What is a Sparrow?

DM Gutierrez

Sparrows are small birds found on almost every continent. Most common is the house sparrow, also known as the English sparrow. Other birds belonging to the sparrow family are the song sparrow, the black-throated sparrow, the white-crowned sparrow, and the Eurasian tree sparrow. Sparrows are hardy birds that adapt to their environment. They are often seen as pests by gardeners and birdwatchers.

Black-throated sparrows live in scrub brush in desert environments.
Black-throated sparrows live in scrub brush in desert environments.

House sparrows live near humans in the eaves of house roofs, in traffic lights, and store signs. Highly versatile, this bird can thrive almost anywhere and is often regarded as a nuisance by people hoping to see native songbirds. House sparrows are small, a little over 6 inches (5.4 cm), and can squeeze into nesting boxes set up for other less common species.

Eurasian tree sparrows live largely in farmland areas.
Eurasian tree sparrows live largely in farmland areas.

Song sparrows are a common sight on the edges of forests and marshes, in gardens and backyards, and overgrown fields. Stockier than most sparrows, this songbird has broad wings and a rounded tail. Its coloring is usually brown, gray, and white with contrasting streaks of these same colors. Males perch on low branches in trees to sing.

Black-throated sparrows live in scrub brush in desert environments, primarily in Mexico and the southwestern United States. Both the male and female are small, about 5 inches (14 cm) long and half an ounce (15 grams) in weight. These birds eat mainly insects on the ground. During nesting season, the black-throated male guards a vast territory, but once the eggs hatch, it defends only the area immediately around the nest.

White-crowned sparrows eat seeds, but the majority of their diet is made up of wasps, beetles, and caterpillars. These birds capture their prey by hopping backward to turn over a leaf and then hopping forward to pounce on the insect. Both males and females sing, though the song of females is less robust and only occurs during nesting season. White-crowns nest in the low branches of shrubs in Canada and the US, but build their nests on the ground in the Alaskan tundra.

Eurasian tree sparrows occupy most of Europe and Asia and were introduced into the US in the 1800s. Almost exclusive to the state of Missouri, this bird cannot compete with the more aggressive house sparrow and lives largely in parks and farmland areas. With an average wingspan of 8 inches (21 cm), this bird is stocky with a thick bill and short legs. In the US, this species is mostly black and white, but in Europe, there are 33 different varieties. The Eurasian eats only seeds and grains.

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