 75 years ago they were called the English Sparrow in the United States.
This is a female House Sparrow
The House Sparrow is a small songbird measuring about 6 inches in length. It has short legs and a thick bill. Their backs are brown with black streaks. Its head is chestnut brown all the way to its eyes, and the chest and belly are grayish white. Males have white cheeks and a black bib, while females have a pale straw colored stripe behind their eyes, and do not have the white cheek and black bib.
House Sparrows are common almost anywhere humans place their homes or businesses much like the European Starling, which is also not a native species.
This is a detailed view of a male House Sparrow
By 1883 states and cities throughout the United States began declaring the House Sparrow a nuisance and offered bounties for their killing. These birds were originally imported because it was believed they would destroy insect pests, but as they multiplied it was soon discovered that insects were not a prime component on their diet. What they did do was drive away and reduce the populations of many species of native songbirds.
The House Sparrow's eggs hatch in only 11 days, and new born are independent within three weeks of birth. This is at least 30% faster than most similar sized birds. They can begin breeding within four months, and the average female produces 20 offspring a year. This means that just one pair of House Sparrows can be responsible for a population increase of 1,250 birds in 5 years. They also have a long lifespan which can exceed 13 years, though 4 years is more typical.
This is a 12 day old House Sparrow on its first trip out of the nest
House Sparrows are very adaptable in their diet. They love seed in bird feeders, grains, human food waste, as well as insects and spiders.
House Sparrows make their nests in rafters, gutters, ledges, eaves, attic vents, dryer vents, behind shake siding, behind or above pipes and ductwork on buildings, in evergreens and shrubs, and nests of cliff swallows and orioles. Unlike bluebirds and swallows, they will nest in close proximity to eachother.