House Sparrows Taking Over Cliff Swallow Nests

by Larry Jordan on July 24, 2012

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

HansHB July 24, 2012 at 8:22 am

Great post, lovely sparrow!
Have a great WBW!


Hanne Bente July 24, 2012 at 8:43 am

Beautiful pictures of a sparrow – we also have many sparrows in Denmark ..
Hanne Bente
Hanne Bente´s last post ..Australsk hvid ibis


EG CameraGirl , Canada July 24, 2012 at 9:38 am

I didn’t realize house sparrows are declining in Europe. They sure seem abundant here!
EG CameraGirl , Canada´s last post ..Green Heron/Birding


Modesto Viegas (Portugal) July 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

Great post!!!
Nice sparrow photos.
Modesto Viegas (Portugal)´s last post ..Águia-real


TexWisGirl July 24, 2012 at 10:08 am

i don’t see many house sparrows here – just a couple of pair that nest in the holes in my electrical poles! but we keep lots of bluebirds here.
TexWisGirl´s last post ..Listen to the mockingbird…


Boom & Gary July 24, 2012 at 10:27 am

I think house sparrows are on the decline here too. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.
Boom & Gary´s last post ..Clear Wing Moths, Wildlife and Scenes of The East Track Beaver Pond. A post to OWT, IRBB, WBW.


Adam Jones July 24, 2012 at 10:51 am

An interesting read. I am aware of their decline here in the UK and London especially, but did not know that they are causing such a nuisance in America.
Adam Jones´s last post ..A Little Owl and a lonely duckling


Mama Zen July 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

Really lovely shots!
Mama Zen´s last post ..Teach Your Children Well


Mick July 24, 2012 at 11:40 am

Great photos and an interesting post. No house sparrows right around my place but they are a problem in other places close by.
Mick´s last post ..Red-necked Stints


I'd Rather B Birdin [Anni] July 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm

That is an amazing report. I did NOT know any of this. Lately, I’ve been fixated with attempts of getting a perfect sparrow photo…they are difficult to photograph when I’m out in the yard…they’re very suspicious and fly away all too quickly. Your images are superb, but the vicious story of how they are becoming more or less predators of the bird world, it’s sad to know.

Thanks for the awesome, and very informative post.
I’d Rather B Birdin [Anni]´s last post ..Park Birdin’…


Liz July 25, 2012 at 12:36 am

Great (and informative) post Larry! Wonderful images of these swwet looking birds.
Liz´s last post ..Wild Bird Wednesday: Superb Fairy Wren


Stewart M - Australia July 25, 2012 at 1:33 am

Hi – we have them here as well, even though evolution played no part in it!

Remarkable that they are using nests so different to their own.

Stewart M – Australia

PS: sorry about the lack of thumbnails this week – will get it right for WBW #3
Stewart M – Australia´s last post ..From here the world looks like a map.


Linda July 25, 2012 at 3:01 am

I didn’t know this either – always thought they were cute little birds! But, I guess Mother Nature allows them to use any methods to survive! Great shots.
Linda´s last post ..I Can Land This Thing…Really I Can!


Roan July 25, 2012 at 4:05 am

Interesting post. We have tons of these on our feeder, which is probably why we don’t get many other birds. We put up a martin house and it was soon filled with sparrows.
Roan´s last post ..Wild Bird Wednesday 2: Southern Cassowary


Kristi July 25, 2012 at 4:41 am

I don’t see all that many house sparrows here, very interesting information. I didn’t know they took over nests like that. I was unable to link up to WBW.
Kristi´s last post ..WBW – Red Tailed Hawk


Pat July 25, 2012 at 7:28 am

I realize that House Sparrows are not loved by many, but I enjoy watching the interaction among the members of the little local colony here.
Pat´s last post ..Ruby-throated Hummingbird


Mia McPherson July 25, 2012 at 11:03 am


Thanks for the great post on this subject, I wasn’t aware that House Sparrows would take over swallow nests.
Mia McPherson´s last post ..A pair of Red-tailed Hawks in early morning light


Mary Howell Cromer July 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Larry, these are very nice! We have a park about 25 miles from home and the same thing occurs there. Sadly, we do not have Swallows within 10 miles of us and no House Sparrows within 3 miles, kind of interesting…guess those red-Shouldered Hawks keep them all at bay~


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