Vol 2, #6 – The English Sparrow

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) "English Sparrow" for Birds Illustrated

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) “English Sparrow” for Birds Illustrated

From col. Chi. Acad. Sciences. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.


“Oh, it’s just a common Sparrow,” I hear Bobbie say to his mamma, “why, I see lots of them on the street every day.”

Of course you do, but for all that you know very little about me I guess. Some people call me “Hoodlum,” and “Pest,” and even “Rat of the Air.” I hope you don’t. It is only the folks who don’t like me that call me ugly names.

Why don’t they like me?

Well, in the first place the city people, who like fine feathers, you know, say I am not pretty; then the farmers, who are not grateful for the insects I eat, say I devour the young buds and vines as well as the ripened grain. Then the folks who like birds with fine feathers, and that can sing like angels, such as the Martin and the Bluebird and a host of others, say I drive them away, back to the forests where they came from.

Do I do all these things?

I’m afraid I do. I like to have my own way. Maybe you know something about that yourself, Bobbie. When I choose a particular tree or place for myself and family to live in, I am going to have it if I have to fight for it. I do chase the other birds away then, to be sure.

Oh, no, I don’t always succeed. Once I remember a Robin got the better of me, so did a Catbird, and another time a Baltimore Oriole. When I can’t whip a bird myself I generally give a call and a whole troop of Sparrows will come to my aid. My, how we do enjoy a fuss like that!

A bully? Well, yes, if by that you mean I rule around my own house, then I am a bully. My mate has to do just as I say, and the little Sparrows have to mind their papa, too.

“Don’t hurt the little darlings, papa,” says their mother, when it comes time for them to fly, and I hop about the nest, scolding them at the top of my voice. Then I scold her for daring to talk to me, and sometimes make her fly away while I teach the young ones a thing or two. Once in a while a little fellow among them will “talk back.” I don’t mind that though, if he is a Cock Sparrow and looks like his papa.

No, we do not sing. We leave that for the Song Sparrows. We talk a great deal, though. In the morning when we get up, and at night when we go to bed we chatter a great deal. Indeed there are people shabby enough to say that we are great nuisances about that time.

House Sparrow by Ray's Wildlife Photography

House Sparrow by Ray’s Wildlife Photography



HE English Sparrow was first introduced into the United States at Brooklyn, New York, in the years 1851 and ’52. The trees in our parks were at that time infested with a canker-worm, which wrought them great injury, and to rid the trees of these worms was the mission of the English Sparrow.

In his native country this bird, though of a seed-eating family (Finch), was a great insect eater. The few which were brought over performed, at first, the duty required of them; they devoured the worms and stayed near the cities. With the change of climate, however, came a change in their taste for insects. They made their home in the country as well as the cities, and became seed and vegetable eaters, devouring the young buds on vines and trees, grass-seed, oats, rye, and other grains.

Their services in insect-killing are still not to be despised. A single pair of these Sparrows, under observation an entire day, were seen to convey to their young no less than forty grubs an hour, an average exceeding three thousand in the course of a week. Moreover, even in the autumn he does not confine himself to grain, but feeds on various seeds, such as the dandelion, the sow-thistle, and the groundsel; all of which plants are classed as weeds. It has been known, also, to chase and devour the common white butterfly, whose caterpillars make havoc among the garden plants.

The good he may accomplish in this direction, however, is nullified to the lovers of the beautiful, by the war he constantly wages upon our song birds, destroying their young, and substituting his unattractive looks and inharmonious chirps for their beautiful plumage and soul-inspiring songs.

Mrs. Olive Thorne Miller in “Bird Ways” gives a fascinating picture of the wooing of a pair of Sparrows in a maple tree, within sight of her city window, their setting up house-keeping, domestic quarrel, separation, and the bringing home, immediately after, of a new bride by the Cock Sparrow.

She knows him to be a domestic tyrant, a bully in fact, self-willed and violent, holding out, whatever the cause of disagreement, till he gets his own will; that the voices of the females are less harsh than the males, the chatter among themselves being quite soft, as is their “baby-talk” to the young brood.

That they delight in a mob we all know; whether a domestic skirmish or danger to a nest, how they will all congregate, chirping, pecking, scolding, and often fighting in a fierce yet amusing way! One cannot read these chapters of Mrs. Miller’s without agreeing with Whittier:

“Then, smiling to myself, I said,—
How like are men and birds!”

Although a hardy bird, braving the snow and frost of winter, it likes a warm bed, to which it may retire after the toils of the day. To this end its resting place, as well as its nest, is always stuffed with downy feathers. Tramp, Hoodlum, Gamin, Rat of the Air! Notwithstanding these more or less deserved names, however, one cannot view a number of homeless Sparrows, presumably the last brood, seeking shelter in any corner or crevice from a winter’s storm, without a feeling of deep compassion. The supports of a porch last winter made but a cold roosting place for three such wanderers within sight of our study window, and never did we behold them, ’mid a storm of sleet and rain, huddle down in their cold, ill-protected beds, without resolving another winter should see a home prepared for them.


ENGLISH SPARROW.Passer domesticus. Other names: “European Sparrow,” “House Sparrow.”

Range—Southern Europe. Introduced into and naturalized in North America, Australia, and other countries.

Nest—Of straw and refuse generally, in holes, boxes, trees, any place that will afford protection.

Eggs—Five to seven.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) by Daves BirdingPix

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lee’s Addition:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:29-32 KJV)

Sparrows are mentioned in four passages in Scripture; the one above, Psalm 84:3, Psalm 102:7 and Luke 12:6,7.

We have written about the Sparrows numerous times in our Bible Birds – Sparrows and Birds of the Bible – Sparrow articles. They belong to the Passeridae – Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches Family. The House Sparrow does not always have the best of reputations, as mentioned above and in some of the articles. Just remember one thing:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And [yet] not one of them is forgotten or uncared for in the presence of God. But [even] the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be struck with fear or seized with alarm; you are of greater worth than many [flocks] of sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7 AMP)

Think about that! God really cares!

WhatBird has these interesting facts; “These birds return to their birthplace after every migration (a characteristic known as philopatric). Because of this, local populations have adapted to the color of their habitat resulting in 15 distinct subspecies in the West.” It also says, “The Old Testament Bible associates the symbol of the sparrow with loneliness and solitude, while the New Testament views it as a sign of insignificance. Poor House Sparrow.” (WhatBird)

The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a bird of the sparrow family Passeridae, found in most parts of the world. A small bird, it has a typical length of 16 cm (6.3 in) and a weight of 24–39.5 g (0.85–1.39 oz). Females and young birds are coloured pale brown and grey, and males have brighter black, white, and brown markings. One of about 25 species in the genus Passer, the House Sparrow is native to most of Europe, the Mediterranean region, and much of Asia. Its intentional or accidental introductions to many regions, including parts of Australia, Africa, and the Americas, make it the most widely distributed wild bird.

The House Sparrow is strongly associated with human habitations, and can live in urban or rural settings. Though found in widely varied habitats and climates, it typically avoids extensive woodlands, grasslands, and deserts away from human development. It feeds mostly on the seeds of grains and weeds, but it is an opportunistic eater and commonly eats insects and many other foods. Its predators include domestic cats, hawks, owls, and many other predatory birds and mammals.

Because of its numbers, ubiquity and association with human settlements, the sparrow is culturally prominent. It is extensively, and usually unsuccessfully, persecuted as an agricultural pest, but it has also often been kept as a pet as well as being a food item and a symbol of lust and sexual potency, as well as of commonness and vulgarity. Though it is widespread and abundant, its numbers have declined in some areas.

The plumage of the House Sparrow is mostly different shades of grey and brown. The sexes differ: the female is mostly buff, and the male has bolder markings and a reddish back.[8] The male has a dark grey crown from the top of its bill to its back, and chestnut brown on the sides of its head. It has black around its bill, on its throat, and on the spaces between its bill and eyes (lores). It has a small white stripe between the lores and crown and small white spots immediately behind the eyes (postoculars), with black patches below and above them. The underparts are pale grey or white, as are the cheeks, ear coverts, and stripes at the base of the head. The upper back and mantle are a warm brown, with broad black streaks, while the lower back, rump and uppertail coverts are greyish-brown.

The male is duller in fresh non-breeding plumage, with whitish tips on many feathers. Wear and preening expose many of the bright brown and black markings, including most of the black throat and chest patch, called the “bib” or “badge”. The badge is variable in width and general size, and some scientists have suggested that patches signal social status or fitness.

The female has no black markings or grey crown. Its upperparts and head are brown with darker streaks around the mantle and a distinct pale supercilium. Its underparts are pale grey-brown. The juvenile is similar to the female adult but deeper brown below and paler above. Juvenile males tend to have darker throats and white postoculars.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Eggs ©WikiC

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Eggs ©WikiC

The House Sparrow can be confused with a number of other seed-eating birds, especially its relatives in the genus Passer. Many of these relatives are smaller, with an appearance that is neater or “cuter”, as with the Dead Sea Sparrow. The dull-coloured female can often not be distinguished from other females, and is nearly identical to the those of the Spanish and Italian Sparrows. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is smaller and more slender with a chestnut crown and a black patch on each cheek. The male Spanish Sparrow and Italian Sparrow are distinguished by their chestnut crowns. The Sind Sparrow is very similar but smaller, with less black on the male’s throat and a distinct pale supercilium on the female.

As an adult, the House Sparrow mostly feeds on the seeds of grains and weeds, but it is opportunistic and adaptable, and eats whatever foods are available. It can perform complex and unusual tasks to obtain food, such as opening automatic doors to enter supermarkets, clinging to hotel walls to watch vacationers on their balconies,[109] and nectar robbing kowhai flowers. In common with many other birds, the House Sparrow requires grit to digest the hard seeds it eats. Grit can be either stone, often grains of masonry, or the shells of eggs or snails; oblong and rough grains are preferred.


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for October 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources, with editing)

Next Article – The Allen’s Humming Bird

The Previous Article – The Mountain Bluebird

Sharing The Gospel



One thought on “Vol 2, #6 – The English Sparrow

  1. Pingback: Hawfinches feeding, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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