English (House) Sparrows
Controlling house sparrows at the bird feeder
The English sparrow, commonly referred to as the house sparrow, is a species introduced into the United States in the mid 1800s. Brought over to this continent from England, this non-native bird is not actually a sparrow but a Weaver Finch, a sub-species of the more familiar Finch family. After numerous attempts to introduce this species into North America, the house sparrow became the most populous bird species on this continent by 1900.
This English sparrow, as we refer to it, is a non-protected bird not only because of the non-native origin, but more because it is a cavity nester and vigorously competes for nesting cavities with our native birds. As an example it has had on just one of our native secondary cavity nesters has been the demise of the Bluebird population. The destruction of habitat has fueled competition for cavities and all too often the more aggressive English sparrow is the successor.
While we should not encourage these birds, all too often they are hard to control around many backyard bird feeders. They have a tendency to over-power a variety of feeders with a variety of feeds intended for our more desirable native birds. Goldfinches, for example, will steer clear of feeders that are flocked by the English Sparrows. The numbers of other small native birds seem to dwindle at the feeders with the increased presence of English Sparrows. An additional problem is that large flocks of these sparrows can consume large quantities of feed in a short period of time.
The English sparrow has established itself throughout the entire North American continent and is with us to stay. Now, however, certain mechanical devices and inexpensive methods have proven effective in deterring and even eliminating these birds from certain feeders that we place out for attracting our native song birds.
In my own backyard I had drawn a large population of English Sparrows and ceased filling my thistle tube since they would empty it in a matter of just a few days. Upon installing one of the available control devices, I completely eliminated the English sparrow from that feeder, and in just two days had five Goldfinches comfortably feeding there.
In a similar instance, I had a tube feeder filled with safflower seed that attracted mostly English Sparrows, a few house and purple Finches (when perches were available), and an occasional Chickadee. After installing a very inexpensive control device, I not only eliminated the English sparrow, but attracted more of the desirable birds, and reduced the amount of wasted seed found on the ground by 60%.
With control devices on just three of my feeders the population of English Sparrows has dramatically decreased, there has been a noticeable reduction in wasted seed, and more of the birds I want are visiting my feeders.
Another example of the impact these control devices have, other than improving my success with Goldfinches, is with Chickadees. Chickadees form winter feeding groups of from five to eight individuals at established feeding grounds. With uncontrolled feeders usually only two Chickadees could feed at any one time. With the controls in place, the entire group could feed together at the various feeders without intimidation by English Sparrows.
The Magic Halo: Developed and patented by the University of Nebraska this is a device that can be used in two separate manners. The “Magic Halo” itself, when used in conjunction with either a post mounted or hanging feeder will deter up to 86% of the English Sparrows from that feeder with no affect on the remaining species of backyard birds. With mono-Filament lines added to the “Halo” at four comers extending below the perches, the elimination of English Sparrows from the feeder exceeds 99%. (Wires are just as effective and are safer in preventing birds from becoming entangled) The Magic Halo also has a profound affect on Blue Jays as well as the common Grackle. The addition of lines to the “Magic Halo” has little affect on other birds and even acts as a haven for such species as Finches, Chickadees and others. If the lines extend to the ground and where they can be staked down, house sparrows will avoid feeding under the bird feeder as well.
Seed Port Wires: An inexpensive method developed by Mr. Weir Nelson of Wildlife Habitat from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and used on open port tube feeders with perches. This is accomplished by bending a 10-inch piece of flexible wire in half. The wire is fed through the port and looped over one perch, then pulled tight and tied off around the other perch. When completed, you’ll have two parallel strands of wire stretched through the center of the port between the opposite perches.This control device serves two purposes. First it deters English Sparrows from the feeder. The two strands of wire inhibit the sparrow from easily extracting seeds from the feed port due to this bird’s manner of foraging for food. It has no affect on the Finches, Chickadees, Nuthatches or other song birds that we prefer to attract. In fact, it produces more of these desired birds at the feeder since the competition for perches with the English sparrow is drastically reduced and even eliminated.
Another advantage of these seed port wires is the reduced dropping of uneaten seed that goes to waste under the feeder. Since the birds have to pick each seed out between the wire strands, less feed is discarded onto the ground. The results are more of the song birds you desire at the tube feeder and up to a 60% reduction in wasted seed scattered on the ground. This can add up to a cleaner feeding area and a savings on your feed bill. (If sparrows are not a problem at your tube feeder, port wires are still attractive to install to reduce wasted seed.) Ask the staff at Wild Bird Habitat Stores
Plastic Mesh in Hopper Feeders: A simple plastic mesh cut to fit in the bottom of a hopper type feeder that is slightly elevated above the bottom can also serve two purposes. It discourages the English sparrow since it inhibits the bird’s general foraging ability as well as stops other birds from sweeping through the trough scattering and wasting seed that is knocked to the ground. You’ll notice you have to fill you feeder less often, have a cleaner area under the feeder, and yet still attract the song birds you desire. Available only at Wild Bird Habitat Stores
Reduced Perch Length: Reducing the length of perches on thistle tube feeders so they only extend 5/8 of an inch will eliminate house sparrows. However the shortened perches will not disrupt the ability of goldfinch, house finch, pines skins and other members of the finch family from feeding. In fact once the house sparrow has been eliminated you will see an increase in the number of finches at the feeder.
Several other suggestions to Deter House Sparrows and English Starlings: Place general wild bird mixes on or within several inches of the ground, preferably on a board or ground feeder, to prevent rapid spoilage from moisture. Use a good quality mix that contains no filler seed such as Milo, wheat, red millet, or grain by-products. Such seeds usually go uneaten by songbirds and add up to a lot of waste. A wild bird mix fed in such a manner will attract a large assortment of birds, including our native ground feeding birds. Our native sparrows are wonderful visitors to our yards. They feed strictly on the ground, not at elevated bird feeders. An easy method to distinguish our native sparrows from the English sparrow is their means of foraging. True sparrows scratch the ground with their talons to uncover food, much like the common barnyard chicken does. The English sparrow uses it’s beak to sweep and forage for food. With the wild bird mixes fed in such a fashion, you can now fill your tube, hopper and various other hanging and post mounted feeders with more attractive products such as black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, or other nut based type mixes. You will be pleasantly surprised by this approach to feeding birds if you have not already discovered it.
Although the patented Magic Halo is ineffective with Starlings, these other methods can reduce their numbers at the feeders significantly. When placing suets out, hang them in a manner that birds can only feed from the bottom if Starlings are a problem. This can discourage this nuisance bird while still allowing the woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches and even Carolina Wrens to feed in an upside down position.
The Wild Bird Habitat Store is committed to supplying a wide assortment or products, the latest in information and on-going support to make your year round feeding programs and backyard habitats a rewarding and life-long close encounter with nature.