House Sparrow Blues
One of our favorite Thanksgiving Day activities is enjoying a sumptuous meal while watching chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and woodpeckers enjoy the seeds we put out for them just outside our window.
Thanksgiving 2023 brought mostly frustration. Crowds of House Sparrows swarmed our feeders with hardly a native bird in sight. Formerly known as English Sparrows, there seem to be more of these pesky immigrants every year.
We’re not alone. A common phone call or email that comes to Winding Pathways seeks ways to feed native birds and discourage hordes of House Sparrows. Over the years we’ve tried these things to discourage the hardy and prolific Eurasian birds:
- Putting only small amounts of feed out in the early morning and late afternoon when native birds visit and House Sparrows are mostly gone.
- Cutting silo feeder perches short to make it harder for the somewhat clumsy sparrows to perch and eat.
- Sprinkle some whole corn on the lawn. It’s too big for sparrows to eat but blue jays and woodpeckers devour it.
- Sprinkle cracked corn way out in the backyard to entice sparrows away from our main feeders.
- Eliminate sparrow nesting sites around our yard and pull out any nests that form under eaves or in tight spaces along the house.
None of these has worked particularly well.
Others More Fortunate
While we are frustrated, other people are fortunate. We recently enjoyed watching a procession of native birds visiting Jody Vrieze’s feeders in a rural area near Charles City, Iowa. It’s along the Cedar River and away from town. Perhaps her home and yard are a key to avoiding sparrow numbers.
What is a Synanthrope? How Do They Spread?
They are true synanthropes, meaning they need to live close to people. Backpack into a wilderness anywhere and House Sparrows are one bird that won’t be spotted. Jody’s home is in a wooded area away from town, which is probably why the pesky birds don’t visit her feeders often.
Although not liked by most birders, House Sparrows are amazing. A few were captured in Europe and released in Brooklyn, NY, in 1851. Within 50 years they had spread across the continent and are found in and near almost every town and farm. They may have peaked in numbers late in the 1800s when abundant urban horse manure provided plenty of food.
Although native to Europe and Asia, House Sparrows have spread, due to people importing them, to North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa. A surefire place to not see them is Antarctica.
Winding Pathways Asks for Help
Most people share their suburban and urban homes with plenty of House Sparrows, and moving to a wild area isn’t an option. So, what to do? Well, we listed what we do yet still have plenty of sparrows, so we’re asking for help from visitors to our Winding Pathways website. Please let us know if you’ve found a consistent and effective way to discourage this pesky bird.
For much more information on this amazingly prolific bird go to allaboutbirds.org.
Photos by Jody Vrieze.