House Sparrow

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House Sparrow

House sparrow photo
Passer domesticus
Passeridae (Old World sparrows) in the order Passeriformes

Upperparts of male are chestnut brown with a gray crown, a black eye line and bill, a whitish gray cheek and a single white wing bar. Underparts are grayish tan, with a black throat and upper breast. Upperparts of female are tan, with darker reddish brown wings, a yellowish bill and a pale eyebrow; the single white wing bar is often indistinct, and the underparts are tan. The song is a repeated, slurred, nonmusical "chireep" or "chirip." The call is a harsh "chireep."

Similar species: The female dickcissel resembles the female house sparrow and may go unnoticed at bird feeders in the fall and early winter.

House sparrows are one of the most common birds that share human habitats. They forage at bird feeders, in fast-food parking lots and among shrubs and vines near buildings in urban, suburban and rural areas. You may also see them building nests in crannies of signs on "big-box" stores.

Length: 6 1/4 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Habitat and conservation: 
The house sparrow or "English sparrow" is not a true American sparrow; rather, it is an Old World sparrow that is more closely related to species in Europe, Asia and Africa. To the delight of nostalgic immigrants, house sparrows were introduced to America in the 1800s in hopes they would help control insect pests. But house sparrows don't feed much on insects, however, and quickly became a pest, especially to farmers.
Seeds, grains, fruits, insects, bread crumbs and more. Common at bird feeders. Overabundant in rural regions and around livestock feedlots from coast to coast. Formerly even more abundant, when considerable food was available in urban areas because of all the grain-fed horses. These sparrows will feed on spilled grain as well as undigested seeds in manure.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Non-native. Common permanent resident. These introduced birds were greeted first with joy, then with disappointment as they failed to gobble up insects. As they multiplied and feasted on grains, they became a frustration. Along with European starlings, house sparrows compete with many native birds (bluebirds and woodpeckers, for example) for nesting cavities and vest boxes.
Human connections: 
Like other species introduced with good intentions--which have proven to be invasive pests--these "rats with wings" present a cautionary tale about foresight and hindsight. On a brighter note, it's hard not to be charmed by these birds' cheery chirps and energetic presence even on cold winter days.
Ecosystem connections: 
If you have bluebird boxes, you know how quickly house sparrows can take over the nest space. Amazingly, Missouri's bluebirds, tree swallows, woodpeckers, nuthatches and others--although clearly affected by nesting competition by house sparrows--seem to be maintaining healthy populations.
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