The House Sparrow is an introduced species to Australia that now lives in most of eastern Australia and much of the Northern Territory and South Australia.
House Sparrows are actually large finches.They are usually seen in small to medium-sized groups, but may occur in huge numbers. The male has a conspicuous grey crown, black face and throat, and dark black and brown upperparts. The remainder of the under parts are pale grey-brown. When breeding, the black of the throat extends to the chest and upper belly. The bill also changes from brown to black. The female is slightly paler than the male and lacks the grey crown and black face, instead having a pale buff eye stripe. Young House Sparrows are similar to the adult female, but are duller with some mottling on the crown, and have a darker bill.
Another similar, related species is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, which is found only in southern New South Wales and central Victoria. Both the male and female Tree Sparrow are similar in appearance to the male House Sparrow, but have an all-brown crown and black cheek patch. These are both introduced species, being 'Old World Sparrows'.
House Sparrows occur in and around human habitation, as well as cultivated areas and some wooded country.
The House Sparrow was introduced from Britain between 1863 and 1870. Firstly in Victoria, but later into other areas including Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart. It quickly established itself in urban areas throughout eastern Australia.
Usually stay in the same region all year round, but may be partially migratory in some areas.
Feeding and diet
One reason for the successful establishment of the House Sparrow in Australia and, indeed, all over the world, is its ability to feed on a wide range of foodstuffs. Birds eat insects, spiders, berries, seeds, flower buds and scraps of food discarded by humans. There are many reports of birds entering canteens in buildings to feed, with birds even learning to activate automatic doors in order to gain entry.
House Sparrows give a variety of chirruping and twittering notes. The most typical call is a harsh double-noted "chiisck" or "cherrup".
Male and female House Sparrows form permanent pair bonds. Both sexes build the nest and care for the young, though the female alone incubates the eggs. The nest is a large, untidy ball of grass, wool and feathers, lined with feathers and finer plant material. It is usually located in suitable areas in buildings, such as roof voids and crevices in walls, but may be placed under bridges, in thick bushes or in tree hollows. Several broods may be produced in the extended breeding season.
- Breeding season: All year round; more concentrated in spring and summer
- Clutch size: 3 to 6
- Incubation: 14 days
- Time in nest: 14 days
Although the introduction of the House Sparrow was deliberate, and welcomed by many people, it quickly became a major pest, and a reward was paid by the government for the birds and their eggs. Today, the species is so well established in the east that no amount of effort will exterminate the ever-expanding population. The birds however have so far been prevented from establishing themselves in Western Australia, with every bird observed being deliberately destroyed.
- Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
- Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
- Strahan, R. (ed) 1996. Finches, Bowerbirds and Other Passerines of Australia. Angus and Robertson and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.