House Sparrows Taking Over Cliff Swallow Nests

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House Sparrow Male

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Male photos by Larry Jordan

Just the mention of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in the world of Bluebird nest monitoring sends shivers down the back of some trail monitors, and rightfully so. There is plenty of documentation of House Sparrows attacking Bluebirds and other cavity nesting species, killing both young and adult birds (see my friend Bet Zimmerman’s page here).

House Sparrow Female

House Sparrow Female

You see, the House Sparrow is a non-native species, introduced in North America from England in 1851. Being a non-native species, it is not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and yet this bird has become the most widely distributed bird on the planet1.

House Sparrow Distribution Map

Native range in dark green and introduced range in light green

The problem is that House Sparrows are cavity nesters and compete with native cavity nesting birds in North America for breeding sites. Luckily, I have not had a problem with them on my bluebird trails but many monitors have, especially in the mid-west and Eastern U.S. (see the North American Bluebird Society’s page on House Sparrow control).

Crossing a bridge over the Sacramento River recently, I saw a flock of birds on the railing out of the corner of my eye as I drove over the bridge. They didn’t look like the Cliff Swallows that always nest under this bridge.

House Sparrow Female with Nesting Material

I pulled off the road and parked below the bridge where I found a rather large colony of House Sparrows nesting under the bridge in Cliff Swallow nests. House Sparrows are known for using and even usurping nests of Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Barn, Bank and Cliff Swallows.

It certainly surprised me to see these Cliff Swallow nests with House Sparrow heads sticking out of them and females feeding their young.

House Sparrow Female Fedding Nestling in Cliff Swallow Nest

This video shows the females feeding young in several of the Cliff Swallow nests under the bridge and the male claiming nests by sitting in them.

The irony of the whole thing is that now the House Sparrow is declining in it’s native home of Europe and Great Britain1.

House Sparrow Male

To see more great bird photos from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday and the Bird D’pot.

References: 1Wikipedia

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Larry Jordan

Larry Jordan is an avid birder and amateur photographer living on the Pacific Flyway near the Central Valley of Northern California. He is a board member of his local Audubon Society and is a bird and wildlife conservationist. Larry contributes to several wildlife conservation organizations and is a BirdLife International "Species Champion." He is also Habitat Manager for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, an organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Western Burrowing Owl population in the United States. Larry has been blogging about birds since September of 2007 at TheBirdersReport.com

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Larry Jordan

Larry Jordan is an avid birder and amateur photographer living on the Pacific Flyway near the Central Valley of Northern California. He is a board member of his local Audubon Society and is a bird and wildlife conservationist. Larry contributes to several wildlife conservation organizations and is a BirdLife International "Species Champion." He is also Habitat Manager for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, an organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Western Burrowing Owl population in the United States. Larry has been blogging about birds since September of 2007 at TheBirdersReport.com

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Alla Wagner

I love swallows that are nesting under the roof of our house, they have been coming back for several years now. this winter we noticed that sparrows have occupied these nests. please let me know if there is anything that can be done so swallows can take over their nests again.

Peter Tait

We have house sparrows on our garden, small inoffensive little fellows. Never realised the issues others might have with them. And we have lots of cavity nesters in our native species. Of the some 18 native species found on Ulva Island fully 30% are true cavity nesters. But I guess that habitat is the critical issue here. While many of our natives have adapted to “open plan” living I can’t off hand think of a single introduced specie on Stewart Island which is comfortable in heavy forest, which is of course where our natives are at home. .

Mark Dietrich

They are also in decline in my backyard and along my bluebird trail. A gun works at home and traps work on my bluebird trail.