Taxonomic name: Passer domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Common names: English sparrow (English), Europese huismuis, gorrion casero (Spanish), Gorrion domestico (Dominican Republic), house sparrow (English), house sparrow, moineau domestique (French), town sparrow (English)
Organism type: bird
Passer domesticus (the house sparrow) is a small bird, native to Eurasia and northern Africa, that was intentionally introduced to the Americas. Passer domesticus are non-migratory birds that are often closely associated with human populations and are found in highest abundance in agricultural, suburban and urban areas. They tend to avoid woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts. Particularly high densities of Passer domesticus were found where urban settlements meet agricultural areas. They may evict native birds from their nests and out-compete them for trophic resources. Early in its invasion of North America, Passer domesticus began attacking ripening grains on farmland and was considered a serious agricultural pest. Recent surveys indicate populations are declining.
The male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has a brown back with black streaks. The top of the crown is grey, but the sides of the crown and nape are chestnut red. The chin, throat and upper breast are black and the cheeks are white. Females and juveniles are less colourful. They have a grey-brown crown and a light brown or buff eye stripe. The throat, breast and belly are greyish-brown and unstreaked (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2007).
Passer hispaniolensis, Passer montanus, Spiza americana
agricultural areas, ruderal/disturbed, urban areas, wetlands
House sparrows (Passer domesticus) may evict native birds from their nests and out-compete them for trophic resources. For the most part, P. domesticus is always found around man-made structures and lives around cities, towns and farms. It is non-migratory. Along the Gulf coast of North America it is found in salt marsh scrub in disturbed areas (Toups and Jackson 1987, in Aguirre and Poss, 2000). Foraging habitat includes fields and agricultural areas (Aguirre and Poss, 2000).
Despite their small size, house sparrows (Passer domesticus) are quite aggressive. House sparrows are known for displacing native species through competition by out-competing them for trophic resources. In rural areas they may evict native birds from their nests. Some species reported as being driven away by P. domesticus include the bluebird and the Carolina wren, as well as a variety of woodpeckers and martins.
Early in its invasion of North America, P. domesticus began eating ripening grains, such as wheat, oats, corn, barley and sorghum, and was considered a serious agricultural pest. Peas, turnips, cabbage and nearly all young vegetables are also attacked, as well as apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries and raspberries. Additionally, P. domesticus are a pest on poultry farms where they can consume large quantities of chicken feed.
The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has been commended for feeding on insect species considered pests, such as moths, cabbage worms, and cotton caterpillars (Burleigh 1958, Sprunt and Chamberlain 1970, in Aguirre and Poss, 2000).
North American survey data indicates that the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) populations are declining, particularly in maritime regions and in the eastern and central United States. Changes in agricultural practices, in particular the shift to monoculture crop plantings, have been suggested as the cause. In the UK, population decline seems to be related to reduced winter survival (Hole et al. 2002)
Native range: The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is native to Eurasia and northern Africa, occurring from the United Kingdom east to Siberia with the exception of Italy (Aguirre and Poss 2000).
Known introduced range: The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has been introduced and is now common in populated areas throughout the world. House sparrows have been introduced into South America, southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to North America. In the United States, it is established in all five Gulf States.
Introduction pathways to new locations
Other: The house sparrows (Passer domesticus) association with human beings has been in large part responsible for its successful invasion of North America (Aguirre and Poss, 2000).
Preventative measures: The Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia, recently developed a risk assessment model (Bomford,
2003) which has been endorsed by the National Vertebrate Pests Committee and may be used as the basis for future exotic species import applications. To assign an exotic species to a threat category, three risk scores are calculated: the risk that (1) an escaped or released individual would harm people, (2) escaped or
released individuals would establish a wild free-living population (3) the species would be a pest if a wild population did establish. These three risk scores are then
used to assign the exotic species to one of four threat categories: extreme, serious, moderate or low.
Passer domesticus has been assigned an
Extreme threat catergory for Australia. These animals should not be allowed to enter, nor be kept in any State or Territory. (Special consideration may be
given to scientific institutions on a case by case basis.) Any species that has not been assessed previously should be considered to be in the Extreme Threat Category
and should be treated accordingly, until a risk assessment is conducted.
Physical: According to Glacking (2000), there are several ways to control P. domesticus and prevent sparrow problems. One is habitat modification. Roosting and nesting sites can be reduced by blocking entrances larger than 2cm. Buildings can be designed or altered to eliminate resting places. In some areas, building codes are modified and architectural committees review plans to reduce nesting sites.
Food sources can be reduced by removing edible human refuse, protecting small crops with bird netting and practicing clean livestock feeding techniques. Feed also needs to be covered to protect it from bird droppings. Bird-resistant varieties of plants can be planted.
More direct methods of control include shooting, trapping, poisoning and repelling. House sparrows can be shot with air guns and small arms containing BB's and dust shot. Trap types include funnel, automatic, triggered and mist nets. Trapping is generally difficult, as sparrows quickly learn to avoid traps, nets, etc. (Summers-Smith, 1963). P. domesticus can be repelled with noise, such as fireworks or alarms. Bird glues and Nixalite (trademark for "porcupine wire") annoy the sparrows. They can also be scared away with scarecrows and motorised hawks. Destroying nests can be another method of reducing P. domesticus populations.
Chemical: The standard poison used is Avitrol (trademark for 4-Aminopyridine). It is most effective in winter, when food is scarce and bait is readily accepted. Grain is typically used, however, it is important to be aware of any local poison control laws before proceeding. Naphthalene is an olfactory repellent.
House sparrow (Passer domesticus) diet consists mostly of weed and grass seeds, grains and insects. Where available, it also feeds on cultivated grains, fruits and vegetables. Although it forages mostly on the ground in open areas, P. domesticus will perch on weed stalks to take seeds and search tree barks for insects. In urban areas, garbage constitutes a significant part of the birds diet and the consumption of grains by urban birds is less significant than in rural areas (D. Summers-Smith, 1963).
House sparrow (Passer domesticus) nests are built from dried vegetation, feathers, string and paper. Eggs are laid at any time in the nesting period. One to eight eggs can be present in a clutch, with the possibility of four clutches per nesting season. Incubation begins after all the eggs have been laid. Both males and females incubate the eggs for short periods of a few minutes each. Incubation lasts for 10 to 14 days.
Reviewed by: Dr. Andras Liker Department of Zoology, University of Veszprém. Veszprém Hungary.
Compiled by: National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) & IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG)
Updates with support from the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) project XOT603, a joint project with the Cayman Islands Government - Department of Environment
Last Modified: Monday, 4 October 2010