Do Sparrows Migrate?

The house sparrow that we see in our gardens, possibly more regularly than any other bird, is noisy and quarrelsome. He can be an aggressive character that will stand his ground amongst other bigger birds and fight his way to get to food, he can also be endearing and friendly.

They are a notably scavenging species, restaurant waste and discarded scraps in the street are a meal to them, and your garden feeding stations are a veritable feast!

Does the sparrow gorge himself on as much food as he can find throughout the year and then fly to sunnier climes once the winter strikes?

The simple answer is no, practically all house sparrows are sedentary, this means that they are non-migratory and remain in virtually the same place throughout the year.

The sparrow usually stays within 1 kilometre of his birthplace; he doesn’t have itchy feet, or wings, at all!

Of the very limited migration that occurs, it is the younger birds, particularly those that inhabit coastlines, being tempted to fly long distances. Mountain birds that have nested high between the rocks often choose to descend to a lower elevation during the winter.

Staying put

Not all birds need to migrate. Those that do are usually the ones that depend on nectar or larger insects as their food source. During the wintertime, the birds struggle when their food is not available in abundance and so fly to a warmer and sunnier climate to search out what they need to sustain them.

The sparrow is omnivorous; he eats all types of animal and plant life. He can survive harsh conditions on many different things that he can forage or steal!

Where do Sparrows go in Winter?

Unlike species of birds that choose to migrate during the winter months, the sparrow has no desire to. Once he has identified a regular food source and shelter from the cold he is happy to stay where he is.

The sparrow is an opportunistic eater, is that a polite way of saying scavenger?! He will eat virtually anything and can often be seen rummaging through the dustbins of food outlets to find his next tasty morsel.

Research done in the 1940s for the BTO British Handbook found that there were an astonishing 838 different foods found in the stomachs of sparrows!

His diet is supplemented, sometimes heavily so, by what we leave out on our bird tables. He will eat all fayre, seeds, nuts, suet and mealworms; he will happily dine on lots of kitchen scraps too, rice, chips, peas and lettuce amongst a myriad of other things.

Particularly when it’s cold outside, it is essential that he eats enough to build up fat reserves to keep him warm, and alive through the night. A steady food supply means that he will be able to conserve energy, using it instead as warmth during cold nights.

As sparrows tend to sleep in the same area in which they live, you can be sure that if sparrows are eating at your tables during the daytime, then that is where they will go on their hunt for food during wakeful times at night.

We should always try to remember to feed the sparrows throughout the winter, their numbers have been dwindling for decades, even though they are still one of the most common garden birds in the British Isles, we would hate to see their species in crisis.

Any port in a storm..

The availability of somewhere safe and warm to shelter through the cold months is another huge factor in why the house sparrow does not find it necessary to migrate.

Sparrows are well adapted to living alongside humans; they frequently live and breed indoors. Nooks and crannies in factories, warehouses and even zoos have often been their nesting choice.

Though they also like to nest in dense undergrowth, the sparrow has adapted perfectly to finding places of safety to sleep in when the weather is being unkind.

They will think nothing of relining old bird and squirrel nests that have long since been evacuated. Corners of barns and factories,

disused guttering and pipework, even pockets of old jackets that have been left hanging about, offer him some warmth and protection.

A winter sparrow’s nest was even found in the glove compartment of an abandoned old car sat in a run-down garage!

The sparrow will gladly shelter from the elements in the cavities of trees. Whether they be naturally occurring holes caused by decay, or holes other birds have left, he’s not a proud chap, he will move in.

He is clever enough to have worked out that cavities in larger, healthy trees hold any of the daytimes heat for longer periods, staying warmer at night.

Some birds, including our sparrow, practice facultative hypothermia, they can regulate their body temperature by bringing it down to a safe, but low level, reducing heat loss and therefore saving energy.

The sparrow is known to be more aggressive in colder weather, we can rectify this by feeding them more, it is just their survival instinct.

It seems that our sparrow is a resilient and resourceful character, finding safety from predators, protection against the winter and a regular supply of food, in almost any situation or under most circumstances. He’s a survivor.

If the call of a margarita at the poolside can’t tempt him to warmer temperatures, then I’m sure nothing will.

7 thoughts on “Do Sparrows Migrate?”

  1. May I ask where are the sparrows that I see all summer the same two birds and now I don’t see them at all? I saw them last winter in a bad storm sitting on his house but at this time of year I never see them are they sleeping?

    Reply
    • Most sparrows stay sheltered away when the weather gets colder, they use small nooks and crannies in trees, thick vegetation etc.
      They are just more hidden away rather than out and about and active like in the spring and summer times!

      Reply
  2. Hi Walter,
    Well done on your lovely website. I have a similar question but it’s probably the opposite answer. I had some work done on the roof last October but had to wait for a family of sparrows to move out first.
    Yesterday I saw them come back after about three months and they stared, baffled at the repaired fascia blocking them out. They seemed to do a double-take. So if they don’t migrate, where did they go?
    Thanks,
    Jeff.

    Reply
    • Jeff,

      They go to sheltered areas, they keep warm in groups in all sorts of places and stay where food is near continually.

      Take care
      Walter

      Reply
  3. Thanks Walter t
    I love wildlife so this is really helpful and I want to have sparrows in my birdhouse so thank im going to try the advice out thank agian

    Reply
  4. Hi Walter, I had sparrows (around 50 staying in my garden in the hedgerows for around a year now. But over the last few weeks there’s only about 8/10 of them now. I’ve always put plenty of food out several times a day and water too. I’ve been very upset that their not there as every day it was like an aviary in my back garden. They would squabble and feed and fly around all day long and now you can hardly hear a pin drop and I miss it so much. I just can’t think of a reason why they’d go as it’s very private we’re I live and my whole garden is enclosed with large hedgerows. I miss them so much.

    Reply
    • They are most likely just sitting on eggs or staying in their nests at the moment, I also have a decrease in activity but they will be back!

      Reply

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