If you are making a serious attempt to attract cavity nesting birds such as bluebirds, you will
eventually want to learn how to deal with house sparrows. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss some
of my own experiences, which I hope will help you in the future.
In my early stages of bluebirding, I attended a program at a local Audubon sanctuary. Although I cannot recall the speaker's name, I do remember his utter disgust upon mentioning house sparrows found along a bluebird trail. He told of how he not only removes their nests and destroys their eggs, but if he can get his hands on one of the adult sparrows found on the nest, he quickly dispatches them by breaking their necks! At the time, I thought this action seemed a little harsh and perhaps the speaker was a couple eggs short of a full clutch. After all, these were cute little birds too. If you have similar thoughts and are new to attracting cavity nesting birds...READ ON! (please)
IT SHOULD BE NOTED that House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European Starlings are NOT native to the United States and are the only birds NOT protected by law in this country. Both of these birds were introduced and are known to cause problems with our native species.
For whatever reason, I experienced no problems with sparrows during my first two seasons of bluebirding. However, during my third year, my attitude towards these "cute little birds" quickly changed and I realized that the speaker heard at the Audubon program had been dealing with a full deck after all!
My first attempts to discourage sparrows from nesting on my trail involved removing their nesting material. I understood that sparrows were undesireable tennants and figured this would be a humane way of dealing with them. Sparrows just wonít take a hint and could very well be the most persistant critters on this planet. Soon tiring of this never ending chore, I allowed them to complete their nest. When their clutch was complete, I then removed and destroyed the eggs. The following day at this location, I discovered sparrows in a nearby nesting box that had been occupied by bluebirds. Closer inspection found a few broken bluebird eggs on the ground in front of the house and two broken eggs still in the nest. At the time, I thought this to be coincidental, but this same senario occurred at a different location the following week. I couldnít help thinking the sparrows were wreaking this havoc as some kind of revenge for their own loss, or so it seemed.
That same season was the first time we had bluebirds nesting at one of two boxes in our yard, with sparrows moving into the other. This time I did not want to disturb the sparrows, fearing retaliation to the bluebirds. We noticed the sparrows would harrass the bluebirds on occassion but the male bluebird seemed capable of defending his territory. Returning home from work one day when the bluebird nestlings were about a week old, I saw the female sparrow exiting the bluebird box. From what I saw, it appeared the male sparrow kept the adult bluebirds busy while the female sparrow entered their nest and did the dirty work. To my dismay, I found all five bluebird nestlings dead! This was my turning point, the last straw! I was furious because there seemed to be no logical explanation as these sparrows already had their own (undisturbed)nest. I waited until later that evening and could feel the female sparrow when I placed my hand on top of their nest. Alhough I hate to admit it, I can tell you now that I experienced at least some satisfaction after breaking her neck and destroying the eggs. I can remember becoming frustrated by not being able to capture this particular male house sparrow, but if this was the same bird that returned the following year, then sentencing was carried out.
Over the years Iíve seen first hand what sparrows can do. On more than one occasion I found where these nasty little birds had killed adult bluebirds and tree swallows while they sat on their eggs and began building a nest right on top of them! As mentioned above, Iíve seen sparrows work together, whether in pairs or in larger groups later in the season. They will work relentlessly to take over or destroy other birdís nesting sites for no apparent reason.
To help better explain, here is a question I ran across from a person new to attracting cavity nesting birds and my reply:
QUESTION: "I was disappointed to read a bluebirding article that encouraged trapping and destroying house sparrows. As a new birder, I feel it is our duty to help conserve and manage all wildlife, and it is hypocritical to destroy those species which we do not like. Their place in nature is also part of the food chain and let us not forget that nature is very, very cruel!"
REPLY: "I felt the same as you when I first began bluebirding about 10 years ago. I have a website (refering to this page) where I have recounted my experiences and have attempted to deal with this issue in a way that I hope will help beginners understand."
"In your own words about sparrows having a place in the food chain... consider this...I don't hold any "grudges" against hawks, crows, bluejays, etc., if they happen to take one one of "my" bluebirds. This is nature in action and part of the food chain as you state. House sparrows on the other hand, do not kill for food and their actions are not consistant to nature's food chain. I can't say for sure, but it appears sparrows kill for no other reason than to continue their quest to take over the (bird) world."
Keep in mind that sparrows are usually found in city and urban areas and have the ability to build nests almost anywhere. Under roof eaves, in street light fixtures/poles, building ledges/crevices, awnings, you name it. They are not restricted to nesting boxes like some of our native species, such as bluebirds and tree swallows!
I maintain a couple of small bluebird trails around town, but two nestboxes are located in our yard in a somewhat residential neighborhood. Because this location prohibits the use of a firearm, I use a Gilbertson Sparrow Trap to deal with house sparrow problems. It's a fairly simple affair made from a small piece of wood, a 4" section of metal measuring tape, and two pieces of cleverly bent coat hanger. The trap is screwed to the inside of the nestbox, just under the entrance hole. If set properly, it will trip when the bird enters the house and hits the coat hanger wire. The section of measuring tape then snaps up to cover the hole, thus trapping the bird. This type of trap is non-discriminatory and must be used under supervision so desireable birds are not caught.
Another good design is the Huber Sparrow Trap. This link for Joe Huber's web page will provide detailed instructions for making one.
5/31/01 - If you'd like to purchase a reasonably priced sparrow trap, I have just been informed of a new one (for me at least): Van Ert Sparrow Trap. I was very impressed after visiting their web site, ordered two and will give a report after trying them out. Incidently, they also make one for round PVC nest boxes.
UPDATE: - Should have gotten back here sooner to report on the Van Ert Traps but things are really hopping! Folks, these quality traps are the way to go! I had my first problem bird 15 minutes after opening the package! Well built and easy to use.
3/5/2006 Here's a new one:
Deluxe Repeating Sparrow Trap
This one looks very promising and will not only capture multiple sparrows but also works well for starlings: http://www.sparrowtraps.net/index.htm
Once trapped, the problem now becomes getting the sparrow out of the nestbox without it escaping. On a couple occasions, even while using extreme care and a large plastic bag to cover the entire nestbox, the sparrow still managed to escape while opening the door. I could hardly believe it when one flew right out at high speed and tore clean through the corner of the bag!
May 24, 2003 - A simple solution for this was recommended to me by Rick , an avid bluebirder who uses a mesh nylon bag: "The mesh bag tightens around the box so there's no means of escape, and while the sparrow is fluttering around in the bag, it is very easy to either catch it in your hand or trap him in the bottom by simply compressing the mesh in your hand prior to removing the bag from the box. As part of his woodworking webpage, Rick has a description and photos of this type of bag in operation along with a ton of other very useful information relating to bluebirds at: http://www.rickswoodshopcreations.com/Projects/Completed/Bird_House/Bird_House.htm#Bluebird_Info
Thanks for the mesh bag tip Rick! Very helpful to me and I'm sure it will help many others.
PASSIVE DETERRENTS FOR HOUSE SPARROWS:
Sparrow Spooker isn't new, it's been around since 1985 but a friend has recently found it very useful and effective: SPARROW SPOOKER
See Mike Ripple's page for using monofiloment fishing line to keep house sparrows from using your nesting boxes at: http://www.zbzoom.net/~mripple/mdrive/bluebird/bb_hosp.html. Simple & easy.
Since talking with Mike Ripple about his new method of using monofiloment line I have heard from others who have also been trying this method:
Frank Navratil Sr's Mono Page
Larry Zapotocky's Mono Page
For the past several years, I've been searching for the most humane and effective way of dispatching house sparrows. I believe I may have found it, though it does have a limitation.
On the morning of April 1, 2000, I was able to trap yet another male house sparrow and at the risk of raising my neighbor's curiosity a few notches, tried a new method. After moving my vehicle to within twenty feet of the box, I inserted one end of a swimming pool vacumn hose into the entrance hole (just the right size, by the way) and held the other end to the exhaust of the running vehicle. In less than a minute I heard one small flutter of wings and it was over. No fuss, no muss, and no chance for the sparrow to escape! I also felt much better about it than using other methods. The only catch is being able to get a vehicle close enough to the nestbox. If anyone happens to try this method, please drop me a line with comments. If nothing else, your neighbors may become winners on one of those funniest video shows!
Here is another VERY informative House Sparrow Page by Steve Eno.
See new article on House Sparrows. Go to: Nothing But Trouble