House Sparrow: Nest and Eggs

Males and female house sparrows at a feeder. Photo: Jim the Photographer.

The house sparrow is one of America’s most ubiquitous birds. Introduced from Europe starting in 1851, this sparrow has expanded widely. House sparrows primarily nest in cavities but are flexible and can nest in anything that resembles an enclosure, dense vines, and trees. They are aggressive and are known to displace native cavity-nesting birds. This article is intended to aid in identifying house sparrow nests and eggs.

House sparrow breeding facts

Breeding Period:Early May through late September.
Nest type:Nests outside an enclosure have a dome shape with a side entrance. Nests inside cavities consist of a cup surrounded with coarse nesting material.
Substrate & Location:Preferably inside a cavity, but can nest anywhere that resembles an enclosure at any height and location. 
Nest measurements:Dome-shaped nests outside cavities have an approximate diameter of 8 to 12 in.
Nesting Activities:Male picks the nesting site and builds a pilot nest. Both males and females finish building the nest. 
Egg Description:Eggs are oval. The color ranges from light brown to greenish or bluish-white. The egg marking is variable but is generally wreathed towards the wide side with a mix of gray to brown dots and spots. 
Egg Length and width:0.82 in x 0.6 in.
Egg-laying:It begins a day or two after nest completion. Female lays one egg every morning.
Clutch size:Typically 5 eggs on average but ranges between 1 to 8 eggs. 
Number of broods:Multiple broods per year.
Incubation Period:Typically 11 days but can extend to 14 days in regions of cold temperatures. 

 Breeding range and habitat 

House sparrow map range. Source: allaboutbirds.org

House sparrows were first introduced in New York in 1851. They have colonized just about every urban and semi-urban area throughout North, Central, and South America. 

House sparrows are year-round residents and breed where they occur.  Their breeding requirements are rather flexible. They prefer cavities and enclosures to build a nest but can nest on ledges of houses and buildings, inside pipes, under awnings and roofs, and any place that offers an enclosure-like structure with space where to place a nest. 

House sparrows favor open and semi-open habitats and generally do not enter woodlands. Favorite habitats include parking lots, gas stations, park-like areas, and any urban environments. They thrive in agriculture and farmland.

Migration and social behavior

House sparrows are year-round residents. Studies on house sparrow movements found that young birds are more likely to move away from the natal areas. Once sparrows reach adult age, they become sedentary.

Young birds form flocks that move about in search of suitable places to colonize and breed. Adults also form flocks that center around sources of food, roosting, and nesting sites.

House sparrows from higher and cold latitudes are known to move south during the coldest months of the year.

House sparrows are highly social, where flocks maintain a structured hierarchy among members. As shown by the amount of black on their bibs, older males occupy the highest ranking and have prime access to food, females, and nesting places. Old females rank above young males that have little to no black on their bibs.

Breeding period

House sparrows have a relatively long breeding period. In North America, the first eggs have been recorded in early March, and the last dependent chicks have been observed in late September. The onset of the breeding season is influenced by temperature. In higher latitudes, breeding starts later than in warmer temperatures.

House sparrow nest showing the cup, lining material, and eggs. Photo: Rich Mooney

House sparrow nest appearance

The nest appearance depends on nest placement. When a nest is built outside an enclosure or cavity, it adopts a round or dome-like shape of approximately 8 to 12 inches across. Nests outside an enclosure or cavity are roofed and have a side entrance that leads to a cup that holds the eggs.

House sparrow nest build in the tube of a traffic light. Notice the side entrance.

The exterior part of the nest is built with coarse material, including dry grasses, twigs, pieces of plastic, paper, and strings. The cup inside the dome is lined with fine material that includes hair, mammal fur, feathers, and other fine fibers.

Nests built in cavities, nesting boxes, and other types of enclosures do not usually have any roofing but only a cup, particularly when the enclosure is small. Large enclosures tend to be filled with nesting material with a central cup. 

House sparrows can build adjacent nests sharing common walls. The size of communal nesting places is variable.

Nesting habits

house sparrow nest in bluebird box
House sparrow nest built in a bluebird box. Photo: Virginia State Parks.

House sparrows do not excavate cavities nor enhance existing structures to fit their needs. They can build their nest inside or outside cavities.

They prefer cavities or any enclosure for nesting. When these are not available, they can build a nest in trees with dense and intertwined branches, in vines, ledges of houses or buildings, spaces under awnings, traffic lights, large pipes, and in the letters of large signs. 

Houses, barns, buildings, and utility structures provide plenty of nesting places to house sparrows. They readily take nesting boxes and are known to be aggressive, at times displacing other birds regardless of the nesting stage the current tenants may be.

As shown in this photo (right), house sparrows have built a nest in a bluebird box. Notice how the sparrows have filled up most of the interior with nesting material.

Nest building

The initiation of nest building depends on whether males are still unmated or the pair is already formed. Unmated males find a nesting site and build a nest or start one. The male advertises his presence and the nest site by calling persistently while perched next to the nest site. Prospective females inspect the nest site and stay or move on. Once a pair is formed, the female takes over mainly to make the interior cup and lining.

Mated pairs build the nest jointly or repair the nest they used the year before or the one they used for an earlier brood.

Egg appearance

The house sparrow eggs are oval with an approximate length of 0.82 in and breath of 0.6 in. The color and markings can vary from nest to nest and even within the same clutch. 

Egg color ranges from light brown to greenish or bluish-white. Markings are also variable but are generally wreathed towards the wider side with a mix of gray to brown dots and spots. 

House sparrow, eggs. Notice the variation in color and markings.

See eggs with similar markings:

Nest and eggs of the Carolina Wren.

Nest and eggs of the House Wren.

Egg Laying

The female house sparrow begins to lay eggs as soon as the nest is finished. Eggs are laid every day, usually in the early morning hours.

House sparrows regularly re-use the same nest for the following brood. Field observations indicate that females can start laying eggs for the next brood as soon as 8 days after the chicks of the earlier brood have left the nest. However, in some cases, it took much longer for a sparrow female to start laying eggs after the preceding brood left the nest.

Clutch size

The female house sparrow typically lays clutches of 5 eggs on average. But studies of nesting house sparrows found that clutches can range from 1 to 8 eggs. 

Incubation of the eggs

The female sparrow begins to incubate the eggs after she lays the next-to-last egg. She roosts inside the nest upon starting to lay eggs, but she does not incubate the eggs.

When incubation starts, both males and females take turns. The male spends only a few hours incubating the eggs during the first days, but as time passes, he increases the time he spends incubating the eggs to up to 50% of the time. The female does most of the incubation initially and settles for about 50% of the time towards the end of the incubation period.

Incubation period

House sparrows incubate the eggs for an average of 11 days before egg hatching. In higher latitudes which normally imply cold average temperatures, eggs take longer to hatch and may take up to 14 days.

References:

  • Cordero, P. J., S. C. Griffith, J. M. Aparicio and D. T. Parker. 2000. Sexual dimorphism in House Sparrow eggs. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 48: 353-357.
  • Jackson, J. A., and J. Tate Jr. (1974). An analysis of nest box use by Purple Martins, House Sparrows and Starlings in eastern North America. Wilson Bulletin 86: 435–449.
  • Lowther, P. E. (1979a). Growth and dispersal of nestling House Sparrows: sexual differences. Inland Bird Banding 51:23-29.
  • Lowther, P. E. (1979b). The nesting biology of House Sparrows in Kansas. Kansas Ornithological Society Bulletin 30:23-26.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BIRD NESTS AND EGGS:

33 thoughts on “House Sparrow: Nest and Eggs”

  1. Jessica wiliam

    Nice article. Your article has provided useful information. Knowing this is vital in understanding birds’ breeding habits and environmental adaptation. Hope you write more because I am a birder looking for this important piece of information to improve.

        1. Alfredo Begazo

          Hello Ellie,

          House sparrows incubate the eggs for about 10-14 days. Once the eggs hatch, the chick will be stay in the nest for 10 to 14 more day before they leave the nest.

          Regards,
          Al

          1. I have some sparrows who build a nest in the soffit of the house. I know where they got in. I can’t see inside but I can hear them. Do you have any advice regarding when it would be safe to seal the entrance? I don’t want to trap any of them inside, but they need to find another nesting site.

          2. Hello Kris,

            They take about 25-27 days since the time a female start incubating the eggs to the day the fledge. Once the chicks leave the nest and you don’t see any activity (parents coming in and out, and baby birds calling), then it is safe to remove the nest and seal the entrance.

            Good luck,
            Al.

        2. [email protected] Hi Ellie my name is Andy and my question is I’ve had sparrows in my yard for years Last year a bird house thats had family’s every year had the young on the ground seems they were rejected from the nest My concern is the same house this year has two females tending it ? Im thinking im going to find the young on the ground again Why are there two females entering the house there are young in there seems one is feeding them not sure what the other one is doing ?? Why two females ? Im sure one is going to kill the young

  2. The answer to how many times a year do birds lay eggs is several times. The number of times birds lay eggs in a year could vary depending on the bird species and several factors. Some birds lay only one egg per year, while others can lay up to ten eggs or even more.

  3. Hope you write more because I am a birder looking for this important piece of information to improve. Some birds lay only one egg per year, while others can lay up to ten eggs or even more.

  4. Have a nice little family in house on the front porch. I noticed they started remodeling interior of house the day after the last chick left. They are in process of second set of babies now. One of them sits on the rest perch at door most of time. I don’t know if watching eggs or keeping each other company. They don’t like me sweeping the porch off so I’ve let that go for time being.

  5. Hello, we have a pair of Chipping Sparrows that laid one egg yesterday. This morning when I checked the nest, their was an egg of a different color, it looks to be a house sparrow. Should I take the egg out, it’s a completely different color and size than the other one. Bummed!! Thanks for any info, Brenda

    1. Hi Brenda,

      If the egg is of a different color and size, it is likely a cowbird egg that is parasitizing the nest of the Chipping Sparrows. Yes, gently remove the egg and monitor the nest for possible additions of non-sparrow eggs.

      Good luck
      Al

      1. Brenda & Al,
        I have a chipping sparrow and her eggs are all different. It illegal to remove that cowbird egg, if in fact it is a Cowbird egg.

        Before we knew it was illegal, we removed a cowbird egg and as we later learned that’s a really bad idea because the Cowbird comes back like the mafia and kills all the other eggs and destroys The whole nest. I read somewhere that these mother birds raise these cowbird eggs not knowing that it’s not their egg. My personal belief is they know that it’s not their egg but they are terrified that the cow bird is going to come and kill the rest of their babies. Just my humble opinion.

        And what I read about the retaliation of the Cowbird was true because they killed all the other eggs in the nest. It was horrible because we know it was because we had to remove the egg.

        If it is in fact a cowbird egg I read somewhere where a man took the egg out of the nest and put it in boiling hot water in a mug for two minutes and then let cowbird egg cool, then put it back in the nest.

        That way it won’t hatch and the Cowbird won’t kill the whole family because it just was a dead egg she figures. The egg will remain in the nest so she can’t get mad.

        It’s still illegal to mess with the egg but if you watch what happens when a cowbird egg hatches in a nest with a group of other innocent birds … Well the whole thing is horrific!!!t

        I had blue birds and the poor things died one by one starving and the one that did survive when it was time for him to fledge it didn’t even look like he had all his feathers developed because he was under nourished .

  6. Ral. NC
    House sparrows have taken over bluebird boxes again this year. I just let them stay. I do keep finding their eggs in yard though. I found an egg this morning in the birdbath. Any thoughts why?

    1. Hi AnnaDee,

      Not sure why eggs keep showing up in your yard. Sometimes, other birds that try to take over a nesting box take the eggs out of the nest. If you have a lot of house sparrows and not enough nests, females just drop an egg??? But house sparrows are resourceful and would nest anywhere. This is unusual.

      Al.

  7. Dennis Sibert

    How long after babies are able to leave nest can I destroy the nest without killing next batch?

  8. House sparrows have hatched chicks inside my car bumper, I see the parents under my car jumping up in the bumper. I can hear them chirping when I put my ear up against the bumper. I have to drive my car. Feel bad, what should I do?

    1. Hello Tami,

      They more likely to be wrens, given the nest location. What a difficult situation. If they have already hatched, you can take the whole nest and place it in the bushes a close as possible to where the car was parked.

      The chicks will call and the parents will find them. Ideally you would wait until they fledge, but given the need to drive the car, this is what may work.

      Good Luck.
      Al

  9. In my neighborhood here in the Pacific Northwest we have Sparrows that come around as I feed them finely crushed cracker crumbs around my front porch. In my backyward I have a hanging strawberry plant. I was out back and noticed a Sparrow and his chirp sounded a bit differently than when I see them in the front yard. It was hanging around in the back when I was out there and at first didn’t think much of it. I would water my plants and flowers in the back, as well as the strawberry plant in the hanging basket using a gentle stream. The next day when I went out to water, I noticed a Sparrow fly out of it and land nearby. I figured there was a nest inside and I checked and sure enough in the center at the bottom there was a tiny nest with three small eggs. I tend to talk to the Sparrows and apologized to them for watering at their nest so I stopped doing so. As a week went by the plant started dying exposing their nest, when the planet was full it provided coverage and shade but now it was open to the elements. We had a night of rain so I took one of my large outside umbrellas and managed to cover it high over their hanging nest to protect the nest. A few days later I noticed the eggs had hactched as I could look over and down into it. Small babies in there reaching thier heads up with thier months open but still the nest had some protecton from the strawberry planet grown on the sides. The adult Sparrows would feed them bugs, etc. I made sure not to put any crushed crackers in the backyard where the nest was because we do have Crow birds that watch the front as I would feed them from time to time.

    The other day I went outside in the back and noticed the Sparrows and the babies were gone. Since their nest was small, I was curious if Sparrows tend to move thier babies shortly after birth to a larger nest? I am unsure how long it takes from birth to when a Sparrow can fly, it had literally only been a week since the had hatched, and they didn’t appear to be big enough to leave. I am hoping that the Crows didn’t get to the younglings and eat them, but rather the adult Sparrows moved them to a larger nest. I have seen the adult Sparrows return to my yard and gather bugs, I assume for their babies but they aren’t in my backyard anymore. I guess curiosity has gotten the best of me and was curiuos if the adults make another nest for the family after they have gotten to be x size, etc. Thank you.

    1. Hello JH,

      Baby sparrows take about 16 days to leave the nest after hatching. It looks like some predator found the nest. This normal. It happens all the time.

      When you have a nest in a pot/planter, continue watering the plant so that the birds have cover. You can add less water, but more often making sure water does not flood the nest content. The parents won’t mind. They will leave the nest while you are watering but will return.

      Good luck the next time.
      Al

      1. Thanks, the reason why I stopped watering the Strawbery plant was because I was worried the water may drown out the babies once they hacthed. When the planet was thriving, the next was in the center at the botom and yes, it did provide shade but also protection but I just didn’t want to get the eggs wet. When the plant started dying that is when I still noticed the eggs unhatched, and then a few days later, they had hatched. The hanging plant was high enough off the ground so I don’t think anything could have gotten to them. The crows tend to hang out in the front yard area. When I noticed the babies were gone about a week or so after they had hatched, I thought perhaps the adult Sparrows had made a larger nest elsewhere but was unsure if they could carry the babies in their mouths to transport to the (possible) other nest. Do they do that? Make a new nest elsewhere not long after the babies are born? I am wondering if perhaps the babies were able to leave the nest sooner than the 16 days you mentioned. I do see the adult Sparrows around my back yard again, and next door too. They make a “chirp” sound something I hadn’t heard before so that is how I could tell it was them.

  10. Hallo Al,

    A pair of sparrow has build a nest at my balcony… Now no egg yet,
    Is it a good idea or a right time to make a bird house for them? I concern if they may not like the house or for any reason as I am disturbing their nest location or privacy.
    Thank you.

    Dora V

  11. Halo Al

    I have a pair of sparrow nesting at my balcony. Not yet lay eggs.
    Would it be a good time to disturb the nest with my diy bird house?

    Dora V

    1. Hello Dora,

      If sparrows nested there is because they found that spot ideal to breed. I would not do anything other than watching and enjoying them. Go ahead and place the DIY bird house where you find it convenient and see what happens. If the sparrows do not use it, maybe other birds may use it.

      Good luck,
      Al.

  12. Hello, I have a blue bird house that the house sparrows were degermed to have I closed off the opening for 2 to 3 at time and put mylar strips up in front of the house. The Sparrow was still going around it and into the opening. So, I definitely lost this time. She now has eggs as of 5/2. Does anyone have suggestions on how to get these two out of the blue bird house after the babies leave?
    In April I had a pair of Blue birds interested in the house but the house sparrow kicked them out.
    ~ Kim

    1. Hello Kim,

      This is a problem for bluebirds. Some folks take the sparrow eggs out and even euthanize the adults while other find that unacceptable. It is a difficult and personal decision.

      Please, look on the internet for methods to keep house sparrows from bluebird houses.

      Good luck,
      Al

  13. Hi,
    We have found 4 sparrow eggs from a disturbed nest and mom has abandoned since. We have brought the eggs inside our home, and are taking care of them, built a amazon box nest and are keeping them at 20 degrees (room temp.) Will the eggs hatch? What do we do to prepare them for their first feeds? What to feed them? If at all they hatch in a couple of weeks? Please guide. We want to hatch them, make them independent , so they can fly away happily. We are in Calgary Alberta, Canada.

    1. Hello Rohan,

      Baby birds need plenty of protein. Parents feed them insects nearly exclusively. I would recommend a diet rich in proteins starting with ground mealworms the first few days after hatching. Then mixed mealworms with ground hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts and other seeds regularly used to feed backyard birds, as they get older.

      I hope the eggs hatch.
      Al.

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