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Endangered bird species - the House Sparrow

Updated on February 18, 2013

House Sparrows were once common

The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) was once a very familiar sight in British towns and cities and would be a regular visitor to gardens where people fed the birds. Most streets of houses had their own resident colonies of House Sparrows.

House Sparrows used to nest under the eaves of houses and could commonly be heard chirping and seen perched on roofs or flying about city streets. For there not to be sparrows around would have seemed unthinkable years ago but sadly nowadays they have vanished from many places.

House Sparrow photo

House Sparrow female feeding chick. Photo by Loz (L.B. Tettenbom)
House Sparrow female feeding chick. Photo by Loz (L.B. Tettenbom)

Description of the House Sparrow

The House Sparrow is a small and chunky bird with obvious differences between the males and females. Both sexes are coloured with shades of grey and brown but the males have the brighter and bolder markings, especially around their heads and on their wings.

House Sparrows are very social birds and congregate in flocks, communal roosting places and gather to feed together, often in the company of other bird species. The omnivorous House Sparrow will feed on insects, seeds of all kinds and scraps of human food.

House Sparrows can nest in many different places, and besides building their nests under the eaves of houses they will also nest in holes and cracks in walls, in trees, in the old nests of other birds, as well as sometimes taking over nests that are already in use. Sparrows can build their domed nests amongst ivy and creepers on walls and tree trunks as well.

House Sparrows can excavate nesting holes in sandy banks and in the rotten wood of old trees. They will also build their nests in holes in tree trunks. The House Sparrow female usually lays four or five eggs but clutches of as many as 10 have been recorded.

House Sparrows enjoy bathing in water and dust and in gardens with bird baths they are a species that will make use of what is provided for them.

The House Sparrow came originally from the Middle East but has successfully colonised or been introduced to most parts of the world. There are also many subspecies and regional varieties.

House Sparrow singing

Where have all the Sparrows gone?

Although on an international level the House Sparrow is in no danger, this once very common British bird has experienced serious declines in its populations in many places including London. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) describes the House Sparrow as: "now struggling to survive in the UK along with many other once common birds. They are clearly declining in both gardens and the wider countryside and their recent declines have earned them a place on the Red List."

This is surely a warning sign that all is not well with the ecology of the UK at present, although, exactly why the House Sparrow has so seriously declined in numbers is not known for certain.

Cats have been blamed for catching and killing the little birds, and whilst this is definitely true it cannot account for the very large decrease in their numbers. It has been thought that lack of nesting sites under the eaves of modern houses has given the House Sparrow a very serious problem but again this cannot be why they have become so scarce as the bird is perfectly capable of using alternative means of nesting.

Other suggested reasons for the decline in the once common House Sparrow are diseases and a serious drop in the numbers of insects that the birds feed on due to the widespread use of pesticides. Mobile phone masts are another possible cause of the House Sparrow's declining numbers. It is thought that the electromagnetic radiation produced has damaged the bird's fertility and ability to navigate but this has not been proved.

The decline of this once common bird is probably due to a combination of all the factors stated above. But whatever the reason is for the disappearance of the House Sparrow from so much of its former range in the UK is, the alarm bells are ringing loudly.

Copyright © 2010 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      3 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for commenting! I am in Portugal now and the bird populations seem more like I remember in the UK. There are sparrows, blackbirds, bluetits etc and plenty of insects for the omnivorous ones and insect-eaters to eat.

    • Sherry Thornburg profile image

      Sherry Thornburg 

      3 years ago from Kern County California

      It is a concern here too that the cat vs. bird debate is just a distraction away from things we have been doing ourselves to cause bird declines. Pesticides use on a massive scale could indeed be the reason for the large declines in bird both in the UK and here in the US. But at least here, the House Sparrow is strong and flourishing. Repatriating some back to the UK would be a great idea.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am glad to hear they are still doing OK where you are!

    • jenb0128 profile image

      Jennifer Bridges 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      Aw, we have so many of them around here I had no idea the numbers of house sparrows were dropping in the UK. There were a couple of them right outside my window while I was at work today. They kept me entertained.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for posting! Yes, it is really sad what is happening!

    • sarasa66 profile image

      sarasa66 

      6 years ago

      We've lost a good population of house sparrows and it is of great concrn in india.Incidentally, i've posted one hub on sparrows.pl.do visit.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you!

    • Gracenduta profile image

      Gracenduta 

      6 years ago from Kenya

      Informative and interesting hub.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Well, I am glad to hear it!

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      7 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      I suspect it might have a lot to do with keeping chickens - the sparrows have found a ready seed supply!

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      That is wonderful news, Adele!

    • AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

      Adele Cosgrove-Bray 

      7 years ago from Wirral, Cheshire, England.

      Interestingly, we've had more sparrows in our garden over the last twelve months than I've seen in years.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I really don't think that cats are to blame for so many having gone. It is a mystery!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 

      7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I echo kerryg's comment. I'm happy to ship at least some of ours back to England. This is a topic worth more investigation. House sparrows thrive here, and some people do look at them as pests. Opportunists they are. And we've got plenty of them.

      I've seen documentaries of cats in the UK, where I think there is more of a tradition of letting cats out than keeping them indoors (unlike in the US). There's no doubt a clawed cat can have an impact on a bird population, but house sparrows have tried and true defenses, as any animal does who is prey.

      Looking forward to more on why house sparrow populations are diminishing in the UK.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      They are probably what you are seeing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Truthfully I have never heard of house sparrows, so I do not know if they are different than the sparrows we have in the United States.They have populated here because of there being no natural enemies, I've been told.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, Leni! I am glad to hear of the species that are doing OK where you are!

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 

      7 years ago from UK

      Really good hub, much appreciated.

      I think the terrible winter we had last year also killed quite a few of them off but having said that we have quite a glut of them around our bird table presently, along with the finches, blue tits, chaffinches and finches, etc. Another bird that has gone into decline following our harsh winter is the kingfisher. The wagtails have also suffered. The wren and the robin seem to be holding there own at the moment. We are in for another bad winter this year according to many sources so I worry about the birds and other small animals.

      Thank you for this hub highlight the plight of the great British sparrow.

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for your comments, Lynda and Sam!

    • sampatrik profile image

      sampatrik 

      7 years ago from India

      Well written and very informative post , thanks for sharing with us.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 

      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Interesting read. Once never thinks of sparrows as being either an exotic import or endangered. Learn something new every day. Lynda

    • Bard of Ely profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Starlings are also disappearing in the UK!

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 

      7 years ago from USA

      Maybe we Americans could ship ours back to England. We've got millions of 'em and frankly, they're pests. Starlings, too. Both birds get used as examples for why introducing an exotic species to a new ecosystem is idiotic.

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