- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Common, everyday house sparrows are abundant in cities, towns, and farmyards the year around in southeastern Pennsylvania and across most of the United States and other countries around the world.
They are small, plain, and unknown, ignored or despised by most people because of their omnipresent abundance, the “dirt” they create with their droppings and nest materials, and their pushing native birds out of nesting sites to use those spots themselves.
But the adaptable, assertive, and prolific house sparrows, which are Old World weaver finches, are part of human-made habitats and food chains.
Adult house sparrows mostly consume grain, weed, and grass seeds in fields. This species has spread around the world in great numbers because of its adapting to agricultural practices in the last 10,000 years.
But this species also ingests what is easily available, including cast-off food in garbage cans, dumpsters, and parking lots. They also feed on seeds in birdfeeders and pick out chewed, but undigested, bits of corn from manure strips in fields and horse droppings on rural roads.
Adult house sparrows feed protein-packed invertebrates to their offspring in their nurseries, which causes those youngsters to grow rapidly. I’ve seen adult house sparrows killing invertebrates as large as Japanese beetles and annual cicada grubs to feed their young.
A variety of city and suburban predators catch and eat house sparrows, mainly housecats, blue jays, crows, Cooper’s hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and merlins.
I’ve seen blue jays kill weaver finches a couple of times. Jays don’t have sharp claws to quickly grab and stab their victims, so they bludgeon their prey to death with their heavy beaks.
I saw a sharp-shinned hawk catch a house sparrow on our lawn during a snowfall. The sharpy quickly killed the sparrow with its talons and ate its victim on top of the snow while snow fell around the hawk.
After the hawk had eaten and flew away, snowflakes quickly covered the sparrow’s remains.
Cooper’s hawks regularly prey on house sparrows on our lawn through each year. Coops even dive into and scramble through shrubbery to catch their prey. Those hawks perch on trees to consume their catches, while the victims’ feathers float to the ground.
House sparrows are small and disliked by most people, but they are big in the impact they have on wildlife in cities, suburbs, and barnyards. They are part of several food chains of who eats whom.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.