Birding Notes-keep your eye on House Sparrows
Spring nesting season is almost here and we are all looking forward to warmer weather, more daylight, and songbirds raising their young. An important way you can help native songbirds is by preventing House Sparrow infestations.
House Sparrows, a.k.a. English sparrows, are an invasive species introduced to this continent over 100 years ago. They are now an established nuisance in every state, damaging crops and displacing native birds.
House Sparrows are dedicated assassins of native songbirds. They will kill and maim adult birds and hatchlings in the nest, peck holes in other birds’ eggs and compete for nest sites to prevent native songbirds from raising their young.
They are especially hard on bluebirds. The invasive sparrows will mutilate adult birds, wound and kill bluebird nestlings, and take over bluebird boxes.
Every bird lover has the responsibility to not increase House Sparrow populations. The single best way to help is to offer proper food.
Avoid seed mixes that include milo, cracked corn and the small round pale seeds of white millet. Very few native birds will eat these seeds, but House Sparrows love them.
Baked goods should never be offered to birds. House Sparrows love doughnuts, bread, etc., but native songbirds don’t. It is better to not have bird feeders than to offer millet, corn, or baked goods which ensure that House Sparrows will out-compete native birds.
There are additional proactive steps to discourage House Sparrows. For bird nest boxes, offer one from a responsible manufacturer, not cheap imported decorative ones. Nest boxes should be designed for a particular species or range of species, with proper-sized entry holes, materials, and plan.
Never place decorative birdhouses (the kind offered in craft stores) outdoors. The entry hole is usually too large, allowing sparrows to take over. These “crafting” birdhouses also usually have a decorative dowel perch below the hole, which attracts sparrows. Chickadees, bluebirds, and other native species don’t need the perch — they can fly directly into a small hole in a properly designed nest box.
Mature trees, native plants and shrubs help native birds feed, take cover and nest, while House Sparrows tend to flock toward parking lots, commercial buildings and over-manicured yards.
If you encounter a House Sparrow nest, you can remove the eggs and nest. Block potential nest sites with crumpled chicken wire or other objects. Only dispose of one if you are 100% certain it is a House Sparrow nest. All native birds and their active nests are protected from harm or killing by federal law, but House Sparrow nests and others of non-native species may be lawfully (and humanely, of course) removed.
More information about discouraging House Sparrows can be found online at feederwatch.org, nabluebirdsociety.org, and nestwatch.org, as well as manufacturers of real nest boxes for native birds, such as Duncraft.
Not offering House Sparrows’ favorite foods is the easiest way to keep them away. Bluebirds, purple martins, orioles, chickadees, and other native birds can thrive where humans manage their environment responsibly.
Betsy Kane is a Washington resident who enjoys the outdoors.
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