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The Sparrow Saga

Dec 14, 2015

Even in the dead of winter, things can get pretty lively around a bird feeder. It’s a meeting place for cardinals, blue jays, nuthatches and those “little brown birds”… the sparrow.

Sparrows are basically brown, but different kinds of sparrows have rather colorful markings. For instance, the white-throated sparrow sports yellow eyebrows. A close relative, the white-crowned sparrow, shows off what appears to be a white mohawk haircut. A reddish cap with a small black spot adorns the breast of the American tree sparrow.

The bird we most often refer to as a sparrow is the house, or English sparrow. House sparrows came from Europe more than 100 years ago, and have thrived on farms and in urban areas.

Sparrows are easily attracted to your backyard. And they even eat cheap! Sparrows actually prefer the lower-priced bird seed. White millet spread on the ground, close to a shrub or bush, is perfect! It’s sure to welcome in those “little brown birds,” bringing activity to your bird feeder and life to the dead of winter!

The House Sparrow Life

  • 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.
  • House sparrows eat grains, fruits, insects, bread crumbs and more. They are overabundant in rural regions and around livestock feed lots from coast to coast.
  • Along with European starlings, house sparrows compete with many native birds (bluebirds and woodpeckers, for example) for nesting cavities and vest boxes.

Learn more about all sparrow species in the MDC Field Guide.

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