, in Europe the "house sparrow," in the United States
the well-named "English sparrow," this bird is in fact a native of Europe.
It is a small bird, about 4.25 inches long. It has pink legs and a thick, conical bill. The adult male has a gray crown, a black throat, upper breast and small mask and a white patch in his wing. The female is less conspicuous, with a buffy crown and grayish-brown body. In the United States, an exceedingly common bird.
It is thought that this species originated in the Mediterranean area and expanded its range into the rest of Europe with the growth of civilization, and particularly with the spread of settled agriculture. It is a seed-eater whose short, blunt bill is well suited to take advantage of the leavings of the grain farm.
The house sparrow was deliberately introduced into the United States in the 1850's. At that time green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City's Central Park. It was thought, erroneously, that the English house sparrow ate such worms as well as other crop pests. It was also theorized that the bird might eat the grain out of horse manure which would help the manure decompose more rapidly. (The increase in horse population in New York was making a mess out of the streets.)
Accordingly the Brooklyn Institute released eight pairs in New York City in 1851, but none survived the winter. Other attempts along the New England seaboard were more successful, and the birds, once adapted to the climate, spread rapidly across the continent.
There are estimates that there are now twice as many house sparrows in the United States as all native songbirds combined. Some people feel that this is a problem, and one may find elaborate instructions on trapping and destroying these tiny birds, but like the European human being, this species is too well established in North America to be easily eliminated.
As for life cycle, the male house sparrow will claim a nest site as early as winter. He will attempt to attract a female to his place with a non-melodious chirp. He does most of the nest-building as well. When all is ready, the female will lay three to five white/brown speckled eggs and will incubate the eggs for 12 days. The young sparrows fledge after 15 to 17 days in the nest, and since house sparrows are non-migratory, they never wander too far from their place of birth.
As noted above, their favorite food is grain, but they are willing to scavenge a wide variety of vegetable foods. Unhappily, they do not eat the green inch-worms in Central Park or anywhere else; other control mechanisms had to be employed for this purpose.
Oddly, the bird is becoming less common in its homeland, to the concern of some. (People cannot be pleased. In America there are many, and people are unhappy with this; in England they are becoming scarce, and people are unhappy with this.) It is conjectured that the widespread use of pesticides, or perhaps the decline of grain farming, are to blame for their relative disappearance in Europe. Even the keeping of house cats has been implicated, though there are abundant house cats in the United States who seem, unlike their European cousins, to be quite unable to diminish the house sparrow population.
It would seem a shame to get rid of them in America, even if this were possible. Perky little birds, tolerant, like all successful immigrants, of hardship, they can and do live where few others survive. It is true that their song is not especially pleasing; but would we prefer the obnoxious city pigeon, or, worse, the unadulterated roar of the freeway?
Let those of us who can rejoice in these common little birds. Not everything that is rare is thereby more valuable; not everything that is common is to be despised.