House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Cover image by Gregg Darling – St Francis Bay – Eastern Cape – BirdPix 10073

Identification

Females and young House Sparrows are pale brown and grey in colour, whereas the males have brighter black, white, and chestnut brown markings. The male has a grey cap, black face mask and chestnut brown neck. Its back and wings are chestnut and black in colour.

House Sparrow (male): BirdPix 113217 – Derick Oosthuizen, Stilbaai, Western Cape, 21 April 2020. House Sparrow (female): BirdPix 77725 – Anthony Archer, Klerksdorp, North West, 11 May 2019. Breeding male inset photo: BirdPix 158053 – Janet du Plooy, Evander, Mpumalanga, 20 August 2018.

Distribution

House Sparrows are native to Eurasia, but was introduced to Australasia, the Americas, and Africa. It is one of the most widespread species in the world. In Africa, it was introduced along the Nile River and separately from southern DRC through to Zambia, Angola, and South Africa. In South Africa it is locally common, especially in urban and suburban areas.

SABAP2 distribution map for House Sparrow, downloaded on 08 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

Habitat

The House Sparrow is strongly associated with human habitation. They prefer to live in urban or rural settings. They can be found in widely varied habitats and climates, but they typically avoid extensive woodlands, grasslands, and desert habitats that are far away from human development.

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Looking for seeds on the pavement – BirdPix 225631 – Karis Daniel, Kleinbaai Harbour, Western Cape, 13 May 2022.

Behaviour

The House Sparrow is a very social and gregarious bird. When foraging for food, it often forms flocks with other bird species.

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A group of House Sparrows – BirdPix 224642 – C. Elstadt, Jeffreys Bay Caravan Park, Eastern Cape, 05 June 2015.

They have a varied diet which includes seeds, nectar, fruit and invertebrates. House Sparrows most frequently pluck food items from the ground, but they also glean insects from plants or hawk small prey in the air.

In towns and cities, House Sparrows often scavenge for food in garbage containers and they often congregate near restaurants with outdoor areas and supermarkets to feed on leftover food and crumbs.

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Sunbathing on the roof – BirdPix 213914 – J. du Plooy, Winburg, Free State Province, 20 March 2022.

House Sparrows are monogamous and form a pair bond for life. The male and the female construct the nest. It consists of a ball-shaped structure with an entrance on the side or on the top. Usually, the nest is made of grass, feathers, wool, and other soft material. They typically place the nest in a building, under eaves or in a thatched roof. They may also use a tree or an unused swallow nest.

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A pair of House Sparrow looking for a nesting location on a thatched roof – BirdPix 206931 – Marius Meiring, Bloemfontein, Free State Province, 10 February 2021.

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Huismossie (Afrikaans); Jolwane (Swazi); Enzunge (Kwangali); Moineau domestique (French); Haussperling (German).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2022/11/15/house-sparrow-passer-domesticus/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.