House sparrow male, perched on edge of garden shed roof

Relations with humans and other animals

People have a love-hate relationship with the house sparrow. However, control attempts have failed to limit the sparrows numbers and range.

Their relationship with humans

People have a love-hate relationship with the house sparrow. For many they are the most familiar of wild animals, bringing life to city centres and other man-made places, bereft of wildlife.

The house sparrows partiality to grain crops and the damage and destruction this caused resulted in attempts to control their numbers. From the mid-18th century most parishes had sparrow clubs with the sole objective to destroy as many sparrows as possible. Bounties were paid for sparrows until the late 19th century, when it was accepted that the control measures did not work. Similar failures were recorded in a number of other European countries.

Ironically, as people in Europe were paid to kill sparrows as pests, others deliberately introduced them to places as far apart as Australia and New York. Initially they were welcomed, although later appreciation turned to serious concern for the impact on crops. By then sparrows had become well established and control attempts have failed to limit the sparrows numbers and range.

House sparrow

How sparrows behave with other animals

Sparrows are aggressive tend to dominate feeders in gardens and prevent other birds from getting to the food. They harass other birds and steal their food and take over their nests, particularly house martins. The eviction and interference often results in a reduction in breeding success and can cause desertion of even large martin colonies. 

Sparrows frequently tear to pieces the nests of martins and swallows and eject any eggs or chicks therein. The owners are unable to stop them.

Sparrows are very resilient and for their size have remarkably few serious predators. Main predators are domestic cats, owls (especially tawny) and sparrowhawks, but none are capable of affecting the size of the sparrow population, with the possible exception of localised effects by cats.

House sparrows on feeder