About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Least Favorite Bird Feeding Question

Sparrows, ugh!

Hello, We have been ravaged by sparrows most of this summer. So much so we really don’t have other birds coming to our feeders. We also don’t like putting out seed in the morning, only to have it all consumed by the sparrows all day, without really seeing other species. I’m down to chickadees, goldfinches and sparrows. I am missing out on the migratory species this time of year plus all of my local favorites.

Is there anything to be done? I did a quick search on Google and saw some products that supposedly impede sparrows while letting in the other species. Do these work? Do you carry products that can assist me? Yours truly, Michael ~East Lansing

Nothing personal, but I really hate this question. Working at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI I hear dismissive complaints about House Sparrows every day.
I see House Sparrows as survivors trying to live the American Dream. They have learned to thrive in close association with mankind, unlike the many other species that have declined or disappeared as a result of our activities. In fact, people have done the most destruction to native bird species and helped increase the house sparrow population both intentionally and unintentionally.

Between 1874 and 1876 a few House Sparrows were brought over from England and were released in Jackson and Owosso, Michigan to control insect infestations on crops. They quickly multiplied into thousands as they raised three to five broods per year regularly, each brood averaging around five babies.

Then it was discovered that 60% of the House Sparrows' diet consisted of the farmers’ seed crop instead of the bugs. However the information came too late to stop the population growth. Today due to several releases of a few House Sparrows across the US they are the most abundant songbirds in North America and the most widely distributed birds on the planet. And the House Sparrows in your yard may be 100th generation Americans.

The closer you are to the city the more sparrows you are likely to have in your yard. The number one way to limit their numbers at the feeder is to not feed millet. Millet is their favorite food and common in most seed blends. If you switch over to straight safflower seed you will decrease their activity at the feeders.

Safflower is savored by Cardinals, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, and more. Blackbirds, starlings, squirrels, and sparrows avoid safflower. When you start feeding safflower there will be a dramatic drop in the number of birds at the feeder but then different birds will appear gradually.

Also suets attract a lot of bug eating birds like chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. It’s important to buy suet without seed in it that the sparrows like. Our Wild Birds Unlimited Peanut Butter Suet contains just suet and peanuts no seed or we have just the straight beef suet.

Sometimes sparrows avoid Nyjer thistle feeders too. Goldfinches can eat upside down comfortably and the upside down finch feeder we sell is popular for people that are overrun with sparrows or house finches. The feeding port is below the perch and the goldfinches have to hang by their toes to reach the seed.

Other deterrents are the sparrow spooker and the magic halo. I’ve recommended the Sparrow Spooker to keep birds away from birdhouses and the Magic Halo can be purchased online or via mail order. We don’t sell these items. But the sparrows are clever and this might not deter them for long.

Finally remember that even though they eat a lot and visit in huge flocks they also eat lots of bugs while raising their young. I bet you didn’t have any problems with mosquitoes this year. And they are fun to watch in the winter when there is a lot of snow on the ground and not much else to see.

So, love them...or hate them...they are here to stay. Your challenge is live with them and understand the niche they occupy in your avian landscape.


Anonymous said...

Good for you,Sarah

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way as Michael until several years ago. My opinion changed one day when I was contemplating how to get rid of japanese beetles that were devouring my roses and hibiscus.

While watching the sparrows in my back yard, I realized they were landing on the hibicus and picking off the beetles that were on the bush. As I continued to watch, the beetles that would fly off were also being caught by sparrows. On another day, I saw them doing the same on the rose bushes. Problem solved.

I've never had another beetle problem.

My opinion changed that day and I gladly feed ALL the birds year round and count the number of sparrow broods in the bird house. Four this year.

Give 'em a second look (and chance), Michael.

E Lans

Anonymous said...

For his eye is on the sparrow. An old song but I think it reinforces my belief that all Gods creatures are important and deserve our love and respect.

Anonymous said...

i love all birds and the house sparrow is really a finch by the way.

Unknown said...

Before I began working with wild birds, I'd never given much attention to sparrows. We had a nickname for them back home, "sputzies," for what reason, I don't know. When I began working with wild birds, some of my first patients were sparrows, and it didn't take me long to fall in love with them! They are playful, mischievous, chatty, musical and loving when they see how much you love them! I figure the best way to attract birds other than sparrows to flock around feeders and yards is to use different types of food that include the type sparrows aren't fond of. Based on my own observations, the presence of sparrows won't deter the presence of other birds, so unless other birds have migrated elsewhere, they can all eat together in harmony.