If a poll were taken of the most significant bird pest in the world, the winner would be the English Sparrow, or the House Sparrow. The House Sparrow is not even a member of the sparrow family, but a member of the weaver finch family, a native of Asia and Africa. It was introduced into North America by the settlers in the New England area in the 1850s. Within fifty years this aggressive bird made its way to the Pacific Coast. Except for the frigidly cold areas, this bird has become a worldwide pest.
The House Sparrow is a very aggressive species that builds nests in any nook or crevice in a building, nest boxes, electrical facilities or any other site it deems acceptable to build a nest. Often the birds will commandeer nesting sites occupied by Eastern Bluebirds and Purple Martins, destroy eggs and kill the young birds while taking over the site. They have a long breeding season, producing large numbers of offspring. Like feral hogs, they reproduce at rates that make it almost impossible to control their numbers.
Likely most of you have had confrontations with these birds building nests in any available site where they can construct their bulky nests of grass straw, bits of paper and plastic, and feathers. If you remove the nests, the sparrows will begin immediately to replace the nest. Their persistence is strong and the experience will become a game of patience with you, their unhappy landlord. If you let your guard down for a few days, there will be a replacement nest in place. Another big problem associated with House Sparrow nests is the mites and other parasites they bring to your house, or building.
In case you are not sure what these birds look like, the males are gray with a rufous nape and a black bib. The females are mostly buffy gray with clear un-streaked breasts. They have the typical finch conical bill. Another sparrow-like bird which may hang around your feeders is the House Finch; male House Finches have a reddish head and breast. The female House Finches are brown with a streaky plumage. House Finches are not aggressive and are acceptable neighbors.
It is difficult to find any acceptable character or behavioral trait in House Sparrows, but if I had to name one, it would be the male’s devotion to the female during the breeding season. While the female is on the nest incubating the eggs, the male finds a nearby perch and serenades her with a song. He will spend most of the day singing to her with his rather simple song. The male also helps in nest building and feeding the youngsters.
In the winter months House Sparrows will form large flocks and hang out in shrubbery in your backyard, or nearby to possible feeding areas. These birds may roost in rafters of out buildings adding another reason for their unpopular status – leaving a smelly area from their droppings.
As House Sparrows are not native species, they are not protected by any laws extended to native songbirds. Commercial traps are available on line and in some birding supply stores. If you live in the city, your control options are limited, but you can take non-lethal steps to discourage the pests’ presence. Remember, large amounts of patience and persistence will be needed to be successful in reclaiming your territory. If you live in the country, as I do, there are other ways to show your displeasure of their presence. I will leave it to you to decide your options,
House Sparrows have a lot of attributes that make them so successful, such as being hardworking, adaptable, innovative, and persistence, many of which also help people be successful. But unfortunately in their case, their presence competes with our native birds’ right to live productive lives. The House Sparrows and other alien birds, such as European Starlings and Rock Pigeons, apply pressure on our native specie’s survival, so it becomes necessary to try control their numbers to give the natives a fair chance to survive.