House Sparrow

Hey guys, welcome back, and Happy New Year! Nothing like starting 2019 off with a great bird! Too bad today’s bird is the House Sparrow. I joke, but the House Sparrow is a great example of what would be considered an invasive species. At least here in the Americas. The House Sparrow is the most abundant bird in the world, being found on every continent except Antarctica. Native to Eurasia, the House Sparrow came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s by way of Brooklyn. It was purposely introduced in the States as a way to help control the Linden Moth population. Nowadays, we know the kind of harm introducing a non-native species to an ecosystem could do, but back then, it wasn’t fully understood. The House Sparrow, which had been quite used to and happy to live near humans for hundreds of years (if not more) spread quickly until it was one of the most abundant birds on the continent. It has out competed native birds for habitat and nesting sites, even going as far as taking over nests, and killing the birds (and their eggs) that lived there. The House Sparrow’s success is one of the factors in the decline of native species, like the Eastern Bluebird.

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Male (left) and female (right) House Sparrow, Concord, OH

But while it’s thriving here, in parts of Eurasia, particularly in India, the House Sparrow’s numbers are declining rapidly. Here in the states, the House Sparrow is largely considered a pest, and even most birders don’t think twice about them. Being familiar with them is good, however, as it can help ID other birds. The House Sparrow is a good bird, because of its familiarity, to compare other birds to. Size, for example, can be a good indicator of species, and knowing whether a bird is larger or smaller than a House Sparrow can help narrow a positive ID down.

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Male House Sparrow in non-breeding plumage, Central Park, NY

Though the House Sparrow looks, superficially, like native sparrows such as the White-throated Sparrow, they aren’t closely related. The House Sparrow has only one close relative on the Continent; the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, which was introduced like its cousin, but never spread too far from its release point. It can only be found in the St. Louis region of all places (I have yet to see one.) Back to the House Sparrow. Though overlooked, the breeding plumage of the male is actually pretty cool looking, and they do a funny little mating dance in spring that for some reason to me makes them look like a fancy man in a waist coat. Don’t ask me why, cuz I don’t have a good answer.

So while the House Sparrow is largely considered a pest, responsible for declining native bird populations, it is kind of amazing when you think of it, how this bird has evolved to live so closely with humans basically since there were humans. Next up, back to waterfowl, and the most recognizable duck in the world. The Mallard. See you all then!

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