The Lowly Sparrow

House Sparrows might be among the most successful bird species. Originating in Europe and Asia, they were introduced to North America in 1851 by Eugene Schieffelin in an attempt to combat a caterpillar-caused tree infestation in New York City. According to lore, he was also responsible for the release of 100 European Starlings in Central Park in the early 1890s as part of the romantic effort to introduce all Shakespearean birds to the New World. Both species took one look around, and decided to stay. It is estimated that today there might be as many as 500 million house sparrows, and 200 million starlings in North America. Ironically, their declining numbers in parts of Europe have been cause for concern.

From New York City, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) conquered the majority of the North American continent, except for Alaska and parts of northern Canada. It has also spread to portions of South America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. A gregarious, garrulous bird, it nearly always flocks with its confrères and consoeurs. Many dislike the sparrow, consider it a pest, a rival of native species with whom it competes for food and nesting places. I am of the opinion that non-native animals and plants have always followed in the wake of human movement, and that to try to fight this reality is a battle predestined to fail.

Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

I find it hard not to be cheered by this lively, inquisitive, and intrepid little bird that weighs no more than an ounce (30 grams). Despite a limited color spectrum, its white, gray, black, and brown to reddish feathers are arranged in an attractive pattern. What its voice lacks in melodiousness, it makes up for with nearly incessant chattering and chirping. The resourceful species has thrived in many an environment, but as the name suggests, it has a tendency to stay close to human habitation. Its natural diet consists chiefly of seeds, supplemented by insects, but in reality it is an omnivore, and I worry slightly about its appetite for human junk food. Whether at backyard feeders, in city plazas, at train stations (or airports), where there is chow, sparrows abound.

Not so long ago I experienced – and enjoyed – a personal reminder of their ubiquity. While awaiting my departure from Denver International Airport last November, my husband and I were surrounded by sparrows, in the dining area, inside the terminal! They kept a close eye on the goings-on and were quick to swoop down for any sign of dropped or discarded food, fluttering from roof to floor, from floor to chair, from chair to table, from table to roof, where they must have found openings that allow in- and egress. Despite all the valid and valuable arguments against this type of scenario, I simply smiled, and clicked away with my camera.

Cheers to the omnipresent, adaptable, and always-in-a-good-mood house sparrows who have made my day more than once!

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

45 thoughts on “The Lowly Sparrow

  1. Philadelphia is known for its “toughness.” One day on a visit we were walking and came upon a sparrow pecking away at a hamburger dropped on the sidewalk. Any other bird would have flown away as we approached, but that sparrow held its ground. We now refer to it as “that Philadelphia-tough bird.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Süße Aufnahmen von den putzigen Spatzen. Was wäre die Welt ohne sie? Ich bin manchmal hin und hergerissen, was ich über die Neophyten denken soll(wenn sie bei den Tieren so heißen??). Aber wer sich durchsetzt gewinnt…ob es uns gefällt oder nicht. Ja, es ist tatsächlich ironisch, daß sie hier immer mehr abnehmen und sich bei euch bestens ausbreiten! Mit begeisterten Grüßen, Almuth

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ich danke Dir, liebe Almuth. Ich denke einfach, daß alles ständig im Flux ist, und das alles, was wir seit einigen Hundert Jahren kennen und beschreiben auch mal etwas Neues und Unerhörtes war.
      Ich hoffe Du genießt Deine Woche.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Da hast du sicher Recht. Unsere Kartoffeln und Tomaten in Europa sind auch nicht heimisch….aber manchmal fällts schwer, daß zu akzeptieren. Besonders, wenn man seine heimischen Pflanzen liebgewonnen hat und sie nun anderen weichen sollen….aber die Natur regelt es von selbst. Dir auch eine schöne Woche! Ist Pfingstmontag bei euch ein Feiertag? Liebe Grüße, Almuth

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not sure how I agree with the bad rap House Sparrows (and starlings, grackles, cormorants, etc.) are getting. They are hugely adaptable and have been rewarded for their ability to thrive in the Anthropocene, even if it means displacement of many other less adaptable ‘specialist’ species. It’s not their fault the world has changed. (It’s ours.)

    Glad to see you appreciate them too. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Coming from New Zealand where we have many unique, endemic, wonderful birds I’m definitely concerned by the effects of introduced species. Sparrows were everywhere when I was a kid but not so much now. Lots of them died off in the intervening period, some disease I think. Certainly down south here I only see them in very normal numbers, nothing to worry about. Our main problems are opossums, rats, ferrets and stoats, mice, cats and dogs. I enjoyed your article thank you Tanja!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know what I’d do without the House Sparrows visiting me. I often awake to hear their chattering and chirping on my balcony – only absent when it’s raining or too cold (like today).

    How strange to hear that their numbers might be declining in Europe. There seems to be zillions down under in Australia 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find it interesting that they are doing better in areas where they were introduced than in their original habitats. Do you happen to know if someone brought them to Australia intentionally or accidentally?


  6. Nice photos, Tanja! Sparrows and pigeons were the only birds that I could correctly identify since childhood given their ubiquity. It seems that the sparrows provided you with good entertainment inside the terminal building! 🙂 I learned a little bit more about them from your blog post today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pooja. I don’t think some people realize how pervasive some of these birds are, or at least were, but I believe that we would all notice if they suddenly disappeared, and we had to live without their antics and their vocalizations. I hope this scenario will never come true, but, unfortunately, it is happening.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome post, Tanja, I did not know the history of the House Sparrow, so thank you for including that. I love these little guys/gals, they always make me smile with their busy work of watching and swooping and fleeing. Quite entertaining! I love that they were inside the airport, lol. Hey, if there’s a way in to eat or nest, they will find it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tanja –
    This is a lovely post. I too like sparrows. I am often cheered by them. Especially at my day job when I look out and see them flitting around or sitting on the window sill. -Jill

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m sorry but I absolutely despise these filthy birds. I have seen them drive chickadees, downy woodpeckers and wrens away and steal their nests, not to mention pecking their way into our eaves. UGH! You are right, though. There’s no fighting them. I think they would be less successful if people did not insist on feeding them. If you’ll permit another grumpy thought, I often wonder why people clearly know it isn’t ok to feed wildlife, and yet feeding birds is not only tolerated but actively encouraged among bird lovers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand your point, Melissa. Many people feel the way you do, not only about these birds, but also about starlings, probably even more.
      I, too, feed birds, but get very few house sparrows on my feeder. It is proven that most birds only frequent feeders to supplement their natural diet, not rely on it. In my mind, this simple gesture is a tiny way to try to counteract the loss of habitat and food all animals suffer because of human encroachment.
      I think we have to agree to disagree.


      • I was surprised at the positive feedback you got from your other readers. I do wish people would inform themselves about the birds they are looking at. Or just watch them. There would be some lovely diversity in the birds for people to enjoy, not just these noisome brown ones, if people would plant a few native shrubs in their yards. Brilliant blues, reds, etc. And lovely songs. I wouldn’t mind the sparrows so much if they did not actively push out the native species but they do.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello Tanja

    My heartfelt thanks to you for following my blog, and for all the likes & comments!And hope we continue to grow and support each other in this journey!

    Also, my blog A Wayward Scribbles reached the milestone of 500+ followers last month and I thought why not celebrate it!

    So, I’m very excited to personally invite you to my blog party(23 May, 2018), since you’re one of those amazing blogger who chose to follow my blog and I would love to show my gratitude!

    See you at the party!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, and for your invitation. I am sorry I missed your party, but I was gone for over a week, without Internet!
      Congratulations on your milestone. I look forward to more of your posts.
      Best wishes,


  11. I love love love sparrows and have been feeding them every day for 25 years. (Never bread! I buy them sunflower seeds and such.) I can’t stand the hypocrisy or lack of thought of those – often well-meaning – who argue that it’s not “healthy” for them, that they should find their own food etc. I agree with them in principle, of course – but where are they going to find food nowadays when there are so few insects and there is no food to be found lying around (a very good thing, of course, but not for birds)? Not to mention that there is no species who has done more harm – unfathomably catastrophic harm – than humans.
    I love the little rascals, and by now I also know them very well. Not only do I understand their sounds, but they seem to understand my signals, too. We have a good communication system going on. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you are enjoying the sparrows and getting to know them. I do not consider it a conflict to feed wild bird, as they suffer loss of habitat and food sources at our hands.
      Thank you for your reading and commenting.
      Happy birding,


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