Many animals are habitat specialists, and as such, their range is often limited to small areas that support that a particular habitat. Other animals are habitat generalists, meaning that they can thrive in multiple habitats, and as such, their range is often larger than the habitat specialists. There are a few animals however, that take the term habitat generalists so literally that their natural range is huge, and one such animal is the world’s most widespread songbird, the House Sparrow.
The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is undeniably one of the most common and well-known birds in North America, occurring in every state in the Union. However, it is not native to this region; it is not even native to this continent! Its natural range is actually Europe, and many researchers trace its beginnings to this side of the world as an introduced species in the 1850’s. The first introductions began in New York, and as settlers migrated westward and southward, this species went with them. It is not a migratory species, which means that it can be observed here at any time of the year.
Although at first glance this species appears to be rather drab in coloration, upon closer inspection this is an attractive and somewhat colorful species of bird. Adult males have a brown back that is adorned with black streaking. The wings are also streaked with black, and there is a white wing bar. The underparts area, as well as the rump and tail, are pale gray. The head is decorated with a gray crown and gray cheeks, a black bill, a black throat, and a white “moustache” that separates the throat area from the underparts. As is custom for the vast majority of songbirds, the female is by far the less colorful of the two sexes. Females have the same coloration on the back, wings, and underparts as the males, but they lack the contrasting grays, blacks, and whites on the head and chest area.
It is a small bird, with a body length of about six inches and a wingspan that can approach ten inches.
House Sparrows are one of the most rambunctious and noticeable of all of the avian species that occur in this area. Their calls vary from a simple cheep-cheep-cheep to a series of multiple-toned chirps and calls. It often hops on the ground in search of food items which include seeds, grains, nuts, and fruits as well as small insects. It is always enjoyable to watch these noisy little birds compete for insects that are imbedded into the grills of cars. When flying, the flight pattern is easily recognizable as it is an up and down path with rapid wing beats alternated with short periods of gliding.
These birds typically prefer to live in social groups during the non-breeding season. During the breeding season, they known to pair up with the male and female remaining monogamous during such time. The nest is typically found in human structures such as the backs of advertising billboards, street signs, and bird boxes. It will occasionally utilize abandoned nests from other species of birds. The three to seven eggs are small (roughly one inch by three-quarter inch) and are usually colored a pale blue, although occasionally they will be light green. Whichever color the eggs are, they always have gray and brown dots that decorate the shell. These eggs hatch in about two weeks, and the female is the primary care-giver to the helpless young until they leave the nest approximately two weeks after hatching. Juveniles are colored similar to the adult females. Up to three broods per year have been recorded.
This avian variety is definitely one species of bird that has adapted quite well to human habitation, with many individuals seen foraging in lawns and gardens. They are not bashful, and many will utilize bird feeders littered with seeds.