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Educational Resources


Sparrows Can Be Sensational!

sparrow is a sparrow is a sparrow. Right? Wrong!

The sparrows you see at your backyard feeders may be American Tree Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows or Golden-crowned Sparrows.

And the House Sparrow? He’s no sparrow at all. House Sparrows actually belong to the weaver finch family.

Here are some facts that may help you distinguish the sparrows in your yard.

American Tree Sparrows typically live in northern forests and visit feeders only during migration. Many times they will scratch for millet underneath feeders. They have a large crop (or neck pouch) in which they can store up to 1,000 seeds.

Chipping Sparrows are shy at feeders when other birds are present. When these birds were studied in Arizona researchers discovered they ate seed every few seconds. During the winter-long study, a Chipping Sparrow consumed 2 ¼ pounds of seed – 70 times its body weight!

Fox Sparrows are the largest sparrow and tend to feed on the ground by scratching with both feet in search of millet and insects. They tend to be more abundant at feeders in the West than the East.

Song Sparrows have a wide range, and when it’s cold they are hungry! These birds must eat 85 to 4,000 seeds an hour to maintain energy levels when the temperatures are freezing or below. They visit platform feeders in search of millet and sunflower seed pieces. And they like to have a nearby brush pile (to escape to if necessary.)

White-throated Sparrows are one of the most widespread sparrows at feeders. There are two types – one has white stripes on its crown and the other has tan stripes. The birds with white stripes tend to be more vocal and aggressive than the birds with tan stripes. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows. The oldest male birds are the ones that sing the most.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips and cracked corn. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. Some White-crowned Sparrows migrate; others do not. Those that migrate join larger winter flocks and establish communal territory. They will return each winter to the same area.

Golden-crowned Sparrows live in California eight months of the year and spend winter along a narrow strip of the West Coast. They form large winter flocks and cover 15 to 20 acres. They avoid face-to-face conflict with other birds while feeding (like the White-crowned Sparrows) by facing the same direction while feeding.

To attract sparrows, place a blend of millet and sunflower seeds in a WBU ground feeder. Many stores sell this as Select Blend.

Q: Why am I attracting only English House Sparrows to my nest box and what can I do about it?

Answer Many times English House Sparrows are attracted to nest boxes because of the placement of the box. If boxes are placed near shrubbery or in areas near human dwellings, they are more likely to attract the sparrows.

English House Sparrows are not native to North America and have presented many problems for native birds. They are notorious for breaking open eggs and pecking other birds to death by piercing their skulls.

If the sparrows have built a nest in a nest box or house designed for another species, for example bluebirds or Purple Martins, you should remove the nest and eggs. But be sure you’re removing the nest of an English House Sparrow. All other native backyard birds are protected by the federal government!

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