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Old 01-10-2009, 02:09 PM   #1
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Default Beware the House Sparrow

If you have a birdhouse in your yard, your good intentions in attempting to provide birds with a place to nest should be applauded. However, many people don't realize that by allowing a birdhouse to stand unmanaged, they are indirectly harming the very birds the house was meant to benefit, by providing a breeding ground for the worst enemy of bluebirds - the House Sparrow.

The once common bluebird underwent a dramatic decline during the 1900's. A major cause was the introduction of the House (English) Sparrow. The avian equivalent of pests like rats, gypsy moths and crabgrass, House Sparrow populations exploded. They are harmful to native species such as Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Chickadees, and Tree Swallows. (If you're not sure what a House Sparrow looks like, they can often be seen in the garden section of a Lowes/Home Depot, or around fast food restaurants.)

House Sparrows are persistent, aggressive and destructive predators. They may destroy eggs and nestlings; and kill adult birds caught inside the box, sometimes building their own nest on top of the corpse. House Sparrows will not only prevent native birds from nesting in your birdhouse, but they will also breed there. Soon House Sparrows take over all available boxes.

Bluebirds rely on pre-existing nest sites like nestboxes. To help native bird populations rebound, successful bluebird landlords take steps to keep House Sparrows and European starlings (another aggressive bird that was introduced) from breeding in any birdhouses on their property.

Because House Sparrows are smaller than bluebirds, they can get into any box a bluebird can enter. There are a few styles of nestboxes not preferred by House Sparrows, including the Gilbertson. Fishing line placed strategically on a nestbox may make it less attractive to House Sparrows. A simple homemade device called a “Sparrow Spooker” with fluttering mylar strips brushing the roof top works wonders, and protects nestbox contents 24/7. It is installed after the first bluebird egg is laid (so it doesn’t scare off the bluebirds too), and removed after the babies fledge to encourage another brood and avoid House Sparrows getting accustomed to it. Instructions on how to make a Sparrow Spooker are available here: http://www.sialis.org/sparrowspooker.htm.

Because House Sparrows and starlings are not native, and are considered nuisance species, they are not protected by federal law. House Sparrow nests, eggs, young, and adults may be legally removed or destroyed. Of course you must first be absolutely sure that it is actually a House Sparrow. Generally only two “brown” birds use nestboxes – the other is the native House Wren, which is smaller, arrives in CT later in the year, and builds a nest made out of sticks. It is illegal to interfere with the nest of any native bird.

If you are not willing or are unable to control House Sparrows, consider taking the nestbox down altogether. If you want to leave the house up as a decoration, you can either plug the entrance holes, use a 1 1/8” hole reducer which will allow Chickadees or House Wrens to nest, use a "fake" painted hole on decorative boxes, or remove the birdhouse floor.

One person indiscriminately putting out bird seed can also radically change neighborhood wildlife. Do not feed birds bread, or seed that contains a lot of millet or cracked corn, as this attracts House Sparrows. Thistle, safflower, and black oil sunflower seeds are enjoyed by many native birds, but are not preferred by House Sparrows. Dumping food on the ground can also attract rats.

For more information on how to attract native birds or manage House Sparrows, see http://www.sialis.org. It is better to have no box at all than to allow House Sparrows to reproduce in one. Helping reduce the population of House Sparrows and starlings enables native birds to survive and thrive.
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Old 01-10-2009, 02:22 PM   #2
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Excellent post; and welcome to the Wildlife Gardeners!
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Old 01-10-2009, 09:52 PM   #3
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Location: Franklin, Massachusetts, United States

I saw bluebirds for the first time this winter, down on a lake in Virginia. I didn't get a close look but they sure were blue!

Thank you for the info, Bet. My mother, who lives near said lake, loves bluebirds. I'll pass along this information to her.
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Old 01-10-2009, 09:55 PM   #4
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Old 01-10-2009, 11:22 PM   #5
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Location: Maricopa , Arizona , U.S.A.

I may be mistaken but I seem to remember at least in the case of Purple Martin houses both sparrows and starlings could be discouraged by using SREH sized holes ;


I am not sure about bluebirds houses but I have always understood that cutting the entrance holes is a near precise science in keeping desired species safe from intruders such as HOSP's .

A product that I have been curious about is " Sparrow free magic halo " ( I have seen other similar such products ) ;


In reading the description supposedly this wire halo is suspended around a bird feeder and sparrows will not fly around or under the wire . Any tried these or have a comment on them ?


I see sialis speaks of them here ;


If they are effective at feeders why not around nest boxes ?
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Old 01-11-2009, 12:00 PM   #6
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There are many options to control House Sparrows - both passive (like controlling the kind of birdseed offered) and active (like removal of HOSP nests and eggs, and trapping.) Trapping is not for everyone, but many people who do trap provide the House Sparrows to wildlife rehabbers (like raptors) to be used as food for injured animals like hawks, owls, etc.

Magic halos are an interesting device that many people have had good luck with when used on feeders. They were designed by the U. of Nebraska for use on feeders only. The North American Bluebird Society Journal just published an article on someone who has tried them on nestboxes. They may not be as effective on nestboxes because the drive to procreate is so strong.

A sparrow spooker (http://www.sialis.org/sparrowspooker.htm) is incredibly effective, but must be put up AFTER the first bluebird (or tree swallow, chickadee, etc.) egg is laid and removed after fledgling for a variety of reasons (one of which is to avoid allowing House Sparrows to become accustomed to it.) Some folks also use fishing line (see http://www.sialis.org/hosp.htm#monofilament)

There are no entry holes that bluebirds or purple martins can enter that a HOSP can not get through, because HOSP are smaller. There are some entrances they don't seem to PREFER (like a slot entrance) but folks have had mixed success with them.

A round bluebird nestbox hole must be 1 1/2 to 1 9/16" diameter to exclude aggressive starlings. Purple martin landlords have developed some alternative hole styles that deter starlings, not House Sparrows.

FYI, for those who need more information about WHY control of House Sparrows is something to seriously consider, see accounts of HOSP attacks (warning: graphic photos) here: http://www.sialis.org/hospattacks.htm

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Old 01-16-2009, 02:12 PM   #7
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I have trouble with HS"s every year.I have come up with a simple solution to keep them from interfering with my bluebirds,i sit on my back porch and pick them off with a BB gun.I have 5 bluebird houses,in the spring the sparrows constantly harass them.I have never seen them kill a bluebird,but they have destroyed eggs and killed a few babies.The dead sparrows go to a rapter rehab center that i volunteer at,so they are not going to waste.
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Old 01-17-2009, 08:34 AM   #8
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Sialis is a quality site.

We humanely destroy English house sparrows. European starlings too. They pose a serious threat to all North American native cavity nesters.
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Dr. Seuss
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Old 01-17-2009, 01:11 PM   #9
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I'm a proponent of dispatching them if you have it in you to do it. They're really taking an incredible toll on our native cavity nesters. Don't use lead bb's though. There are ground traps available for HOSPs if you live in a community where discharge of a firearm is prohibited. If you can't practice active sparrow control, please take down your bluebird nest boxes if English house sparrows are in the area. The bluebirds can get trapped in the nest box by the English house sparrows and thanks to video cams, we all know what happens to the cavity nester, and its eggs, and its nestlings at the beak of the English house sparrow. It's not the HOSPs fault. It's our fault for allowing them to be introduced to this continent in the first place and it's our fault for not being more open and honest about what has been going on at the expense of our native cavity nesters for all these years.

To Bet, I would like to see screech owls and wood ducks added to your line up of cavity nesters negatively impacted by English house sparrows. I have personal experiences with HOSPs destroying eggs of wood ducks and killing little baby screech owlettes and I'm not alone.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we have been taught."
-Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist
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Old 01-19-2009, 12:25 PM   #10
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I have managed a Purple Martin colony and Bluebird trail for several years. The site is on a community school complex, comprised of the lower, middle and high schools, and a number of football, baseball and soccer fields. House Sparrows and Starling are abundant and provide a constant challenge during the breeding season. Since this is a remote site, I only make the 70 mile round trip a couple of times a week. Managing a site in, or near, your yard is much easier. In my opinion, the combination of lethal and nonlethal methods of controlling S&S is the only way to provide the maximum level of protection for our native cavity nesting birds.

My Purple Martin colony has a combination of three types of housing and three types of entrances. I'm adding another house with another type of entrance this spring. All are extremely Starling resistant and I've never experienced a problem with Starling because of this. Lonediver is correct. In housing with large compartments (larger than the old standard 6"X6"X6") you need to provide entrances that allow Purple Martins in, but not Starlings. The breast of the two species is different and the breastplate on Starlings makes it difficult to enter certain hole configurations. I use crescent, "obround" and will be adding excluder entrances. The two older houses have round holes, but Starlings have not been interested in the small compartments in these houses and will only rarely try to nest in one. House Sparrows have attemted to nest in each of the three types of housing and love the Bluebird boxes. While a few people allow HOSP and Martins to coexist, they all report some loss of Martin eggs or young. I lose some every year and I control HOSP. You MUST have a trap for each type of Purple Martin house that you have. If you rip out a HOSP nest it will be rebuilt within a day. You also irritate them and you have enough trouble already. Trap (hopefully the male AND female) the HOSP and destroy them. I wait until they lay an egg, remove the nest material and set the trap with some nest material and egg(s) visible. If you can shoot in your location, add this to your available options.

I have removable insert traps for all of my Bluebird boxes. Set screws are in place to move my traps from box to box. I use the Van Ert trap, shown on this page:
The link to the page to purchase them is down, but hopefully this is temporary. Any insert trap will do, but I've found this one to be easy and effecitive. Again, I wait until an egg is laid, remove all but a little nest material and leave the egg(s) in sight. Try to get the pair. I used to lose the majority of Bluebird and Tree Swallow eggs and young to HOSP, even with an active trapping program. Adding Sparrow Spookers resulted in 100% success rate last year. I make my own for about a buck a piece. I would never attempt to maintain a Bluebird house anywhere without them. At my house, I lost a Bluebird nest with eggs to HOSP and I rarely see a HOSP in my yard. Adding a Sparrow Spooker is quick, easy insurance.

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beware, bird, bird habitat, bird house, bird protection, birds, bluebirds, destructive predators, house, house sparrow, house sparrows, introduced species, invasive, invasive birds, invasive fauna, invasive species, martins, non native, non native birds, non native species, predators, predators protection, protect birds, sparrow, sparrows

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