House Sparrow

June 28th, 2020: You can’t go birding every week.

I certainly try to! But this week, I was largely immobile thanks to some back spasms. Ugh. After a bunch of drugs, I was able to get out for a walk today. It was just a walk in the city to get some coffee. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t bird along the way.

Some cheerful sidewalk art
Some cheerful sidewalk art

City birding isn’t the most glamorous, to be sure. But you can see quite a lot of species just wandering through city/suburban streets. Today’s birds were mostly birds I hear and see from my apartment: American Goldfinch, Anna’s Hummingbird, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Northern Flicker, Northwestern Crow, Glaucous-winged Gull, Black-capped Chickadee, Bushtit, White-crowned Sparrow, European Starling, and probably a few I’m forgetting. Believe it or not, I was mostly focused on enjoying a coffee with my wife.

A curious Northern Flicker
A curious Northern Flicker

Two species that I don’t see from my apartment are House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon. This might seem odd since I live in a city. But there actually aren’t THAT many Rock Pigeons in Vancouver. Sure they congregate in places, but it’s not like in New York, for example.

A Rock Pigeon in Vancouver
A Rock Pigeon in Vancouver

Likewise with House Sparrows. You don’t hear them in every building in Vancouver like you do in some cities. But they’re definitely around. They like manmade spots for the nests: eaves, walls, streetlights, and nest boxes. The small flock I heard today was at Main and 11th in an old brick building.

A male House Sparrow
A male House Sparrow

House Sparrows are an introduced/invasive species in North America and everywhere else they now live except for their native Europe. They were first introduced in North America in 1851, in Brooklyn. Followed by two other introductions in the 1870s in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. And it didn’t take them long to spread out. By 1900 they had spread to the Rockies, and throughout much of the West. They’re common all over North America, except for very northern Canada and Alaska and live pretty much everywhere else, the world around. Mostly in buildings, bushy park edges, your backyard bird feeder, and right beside you on a picnic bench.

A screen capture of eBird's data showing the distribution of House Sparrow (darker purple for greater density)
A screen capture of eBird’s data showing the distribution of House Sparrow (darker purple for greater density)

For me, this is one of the easiest birds to accidentally ignore. I think I’ve been trained to ignore them because they are EVERYWHERE, especially in movies. They’re added to the soundtrack of pretty much any outdoor city scene, especially if someone’s eating on a patio. Despite their persistent chatter, they just sort of blend in.

One other cool thing about House Sparrows: they have a pecking order! You can spot the alphas by watching their behaviour and, in particular, watching for more black on the throats of the older (and usually more dominant) birds.

P. S. The Northwestern Crow and American Crow species are now officially lumped. This is largely due to muddled genetic material from hybridization rather a long time ago. Check out this pretty great research paper that covers it!

Just for fun, here’s a backyard crow saying “Hello!”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Norman L Bleier

    Any tips on how to shut up a house wren? We’ve got one outside the window who keeps up a chatter all day.

    1. Jim Palmer

      HA! Can’t say that I do. Wrens are chatty…it’s kinda their m.o….

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