AppearanceThe 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.
NamingThe house sparrow was among the first animals to be given a scientific name in the modern system of biological classification, since it was described by Carl Linnaeus, in the 1758 10th edition of ''Systema Naturae''. It was described from a type specimen collected in Sweden, with the name ''Fringilla domestica''. Later the genus name ''Fringilla'' came to be used only for the common chaffinch and its relatives, and the house sparrow has usually been placed in the genus ''Passer'' created by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.
The bird's scientific name and its usual English name have the same meaning. The Latin word ''passer'', like the English word "sparrow", is a term for small active birds, coming from a root word referring to speed. The Latin word ''domesticus'' means "belonging to the house", like the common name a reference to its association with humans. The house sparrow is also called by a number of alternative English names, including ''English sparrow'', chiefly in North America; and ''Indian sparrow'' or ''Indian house sparrow'', for the birds of the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. Dialectal names include ''sparr'', ''sparrer'', ''spadger'', ''spadgick'', and ''philip'', mainly in southern England; ''spug'' and ''spuggy'', mainly in northern England; ''spur'' and ''sprig'', mainly in Scotland; and ''spatzie'' or ''spotsie'', from the German ''Spatz'', in North America.A large number of subspecies have been named, of which twelve were recognised in the ''Handbook of the Birds of the World''. These subspecies are divided into two groups, the Palaearctic ''domesticus'' group, and the Oriental ''indicus'' group. Several Middle Eastern subspecies, including ''Passer domesticus biblicus'', are sometimes considered a third, intermediate group. The subspecies ''P. d. indicus'' was described as a species, and was considered to be distinct by many ornithologists during the nineteenth century.
Migratory birds of the subspecies ''P. d. bactrianus'' in the ''indicus'' group were recorded overlapping with ''P. d. domesticus'' birds without hybridising in the 1970s, so the Soviet scientists Edward I. Gavrilov and M. N. Korelov proposed the separation of the ''indicus'' group as a separate species. However, ''indicus''-group and ''domesticus''-group birds intergrade in a large part of Iran, so this split is rarely recognised.
In North America, house sparrow populations are more differentiated than those in Europe. This variation follows predictable patterns, with birds at higher latitudes being larger and those in arid areas being paler. However, it is not clear how much this is caused by evolution or by environment. Similar observations have been made in New Zealand, and in South Africa. The introduced house sparrow populations may be distinct enough to merit subspecies status, especially in North America and southern Africa, and American ornithologist Harry Church Oberholser even gave the subspecies name ''plecticus'' to the paler birds of western North America.
⤷ ''P. d. domesticus'', the nominate subspecies, is found in most of Europe, across northern Asia to Sakhalin and Kamchatka. It is the most widely introduced subspecies.
⤷ ''P. d. balearoibericus'' von Jordans, 1923, described from Majorca, is found in the Balearic Islands, southern France, the Balkans, and Anatolia.
⤷ ''P. d. tingitanus'' , described from Algeria, is found in the Maghreb from Ajdabiya in Libya to Béni Abbès in Algeria, and to Morocco's Atlantic coast. It hybridises extensively with the Spanish sparrow, especially in the eastern part of its range.
⤷ ''P. d. niloticus'' Nicoll and Bonhote, 1909, described from Faiyum, Egypt, is found along the Nile north of Wadi Halfa, Sudan. It intergrades with ''bibilicus'' in the Sinai, and with ''rufidorsalis'' in a narrow zone around Wadi Halfa. It has been recorded in Somaliland.
⤷ ''P. d. persicus'' Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from the Karun River in Khuzestan, Iran, is found in the western and central Iran south of the Alborz mountains, intergrading with ''indicus'' in eastern Iran, and Afghanistan.
⤷ ''P. d. biblicus'' Hartert, 1910, described from Palestine, is found in the Middle East from Cyprus and south-eastern Turkey to the Sinai in the west and from Azerbaijan to Kuwait in the east.
⤷ ''P. d. hyrcanus'' Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from Gorgan, Iran, is found along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea from Gorgan to south-eastern Azerbaijan. It intergrades with ''persicus'' in the Alborz mountains, and with ''bibilicus'' to the west. It is the subspecies with the smallest range.
⤷ ''P. d. bactrianus'' Zarudny and Kudashev, 1916, described from Tashkent, is found in southern Kazakhstan to the Tian Shan and northern Iran and Afghanistan. It intergrades with ''persicus'' in Baluchistan and with ''indicus'' across central Afghanistan. Unlike most other house sparrow subspecies, it is almost entirely migratory, wintering in the plains of the northern Indian subcontinent. It is found in open country rather than in settlements, which are occupied by the Eurasian tree sparrow in its range. There is an exceptional record from Sudan.
⤷ ''P. d. parkini'' Whistler, 1920, described from Srinagar, Kashmir, is found in the western Himalayas from the Pamir Mountains to south-eastern Nepal. It is migratory, like ''bactrianus''.
⤷ ''P. d. indicus'' Jardine and Selby, 1831, described from Bangalore, is found in the Indian subcontinent south of the Himalayas, in Sri Lanka, western Southeast Asia, eastern Iran, south-western Arabia and southern Israel.
⤷ ''P. d. hufufae'' Ticehurst and Cheeseman, 1924, described from Hofuf in Saudi Arabia, is found in north-eastern Arabia.
⤷ ''P. d. rufidorsalis'' C. L. Brehm, 1855, described from Khartoum, Sudan, is found in the Nile valley from Wadi Halfa south to Renk in northern South Sudan, and in eastern Sudan, northern Ethiopia to the Red Sea coast in Eritrea. It has also been introduced to Mohéli in the Comoros.
DistributionThe house sparrow originated in the Middle East and spread, along with agriculture, to most of Eurasia and parts of North Africa. Since the mid-nineteenth century, it has reached most of the world, chiefly due to deliberate introductions, but also through natural and shipborne dispersal. Its introduced range encompasses most of North America, Central America, southern South America, southern Africa, part of West Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and islands throughout the world. It has greatly extended its range in northern Eurasia since the 1850s, and continues to do so, as was shown by the colonisations around 1990 of Iceland and Rishiri Island, Japan. The extent of its range makes it the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet.
StatusThe house sparrow has an extremely large range and population, and is not seriously threatened by human activities, so it is assessed as Least Concern for conservation on the IUCN Red List. However, populations have been declining in many parts of the world. These declines were first noticed in North America, where they were initially attributed to the spread of the House Finch, but have been most severe in Western Europe. Declines have not been universal, as no serious declines have been reported from Eastern Europe, but have even occurred in Australia, where the house sparrow was introduced recently.
In Great Britain, populations peaked in the early 1970s, but have since declined by 68% overall, and about 90% in some regions. In London, the house sparrow almost disappeared from the central city. The numbers of house sparrows in the Netherlands have dropped in half since the 1980s, so the house sparrow is even considered an endangered species. This status came to widespread attention after a female house sparrow, referred to as the "''Dominomus''", was killed after knocking down dominoes arranged as part of an attempt to set a world record. These declines are not unprecedented, as similar reductions in population occurred when the internal combustion engine replaced horses in the 1920s and a major source of food in the form of grain spillage was lost.
Various causes for the dramatic decreases in population have been proposed, including predation, in particular by Eurasian sparrowhawks; electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones; and diseases. A shortage of nesting sites caused by changes in urban building design is probably a factor, and conservation organisations have encouraged the use of special nest boxes for sparrows. A primary cause of the decline seems to be an insufficient supply of insect food for nestling sparrows. Declines in insect populations result from an increase of monoculture crops, the heavy use of pesticides, the replacement of native plants in cities with introduced plants and parking areas, and possibly the introduction of unleaded petrol, which produces toxic compounds such as methyl nitrite.
Protecting insect habitats on farms, and planting native plants in cities benefit the house sparrow, as does establishing urban green spaces. To raise awareness of threats to the house sparrow, World Sparrow Day has been celebrated on 20 March across the world since 2010.
BehaviorThe house sparrow is a very social bird. It is gregarious at all seasons when feeding, often forming flocks with other types of bird. It roosts communally, and its nests are usually grouped together in clumps, and it engages in social activities such as dust and water bathing, and "social singing", in which birds call together in bushes. The house sparrow feeds mostly on the ground, but it flocks in trees and bushes. At feeding stations and nests, female house sparrows are dominant despite their smaller size, and in reproductive period , being dominant, they can fight for males.
HabitatThe house sparrow originated in the Middle East and spread, along with agriculture, to most of Eurasia and parts of North Africa. Since the mid-nineteenth century, it has reached most of the world, chiefly due to deliberate introductions, but also through natural and shipborne dispersal. Its introduced range encompasses most of North America, Central America, southern South America, southern Africa, part of West Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and islands throughout the world. It has greatly extended its range in northern Eurasia since the 1850s, and continues to do so, as was shown by the colonisations around 1990 of Iceland and Rishiri Island, Japan. The extent of its range makes it the most widely distributed wild bird on the planet.The house sparrow is closely associated with human habitation and cultivation. It is not an obligate commensal of humans as some have suggested: Central Asian house sparrows usually breed away from humans in open country, and birds elsewhere are occasionally found away from humans. The only terrestrial habitats that the house sparrow does not inhabit are dense forest and tundra. Well adapted to living around humans, it frequently lives and even breeds indoors, especially in factories, warehouses and zoos. It has been recorded breeding in an English coal mine 640 m below ground, and feeding on the Empire State Building's observation deck at night. It reaches its greatest densities in urban centres, but its reproductive success is greater in suburbs, where insects are more abundant. On a larger scale, it is most abundant in wheat-growing areas such as the Midwestern United States.
It tolerates a variety of climates, but prefers drier conditions, especially in moist tropical climates. It has several adaptations to dry areas, including a high salt tolerance and an ability to survive without water by ingesting berries. In most of eastern Asia the house sparrow is entirely absent, replaced by the Eurasian tree sparrow. Where these two species overlap, the house sparrow is usually more common than the Eurasian tree sparrow, but one species may replace the other in a manner that ornithologist Maud Doria Haviland described as "random, or even capricious". In most of its range the house sparrow is extremely common, despite some declines, but in marginal habitats such as rainforest or mountain ranges, its distribution can be spotty.
ReproductionHouse sparrows can breed in the breeding season immediately following their hatching, and sometimes attempt to do so. Some birds breeding for the first time in tropical areas are only a few months old and still have juvenile plumage. Birds breeding for the first time are rarely successful in raising young, and reproductive success increases with age, as older birds breed earlier in the breeding season, and fledge more young. As the breeding season approaches, hormone releases trigger enormous increases in the size of the sexual organs and changes in day length lead males to start calling by nesting sites. The timing of mating and egg-laying varies geographically, and between specific locations and years. This is because a sufficient supply of insects is needed for egg formation and feeding nestlings.
Males take up nesting sites before the breeding season, by frequently calling beside them. Unmated males start nest construction and call particularly frequently to attract females. When a female approaches a male during this period, the male displays by moving up and down while drooping and shivering his wings, pushing up his head, raising and spreading his tail, and showing his bib. Males may try to mate with females while calling or displaying. In response, a female will adopt a threatening posture and attack a male before flying away, pursued by the male. The male displays in front of her, attracting other males, who also pursue and display to the female. This group display usually does not immediately result in copulations. Other males usually do not copulate with the female. Copulation is typically initiated by the female giving a soft ''dee-dee-dee'' call to the male. Birds of a pair copulate frequently until the female is laying eggs, and the male mounts the female repeatedly each time a pair mates.
The house sparrow is monogamous, and typically mates for life. Birds from pairs often engage in extra-pair copulations, so about 15% of house sparrow fledglings are unrelated to their mother's mate. Male house sparrows guard their mates carefully to avoid being cuckolded, and most extra-pair copulation occurs away from nest sites. Males may sometimes have multiple mates, and bigamy is mostly limited by aggression between females. Many birds do not find a nest and a mate, and instead may serve as helpers around the nest for mated pairs, a role which increases the chances of being chosen to replace a lost mate. Lost mates of both sexes can be replaced quickly during the breeding season. The formation of a pair and the bond between the two birds is tied to the holding of a nest site, though paired house sparrows can recognise each other away from the nest.Clutches usually comprise four or five eggs, though numbers from one to ten have been recorded. At least two clutches are usually laid, and up to seven a year may be laid in the tropics or four a year in temperate latitudes. When fewer clutches are laid in a year, especially at higher latitudes, the number of eggs per clutch is greater. Central Asian house sparrows, which migrate and have only one clutch a year, average 6.5 eggs in a clutch. Clutch size is also affected by environmental and seasonal conditions, female age, and breeding density.
Some intraspecific brood parasitism occurs, and instances of unusually large numbers of eggs in a nest may be the result of females laying eggs in the nests of their neighbours. Such foreign eggs are sometimes recognised and ejected by females. The house sparrow is a victim of interspecific brood parasites, but only rarely, since it usually uses nests in holes too small for parasites to enter, and it feeds its young foods unsuitable for young parasites. In turn, the house sparrow has once been recorded as a brood parasite of the American Cliff Swallow.
The eggs are white, bluish-white, or greenish-white, spotted with brown or grey. Subelliptical in shape, they range from 20–22 mm in length and 14–16 mm in width, have an average mass of 2.9 g , and an average surface area of 9.18 cm2 . Eggs from the tropical subspecies are distinctly smaller. Eggs begin to develop with the deposition of yolk in the ovary a few days before ovulation. In the day between ovulation and laying, egg white forms, followed by eggshell. Eggs laid later in a clutch are larger, as are those laid by larger females, and egg size is hereditary. Eggs decrease slightly in size from laying to hatching. The yolk comprises 25% of the egg, the egg white 68%, and the shell 7%. Eggs are watery, being 79% liquid, and otherwise mostly protein.
The female develops a brood patch of bare skin and plays the main part in incubating the eggs. The male helps, but can only cover the eggs rather than truly incubate them. The female spends the night incubating during this period, while the male roosts near the nest. Eggs hatch at the same time, after a short incubation period lasting 11–14 days, and exceptionally for as many as 17 or as few as 9. The length of the incubation period decreases as ambient temperature increases later in the breeding season.
Young house sparrows typically remain in the nest for 11 to 23 days, normally 14 to 16 days. During this time, they are fed by both parents. As newly hatched house sparrows do not have sufficient insulation they are brooded for a few days, or longer in cold conditions. The parents swallow the droppings produced by the hatchlings during the first few days; later, the droppings are moved up to 20 m away from the nest.
The chicks' eyes open after about four days and, at an age of about eight days, the young birds get their first down. If both parents perish, the ensuing intensive begging sounds of the young will often attract replacement parents who feed them until they can sustain themselves. All the young in the nest leave it during the same period of a few hours. At this stage they are normally able to fly. They start feeding themselves partly after one or two days, and sustain themselves completely after 7 to 10 days, 14 at the latest.
FoodAs 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. In towns and cities it often scavenges for food in garbage containers and congregates in the outdoors of restaurants and other eating establishments to feed on leftover food and crumbs. It can perform complex tasks to obtain food, such as opening automatic doors to enter supermarkets, clinging to hotel walls to watch vacationers on their balconies, and nectar robbing kowhai flowers. In common with many other birds, the house sparrow requires grit to digest the harder items in its diet. Grit can be either stone, often grains of masonry, or the shells of eggs or snails; oblong and rough grains are preferred.
Several studies of the house sparrow in temperate agricultural areas have found the proportion of seeds in its diet to be about 90%. It will eat almost any seeds, but where it has a choice, it prefers oats and wheat. In urban areas, the house sparrow feeds largely on food provided directly or indirectly by humans, such as bread, though it prefers raw seeds. The house sparrow also eats some plant matter besides seeds, including buds, berries, and fruits such as grapes and cherries. In temperate areas, the house sparrow has an unusual habit of tearing flowers, especially yellow ones, in the spring.
Animals form another important part of the house sparrow's diet, chiefly insects, of which beetles, caterpillars, dipteran flies, and aphids are especially important. Various non-insect arthropods are eaten, as are molluscs and crustaceans where available, earthworms, and even vertebrates such as lizards and frogs. Young house sparrows are fed mostly on insects until about fifteen days after hatching. They are also given small quantities of seeds, spiders, and grit. In most places, grasshoppers and crickets are the most abundant foods of nestlings. True bugs, ants, sawflies, and beetles are also important, but house sparrows will take advantage of whatever foods are abundant to feed their young. House sparrows have been observed stealing prey from other birds, including American Robins.
DefenseHouse sparrows sleep with the bill tucked underneath the scapular feathers. Outside of the reproductive season, they often roost communally in trees or shrubs. There is much communal chirping before and after the birds settle in the roost in the evening, as well as before the birds leave the roost in the morning. Some congregating sites separate from the roost may be visited by the birds prior to settling in for the night.Nest sites are varied, though cavities are preferred. Nests are most frequently built in the eaves and other crevices of houses. Holes in cliffs and banks, or in tree hollows are also used. A sparrow sometimes excavates its own nests in sandy banks or rotten branches, but more frequently uses the nests of other birds such as those of swallows in banks and cliffs, and old tree cavity nests. It usually uses deserted nests, though sometimes it usurps active ones. Tree hollows are more commonly used in North America than in Europe, putting the sparrows in competition with bluebirds and other North American cavity nesters, and thereby contributing to their population declines.
Especially in warmer areas, the house sparrow may build its nests in the open, on the branches of trees, especially evergreens and hawthorns, or in the nests of large birds such as storks or magpies. In open nesting sites, breeding success tends to be lower, since breeding begins late and the nest can easily be destroyed or damaged by storms. Less common nesting sites include street lights and neon signs, favoured for their warmth; and the old open-topped nests of other songbirds, which are then domed over.
The nest is usually domed, though it may lack a roof in enclosed sites. It has an outer layer of stems and roots, a middle layer of dead grass and leaves, and a lining of feathers, as well as of paper and other soft materials. Nests typically have external dimensions of 20 × 30 cm , but their size varies greatly. The building of the nest is initiated by the unmated male while displaying to females. The female assists in building, but is less active than the male. Some nest building occurs throughout the year, especially after moult in autumn. In colder areas house sparrows build specially created roost nests, or roost in street lights, to avoid losing heat during the winter. House sparrows do not hold territories, but they defend their nests aggressively against intruders of the same sex.
House sparrows' nests support a wide range of scavenging insects, including nest flies such as ''Neottiophilum praestum'', ''Protocalliphora'' blowflies, and over 1,400 species of beetle.
MigrationMost house sparrows do not move more than a few kilometres during their lifetime. However, there is limited migration in all regions. Some young birds disperse long distances, especially on coasts, and mountain birds move to lower elevations in winter. Two subspecies, ''bactrianus'' and ''parkini'', are predominately migratory. Unlike the birds in sedentary populations that migrate, birds of migratory subspecies prepare for migration by putting on weight.
CulturalTo many people across the world, the house sparrow is the most familiar wild animal and, because of its association with humans and familiarity, it is frequently used to represent the common and vulgar, or the lewd. One of the reasons for the introduction of house sparrows throughout the world was their association with the European homeland of many immigrants. Birds usually described later as sparrows are referred to in many works of ancient literature and religious texts in Europe and western Asia. These references may not always refer specifically to the house sparrow, or even to small, seed-eating birds, but later writers who were inspired by these texts often had the house sparrow in mind. In particular, sparrows were associated by the ancient Greeks with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, due to their perceived lustfulness, an association echoed by later writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Jesus's use of "sparrows" as an example of divine providence in the Gospel of Matthew also inspired later references, such as that in Shakespeare's ''Hamlet'' and the Gospel hymn ''His Eye Is on the Sparrow''.
The house sparrow is only represented in ancient Egyptian art very rarely, but an Egyptian hieroglyph is based on it. The sparrow hieroglyph had no phonetic value and was used as a determinative in words to indicate ''small'', ''narrow'', or ''bad''. An alternative view is that the hieroglyph meant "a prolific man" or "the revolution of a year".
Some text fragments are auto parsed from Wikipedia.