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house sparrow

Q: What was the name of the invasive sparrow that came from Europe?

A: The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is also called the English sparrow. This bird is possibly, the most widely distributed wild bird in the world. Its native range is Europe and much of Asia, but it has been introduced, both accidentally and on purpose, into North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and numerous, scattered islands. It thrives almost anywhere close to human populations. There are a few places where it cannot be found such as tropical regions, deep forests and extensive deserts.

The house sparrow is a small bird – only about 6 1/2 inches long with a stocky body and a shorter tail and thicker bill than most native, North American sparrows. Males are very distinctively marked with a gray head and body, white cheeks, and a prominent, black bib on their throats and chests. It has been known to attack and kill bluebird hatchlings in the nest to steal the nesting site.  Introduction of this species into North America during the middle to late 1800’s occurred at multiple locations over a 25 or 30 year time period. The reason it was transported here varies but most people believe it was to control insect pests on shade trees or perhaps nostalgia for a familiar bird they grew up with in Europe.

The house sparrow’s ability to nest in cavities and protected spaces in most human habitations has contributed to its extensive ability to multiply.  House sparrows eat a wide variety of stored seeds and grains; they easily distribute themselves rapidly through new environments and produce huge numbers of offspring in a single mating season which have also added to its ability to spread far and wide. Be careful to not confuse the invasive species with the song sparrow, chipping sparrow or field sparrow which are all very similar.