Sparrows

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This article provides information on the identification, biology, and pest potential of sparrows in Western Australia.

Introduction

Tree sparrows and house sparrows are common in eastern Australia. They have not become established in WA because of prevention measures carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA).

Identification

Both sparrow species are slightly larger than the common welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena). The sparrows have wedge-shaped, finch-like bills.

The tree sparrow has a chestnut crown and nape, a black chin and white cheeks with black patches. Black extends from the bill to behind the eye and the neck has a white collar. The back and wings are brown streaked with black, underparts are off-white. The wings have double bands of white. Immature birds are paler in colour, with less distinct markings.

The male house sparrow has a grey crown and white cheeks. The throat and upper breast are black. Chestnut extends from the eye around to the back of the neck (nape). The upper body is brown streaked with black, and underparts are greyish. The female is nondescript buff - brown and has buff eyebrows. Both sexes have single white wingbars. Immature birds are similar to the female.

Distribution

The tree sparrow occurs naturally in Eurasia but introduced populations have established in North America and Australia, in Victoria, New South Wales (Riverina region) and the Australian Capital Territory.

Tree sparrows often arrive in WA on ships from south-east Asia. Birds are usually found near sea ports.

The house sparrow is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. Introduced populations occur worldwide. In Australia, it has become established in all states except WA. House sparrows are often found in traps set for starlings at the border of South Australia and WA near the coast. These birds are attempting to extend their range west.

Habitat

Sparrows are found in cities, suburbs and rural towns, wooded country, forests, grasslands, cultivated areas, parklands, and anywhere there is human settlement. They make great use of buildings for roosting, feeding and nesting. The tree sparrow is less common in cities. The house sparrow can be found in a wider range of natural habitats than the tree sparrow.

Diet

Sparrows hop along the ground or search in foliage for seeds, soft fruits, flower and leaf buds and grains. They also take flying insects and eat human food scraps. In WA, sparrows are often detected when they forage for bird seed at aviaries.

Breeding

Tree sparrows lay buff-coloured spotted eggs between September and January. House sparrows lay larger white eggs, spotted and freckled with grey and pale brown. They breed in spring and summer, or whenever conditions are favourable.

Sparrow nests are untidy domes made from plant stems, grass, wool and feathers. Nests are built in tree holes, dense trees or shrubs, tall palms, in haystacks, woodpiles or in crevices and holes in buildings. Nests have also been built in the base of large nests of other birds.

Behaviour

Sparrows are very sociable and are usually found in small to large flocks. Both species are attached to their nest sites for much of the year, however some individuals disperse hundreds of kilometres to explore sites for new colonies.

Damage

Sparrows damage many cereal and fruit crops. They also spoil cereal crops, animal feed and stored grain with their droppings. Their nests may block gutters and down pipes, resulting in damage to buildings. They are also pests in outdoor eating areas. Birds entering the country onboard ships may carry exotic diseases of animals and humans. Sparrows may also compete with native birds for food and nesting sites.

Legal status

Tree and house sparrows are prohibited declared pests under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 and associated Regulations 2013, administered by DAFWA.

Declared pest category

The Western Australian Organism List (WAOL) contains information on the area(s) in which this pest is declared and the control and keeping categories to which it has been assigned in Western Australia (WA). Use the links on this page to reach tree sparrow Passer montanus or house sparrow Passer domesticus in WAOL.

Further information

For further information on sparrows, contact the Pest and Disease Information Service.

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080