HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

FAMILY: PASSERIDAE (Old world sparrows)

House sparrows are present in much of the UK. They are becoming noticeably absent from city centres but are still present in other urban, suburban, and rural areas. They have colonised every continent apart from Antarctica and are synonymous with human habitation.

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Alert Status:

Red - 12% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 5.3 million (updated 2016)

Listen to House Sparrow song:


The house sparrow looks similar to the tree sparrow, but for the slightly smaller stature of the tree sparrow and for the chestnut brown patch on their cheek. Male house sparrows have a light grey crown, a red-brown back, white wingbar and grey underside and rump. Interestingly, the house sparrow’s beak is a yellow-brown colour in winter, however, it turns black in the warmer months! 

Males also have black bibs, which have been found to indicate the dominance of the male house sparrow in its community. The larger the size of the bib, the more dominant an individual is, and age is thought to also play a role in the size of the bib. 

The female house sparrow has a yellow-brown cap, dull brown back and grey-white underside. with a pale stripe behind the eye. 

Average Length: 14-15 cm
Average Lifespan: 3 Years
Average Wingspan: 21 - 25 cm

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House sparrow diet

House Sparrow Diet
House sparrows are opportunists and will feed on seeds, berries, buds and insects, but are just as happy to take scraps off picnic benches and bins. You will often see them hopping along the ground and foraging.

How to feed blackbirds: Bird tables
What to feed blackbirds: Sunflower hearts, black sunflower seeds and seed mixtures.

House sparrow breeding and nesting information

House sparrows will frequently take over the nests of house martins, while in many parts of Europe they often nest in colonies in the base of white storks’ nests. Their nests are untidy, domed or cup shaped made from grass and feathers, but will use next boxes with a hole or communal nest boxes as well. They are also found in the wall cavities of houses. 

They lay on average 2-3 broods a year, each with 4-5 eggs and incubate these eggs for roughly 14 days. Clutches are normally laid around May but can span from March until July.

Threats to house sparrows

The absolute reason for the decline of house sparrows is unknown, but it is thought to be due to a combination of climate change, habitat loss, agricultural intensification, reduction in food availability (due to pesticide use and general insect decline among other issues), predation and increased levels of disease. 

How you can help

Fill your bird feeders with sunflower seeds (a firm favourite!) placed near to hedges

Providing nest boxes for sparrows to nest in

Plant thick hedges in gardens that provide habitat and suitable food

Allow your lawn and weed to grow a bit wild, house sparrows love seeds available through the growth of weeds.

Fascinating Fact

A sparrow has various meanings in different cultures and religions, from being a harbinger of doom, to a symbol of hope. In Greek mythology, and through Greek art and culture, sparrows are connected to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. They are thought to symbolise true, pure love and are a symbol of spiritual connection between two people.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Passer domesticus. Downloaded from on 29/03/2022. 

Chamberlain, D.E., Glue, D.E. & Toms, M.P. (2009). Sparrowhawk presence and winter bird abundance. Journal of Ornithology 150: 247-254.

Chamberlain, D.E., Toms, M.P., Cleary-McHarg, R. & Banks, A.N. (2007). House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) habitat use in urbanized landscapes. Journal of Ornithology 148: 453-462.

Nakagawa, S., Ockendon, N., Gillespie, D.O.S., Hatchwell, B.J., Burke, T. (2007) Assessing the function of house sparrows' bib size using a flexible meta-analysis method. Behavioural Ecology. 18(5): 831-840.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Shaw, L.M., Chamberlain, D., Conway, G. & Toms, M. (2011). Spatial distribution and habitat preferences of the House Sparrow Passer domesticus in urbanised landscapes. BTO Research Report 599, British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114

Werness, H.B., Ramsay-Lozano, T., Benedict, J.H., Thomas, S. (2004) The Continuum Encyclopaedia of Animal Symbolism in Art. Continuum International Publishing Group. 

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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