TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)

FAMILY: PASSERIDAE (Old world sparrows)

This shy sparrow is not associated with humans like the house sparrow, instead, it is found on woodland edges and farmland where there is easy access to grain and seeds. They tend to be found in eastern regions of the UK and Ireland, with Yorkshire providing a stronghold for these birds. During the breeding season, they can be spotted in small colonies which disperse around the UK in the winter months. Tree sparrows underwent severe declines in the UK in the 1980s (around 93%) and are on the UK red list, but recent records suggest the populations are increasing.

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Alert Status:

Red - 60% increase ↑

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 245,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Tree Sparrow song:


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

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Tree Sparrow diet

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.  

Tree Sparrow breeding and nesting information

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.

Threats to Tree Sparrows

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.

How you can help

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.  

Fascinating Fact

While Tree sparrows are absent from UK urban areas, they are common city birds in Asia and parts of mainland Europe.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Passer montanus. Downloaded from Accessed: 05/10/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Tree Sparrow, BTO. Available at: 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.  

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.  

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.

RSPB (2023) Tree Sparrow Bird Facts: Passer Montanus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 05/10/2023.

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