Friday, February 20, 2009


I can see why American birdwatchers hate the House Sparrow. For one thing, it doesn't belong here, having been introduced into the USA from Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. For another, it often behaves aggressively towards native birds, pushing them aside at feeders and taking over their nesting sites. This is certainly not the kind of behavior that endears immigrants to locals and it has resulted in the House Sparrow being one of only three bird species which enjoy no protection under US law. (The others are also immigrants, the European Starling and the Rock Pigeon.)

Nonbreeding male House Sparrow

Perhaps partly because I too am an immigrant from Europe, I look more kindly on the House Sparrow, aka the English Sparrow. It may sometimes (well, often) behave objectionably but it is certainly adaptable. From its original homeland in Europe and Asia it has spread or been transplanted to almost every part of the world, and it is now the most widely distributed wild bird species on the planet. How can you not admire a species that has adapted to cope with the challenges of surviving in so many different habitats and regions?
Ironically, having spread so successfully overseas, the House Sparrow is in rapid decline in parts of Europe. Numbers in Britain have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years, and in the Netherlands the decline has been so great that the bird is considered an endangered species.
The cause of the bird’s decline in Europe is not yet totally clear but it appears to be related to its habit of feeding its young with insect larvae. Unfortunately for the House Sparrow, the supply of larvae has been greatly reduced in urban areas in Europe, partly because many people have concreted over their front yards and hedges in order to create more parking spaces. It is also possible that the toxic effects of unleaded gasoline are impacting the insect population and thus threatening the bird's future.
So it seems that the future of the most successful of all bird species is now under threat from that most successful of all animal species, man.


Birdwoman said...

Interesting post about a very interesting species. The House Sparrow has created a lot of havoc among native hole-nesting species on this continent, but if one can view it without prejudice, it is actually a very attractive little bird. Its ability to adapt, of course, is legendary.

Jeff said...

I try to bear in mind that the House Sparrow, European Starling and Rock Pigeon had no say in their relocation. They were shipped here. Since arriving, they've just tried to survive - like all the rest of us.