The underappreciated sparrow

As usual, click on an image for larger view.


Because the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) has been so successful wherever it’s been able to find a toehold worldwide, there is a tendency for many people to overlook them in favor of other birds. Or they’re only noticed when their numbers are so great that they are considered a pest. True, they don’t sport the gaudy colors of some of their bird-feeder neighbors, but they have exquisite patterns on their wing feathers. They are also extremely intelligent, and I speak from experience in this as I spent considerable effort this year attempting to foil their efforts to monopolize my sister’s garden feeders of various types. Every time I came up with something new, they adapted and worked out a way to get around it. You could actually see them sitting on the branches surrounding the feeders and watching to see how the finches and tits managed. You could see them trying out those birds’ different techniques and then getting better at those techniques over the next few days. It was a mind-boggling exercise in animal behavior observation and utterly fascinating. I came to really admire these cheeky, bold little birds. I finally did come up with something that foiled most of them, but unfortunately it also deterred the finches from using those feeders as well. Only the most determined and inventive of the house sparrows were accessing the mixed seed feeders, along with the nuthatches and various kinds of tits. At least the finches were visiting the sunflower seed feeder, while the number of visiting house sparrows had been reduced to the point where the tits and nuthatches felt comfortable enough to return to my sister’s garden in greater numbers.

These images were captured at an outdoor cafe in Geneva, Switzerland. The boldest would actually land on the table where we were sitting and ask for handouts. Not quite as bold as the chickadees in our local park who will actually land on a person who has something to offer, but very endearing nonetheless.




21 thoughts on “The underappreciated sparrow

  1. I agree Katrina, the sparrows are quite lovely little birds. I was watching them at home too and thought “they are so common – I won’t do a whole Bird Photo Challenge post about them, but they are worth photographing.” I especially like the light in your last image.


    • Thanks, Chris. It’s funny, that last image was the most difficult one to process. The way the light was bouncing off the sparrow made it look like I had done a bad job of dropping in a background. In fact I had done no such thing, but I needed to find a solution to the appearance of it.


  2. They are definitely a brave and successful species. I call them ‘MacDonald’s birds’ because they seem to inhabit every one you ever see, successfully living off cast-offs and hand-outs. I talk to them when I see them in the city, they watch us so curiously. We don’t seem to have them out here in the country.


  3. Sparrows are actually quite lovely, the markings of their plumes interesting, I guess it’s the males that have stronger colourings. I get about a dozen of them on my bird table every day, it is a welcome sight.


    • In the case of my sister’s feeder, she had several dozen house sparrows that were visiting on a daily basis. They were so numerous that other types of birds were deterred from visiting. Once we got the numbers down to around a dozen, other types of birds started to show up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I understand, this was happening here too but with the Rooks and Jackdaws, and it is good to find a solution as it is lovely to see the more delicate birds like the Finches and Tits etc… feeding and give them all an equal chance. Great!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful photo set of the lovely House sparrow. I have been studying them for a research project and they are truly fascinating birds. As you say they are very under-rated and mostly ignored (do not believe anything about what you read about their song, it is mostly untrue) because they are brown, small and common. It’s sad that in (Western) European countries their numbers are reclining rapidly, especially in urban and suburban areas, without anyone really knowing why.


    • Thank you. πŸ™‚ It’s a shame that when a bird is brown colored it is considered plain. Mallard hens suffer from the same bias, I think. When you really look at them the various shades of brown make for beautiful plumage. I thought I read somewhere last year that the declining house sparrow population had stabilized….? Was that just in the UK, and/or was it just temporary?


      • I do not know about a stabilization, but then I do not live in the UK. What I do know is that especially in cities and suburbs their numbers are still declining (in a study from the UK (in 2007) it was shown the population sizes of sparrows living in more rural areas or small towns never declined). It could be they are nearing a new stabile population size, but that point would be different for every place.


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