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.
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!
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.