Image from: John Gould (1804-81) The birds of Australia 1840-48. 7 vols. 600 plates Artists: J. Gould and E. Gould; Lithographer: E. Gould.
House Sparrow, female. Photo: R Major © Australian Museum
The House Sparrow is a large (14 - 17 cm) finch. It is 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 underparts 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.
House Sparrows give a variety of chirruping and twittering notes. The most typical call is a harsh double-noted "chiisck" or "cherrup".
Another similar finch 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.
Distribution and Habitat
The House Sparrow was introduced into Australia from Britain between 1863 and 1870. The first introductions were in Victoria. Later, birds were released into other areas including Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart. The species quickly established itself in urban settlements throughout eastern Australia.
Although the introduction was deliberate, and welcomed by many people, the House Sparrow 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.
House Sparrows occur in and around human habitation, as well as cultivated areas and some wooded country. They usually stay in the same region all year round, but may be partially migratory in some areas.
Food and feeding
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 sparrow egg © Australian Museum
Males and females 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. Three to six eggs are laid in a single clutch. The young birds hatch after about two weeks and leave the nest after a further two. Several broods may be produced in the extended breeding season, which may last all year round, although breeding is more concentrated in spring and summer.
Pizzey, G. & Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Schodde, R. & 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 & Other Passerines of Australia. Angus and Robertson and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.