House Sparrow Control With Traps
About House Sparrow
The house sparrow is not native to North America. It was introduced in the late 1800's and has spread across the continent. Like our native cavity nesting birds it readily uses birdhouses for nesting. The house sparrow is a very aggressive species that will prevent native Cavity Nesters from nesting successfully. Cavity nesting birds will use Nest Boxes (birdhouses) for homes.
The male house sparrow is the aggressive one. He will drive away a pair of potential native nesters, like bluebirds. He will also attack and kill adults and nestlings, as well as destroy eggs.
The house sparrow is found across Kansas and North America. They tend to be found wherever there is human habitation. Farms, cities, and suburbs always have house sparrows. If you are at least half a mile from man-made structures there tend not to be any house sparrows.
The house sparrow has caused the decline of many of our native cavity nesters by out-competing them for nesting sites.
Because it is not native to North America it is not a protected species. House sparrows can legally be trapped and killed. Eliminating them from the local population is the best and often the only way to allow our native cavity nesters to successfully raise broods of young.
House Sparrow Nesting
The house sparrow starts adopting nesting places as early as November and continues through June. They are year round residents, so get a head start before migrant birds have arrived. The male will aggressively defend a nest site against native cavity nesting birds like the eastern bluebird, tufted titmouse, tree swallow, and chickadee. Most of our native cavity nesting birds don't start searching out nesting locations until March through May. Furthermore, the house sparrow's local population is often so great that our native cavity nesters don't have a chance competing with them for nesting sites.
If allowed to breed, they will return to the same site year after year. The will nest in buildings, crevices, and about any cavity they can find. It is important not to allow them to nest anywhere, as they produce multiple broods each year. The offspring become more competition for our native cavity nesting birds. If you aren't preventing house sparrows from nesting in your birdhouses, take down your birdhouses or plug the holes.
House Sparrow Nest Box Exclusion
Bird houses can be constructed with a hole diameter of 1 1/8 inches to prevent house sparrows from nesting in them, but this also restricts bluebirds and other native cavity nesters. A chickadee or house wren could use such a house. But house wrens can be very destructive toward other cavity nesters. They will pierce other birds eggs and throw the eggs out of the nest. I have had this happen in my own yard. I do not suggest using this technique as it only helps two species of bird. Chickadees and house wrens will still nest in boxes with a 1 ½ inch hole, which is the hole size I recommend for our smaller cavity nesting birds.
Example of House Sparrow Competition
Since 1993 I tried to attract bluebirds to nest in my yard. Every year the sparrows were always successful at usurping the house from the bluebirds. I tried cleaning out the sparrow nests repeatedly, but another pair of sparrows would fill the void. I also tried a slot box which was suppose to deter sparrows. Neither worked. Finally in February of 2012, I started using a nest box trap to catch the house sparrows. Not only was I successful in catching them, but I had bluebird raise two different broods of young. A house wren was also successful and raising a brood in one of houses.
Unfortunately I met with one set back, a house sparrow destroyed the nest of the great-crested flycatchers that nested in my yard. I thought that they being larger birds could defend themselves against the house sparrow. I was wrong, and the house sparrow destroyed the eggs of the flycatchers.
Deterring House Sparrows
There is not a next box design that will prevent house sparrows yet allow the same sized native birds to nest. I've tried the slot nest box, only to have the sparrows use it.
If you are placing next boxes where there is human habitation, you will more than likely have house sparrows. But if your nest boxes are away from human habitat, sparrows may not be a problem. But you should still monitor your boxes for house sparrow nests.
Repeatedly removing sparrow nests from a nest box may get them to leave that nest box, but they will just go to another nest box. This can be even more disastrous if they go to a house that already has a native cavity nester. They will destroy the eggs, nestlings, and sometimes kill the adults. Even if you drive one pair of sparrows away, another will come along and take over the nest box.
There is no way to deter house sparrows from using a nest box other than trapping them.
Trapping House Sparrows in Next Boxes
The best solution to the house sparrow problem is trapping them in nest boxes. House sparrows seem to be attracted to nest boxes as early as November. The nest box trap captures the birds when they enter the nest box. They are not harmed by the trap. Once trapped and removed, they can be humanely killed, never to harm our native birds again.
To trap house sparrows the nest box hole should be at least 1 ½ inches in diameter.
Observe your nest boxes and when you see a male house sparrow at the box, you know he has adopted that house as his own. You may see him singing and going in and out of the box. You may also see a female near the house. He will chase away any other birds that come near the box, because he is defending the house against all other competitors. This is the best time to set the trap to capture him.
Learn more about purchasing and using a Nest Box Trap to capture house sparrows.
Euthanizing Sparrows & Starlings explains methods for humanely killing these invasive bird species.
The European starling, another invasive non-native bird, can be captured with nest box traps.
Video of Removing a House Sparrow from a Nest Box Trap
This video demonstrates removing a house sparrow from a nest box trap.
House Sparrow Nest Box Trapping Log
I began trapping house sparrows in February 2012, when I had three birdhouses. This is when I first heard about the use of nest box traps to help bluebirds with nesting. Over the next year, I added three more houses to my yard. Interestingly, February and March have been the peak months for capture. This reinforces that fact that house sparrows choose nesting sites before many of our native birds begin nesting.
Summary of House Sparrow Caught in Nest Box TrapsThe few sparrows that visited my yard in June 2013 were chased away by the nesting bluebirds. Interestingly the sparrows take nesting materials into the houses beginning in November and continue visiting through winter and into spring. I haven't had any nesting attempts in summer.
Table last updated March 1, 2014.
Supplemental House Sparrow Trapping
Nest box traps work well during the breeding season but using other traps during other seasons will help to control house sparrows. In December of 2013 I began using a funnel trap to catch house sparrows. In January of 2014 a repeating sparrow trap was implemented.
Beware that other native birds will enter the funnel trap. During winter, dark-eyed juncos enter frequently. Constant monitoring of these style traps is necessary. Any bird caught should be removed immediately. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks are attracted to the live birds caught in these traps. They will land on these traps and try to capture the birds caught inside. Northern shrikes will also attempt to capture birds caught in these trap. I do not suggest leaving decoy birds in the traps to attract more sparrows.
My experience with these traps shows that they will catch some sparrows but after some time, the sparrows wise up and won't enter the traps. But they definitely help to reduce sparrow populations.
Summary of House Sparrow Caught in Repeating Traps
This table reflects the number of sparrows caught by month using both a funnel trap and a repeating trap. From my experience, the young inexperienced sparrows are easy to catch, but the mature experienced ones shy away from the traps.
Table last updated January 20, 2014.