Telling the difference between tree and house sparrows can be tricky, one of the best things to remember is that tree sparrows are not present in UK urban areas. So if you see a sparrow in a city it is likely a house sparrow. Tree sparrows are also smaller than house sparrows and slightly more active, they have brown upper parts and light brown flanks, a white belly and breast, and black throat. They have a chestnut brown head and nape with a white collar and white cheeks with a visible black spot compared to the house sparrows' grey head and lack of black cheek spot.
Average Length: 14 cm
Average Lifespan: 2 Years
Average Wingspan: 20-22 cm
Tree sparrows eat mainly seeds and insects. If there is a population near you they are likely to visit your garden for food.
How to feed: Hanging garden feeders.
What to feed: They will eat any seed mix and particularly like sunflower hearts.
During the breeding season, which starts in April or May, tree sparrows form small, loose colonies and mate for life. The nest is built in a hole in a tree, cliff, or artificial structure or even sometimes at the base of larger bird nests such as herons or corvids. The nest consists of a dome of dried grass with an entrance hole. 5-6 eggs are laid and incubated in turn by the male and the female for 12-13 days. After hatching the chicks are fed by the parents for 15-17 days until they fledge. They will often produce 2 or 3 broods before the breeding season ends and they disperse around the UK.
The decline of tree sparrows in the UK has been attributed to the intensification of agriculture. The loss of winter stubble and the increased use of pesticides have caused a decrease in available food for tree sparrows. The loss of hedgerows and woodland edge habitat around UK farmland has caused further decreases by reducing available nesting sites. Pollution of the environment with heavy metals has also been shown to decrease nesting success.
Provide seeds and water for these birds during the winter months.
Create an insect-friendly garden to increase available food during the breeding season.
Petition local areas to protect woodland habitats and promote agri-environment schemes.
While Tree sparrows are absent from UK urban areas, they are common city birds in Asia and parts of mainland Europe.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Passer montanus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/eurasian-tree-sparrow-passer-montanus. Accessed: 05/10/2023.
British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Tree Sparrow, BTO. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/tree-sparrow. Accessed: 05/10/2023.
Ding, J., Yang, W., Wang, S., Zhang, H., Yang, Y., Bao, X., Zhang, Y., & Gan, J. (2020). Effects of environmental metal pollution on reproduction of a free-living resident songbird, the tree sparrow (Passer montanus). Science of the Total Environment, 721, 137674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137674
Jiang, J., He, Y., Kou, H., Ju, Z., Gao, X., & Zhao, H. (2019). The effects of artificial light at night on Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus): Behavioral rhythm disruption, melatonin suppression and intestinal microbiota alterations. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.105702
Pinowski, J., Haman, A., Jerzak, L., Pinowska, B., Os"awa Barkowska, M. ", Grodzki, A., & Haman, K. (2006). The thermal properties of some nests of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus. Journal of Thermal Biology, 31, 573–581. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2006.05.007
RSPB (2023) Tree Sparrow Bird Facts: Passer Montanus, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/tree-sparrow/. Accessed: 05/10/2023.