Dear Bird Folks:
I'm convinced that every kind of brown bird known to
mankind is eating from my feeder. They descend in flocks of 20-30
birds, clean out the feeder and then hide out in the nearby prickly
bush. My bird guide makes me think they could be sparrows, but none of
them look like the ones in the book. What kind do you think they are?
-Wanda Ring, Brewster
Yo Ms Ring,
Let me say right now that we are not going to have any more
of this fake cutesy name stuff. "Wanda Ring"? Right, who are you
married to, "Ken Fused"? Too many names like that are probably what
killed Dear Abbey. (She is dead, isn't she?) Lucky for you that I've
been getting this same question a lot lately. There's a person in
Sandwich (no, the person's name is not "Sandy Witch") in the same
situation, lots of little brown birds emptying the feeder everyday.
Sounds like the same birds to me.
You both have House Sparrows, lots and lots of House Sparrows. The
reason why you couldn't find this sparrow in your bird book is because
these sparrows aren't from this continent. They are considered "Old
World" sparrows. (By Old World I mean Europe and Africa, not Sarasota,
Florida.) Like most of us, House Sparrows are imports from somewhere
else. Our native sparrows, such as Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows,
aren't related to House Sparrows and thus they aren't pictured in the
book together. But believe me they are in there. Flip open your index
and you'll find the House Sparrow listed in another section of the book,
usually way in the back.
The male House Sparrows are well marked with a gray cap and a black
bib. The females and the young birds on the other hand, are basic dull,
generic brown birds. Their dullness and lack of field marks makes them
difficult to identify. The best way to identify them is from their
behavior, which you have done a very good job of describing.
House Sparrows travel in raucous flocks. They are like the large ethnic
family down the street who are always fighting. They can't do a thing
without each other, yet they seem to be at each other throats day in and
day out. House Sparrows eat, roost and fly in large flocks, while
screaming in each others faces the whole time. At night, House Sparrows
form huge noisy roosting flocks. During the day they form smaller
flocks in search for food.
Everything you said Wanda is correct, these sparrows can strip a
feeder clean in minutes. If they get spooked by a predator, they all
dart into a nearby bush and finally shut up to avoid being eaten. Once
the danger passes, they all leave the bush and start chowing at the
feeder again. A few of our native sparrows will visit our feeders too,
but they are a lot quieter and are rarely in large flocks.
The fact that you have 20-30 of these sparrows doesn't surprise me,
since the North American population is estimated to be in excess of
150,000,000 of them. That is quite a few birds considering that they
didn't even exist in this country until just before the Civil War.
As their name might indicate, House Sparrows flourish near our homes.
Their population growth mirrors the expansion of our farms, towns and
cities. Their instant growth hasnít come without a price though. Many
native birds have been displaced or eliminated by the more aggressive
Because of their aggressiveness and their effects on native birds,
many people don't like House Sparrows. I really can't blame them. Yet,
if it wasn't for these sparrows, many city yards and parks might be
totally devoid of bird life. House Sparrows have taken advantage of
human encroachment and have adapted very well to the building, trash and
concrete that we bring with us.
House Sparrows don't like to be far away from people. If you want to
avoid them you are going to have to pack up and move deep into the
woods. Of course when you do that youíll be creating new habitat for
House Sparrows. So maybe you should stay where you are Wanda; you and