Attracting house sparrows to your lawn
At first glance sparrows may seem to be no more than bundles of brown feathers, but while they are often camouflaged in earth tones, they have a subtle beauty and distinct markings. The common house sparrow is the most familiar sparrow in the world, but its invasive nature often gives the word “sparrow” an unpleasant and unwelcome association. Sparrows are active, social birds that eat great quantities of weed seeds, making them true friends in the garden where they can provide natural weed control. Because most sparrows are ground-feeding birds, they readily clean up underneath feeders, removing spilled seed before it has the chance to rot or germinate, and ensuring that no edible seed goes to waste. To make a lawn sparrow-friendly, it is essential to meet sparrows’ specific needs so they feel secure and comfortable in the habitat.
Food: Sparrows are generally granivorous and eat a wide variety of seeds and grain. Seed-bearing flowers and grasses can be natural food sources. There are many different types of feed you can buy. Most birds, including sparrows, enjoy kakun seeds and black oil sunflower seeds. This seed is widely available and can be found at a fair price. Millet seed and cracked corn are quite cheap and are a good source of nutrients for the sparrows. Thistle seed is a good treat for some sparrows, but it can also be quite expensive. Suet is also liked by sparrows and is high in much-needed protein. If you bought seed but found that it was sprouting plants in your lawn, you can bake the seed for a short amount of time to make it incapable of germinating. Know what feed is unhealthy for sparrows. Sadly, many people feed birds the wrong kind of feed. You should only put high-quality birdseed in your birdfeeders. Any processed food should not be fed to birds. Crackers, bread, and other carbohydrates should not be fed to birds. Birds should only eat feed high in protein. Never put table scraps out for birds or anything that is considered ‘human food’. Some exceptions include peanut butter and other nut-based butter. Seeds should be offered directly on the ground or in large, low platform or tray feeders that can accommodate foraging flocks. Leaving leaf litter intact and planting berry bushes as part of bird-friendly landscaping can also provide more sparrow food sources.
Feeder: Look for a tray feeder. Sparrows are ground feeders and will not come to a tube feeder. Try to find a feeder that is either a tray feeder that is hung or a feeder that sits on the ground. Feeders that have a canopy over the top of where the birds eat are ideal for harsh weather. Since tray feeders are flat, they can collect a lot of water in them and spoil the seed. Tray feeders made out of plastic are easier to clean out than ones made out of wood. Wood tends to rot and fall apart in wet outdoor conditions. Clean the feeder regularly. Simply use mild soap and water while scrubbing debris from the feeder. Wash all of the soap away and dry the feeder before you put seed in it. Scatter seeds on the ground. Since sparrows are ground feeders, you can just sprinkle the seed on the ground instead of putting it in a platform feeder.
Water: Buy a birdbath. All birds need a source of water, whether for washing themselves off or for getting a drink. These birds prefer to stay low and will be more attracted to ground bird baths than elevated water sources. Place the birdbath by a shrub or bush for added protection. Like feeders, birdbaths need to be cleaned once in a while. Birdbaths can grow algae that could make a bird sick. Sparrows also enjoy dust baths. To make a dust bath, simply loosen the dirt in a spot that gets plenty of sunlight. Including a dripper, wiggler, or other source of moving water will help attract their attention, and the water should be near suitable shelter such as a low shrub or dense thicket so they can feel secure. Shallow places are necessary for bathing, and a heated bird bath will provide liquid water even in the coldest temperatures, as many sparrows stay in their ranges year-round.
Landscape: The best birdscaping may include nectar-rich flowerbeds, dense thickets and a variety of trees. Plant shrubs. Shrubs are very important to the sparrows’ life. Sparrows are known to be very skittish, and they have reason to be. They have many predators, some that fly and some that move along the ground. Falcons and cats are two of the biggest bird predators. Planting shrubs can give sparrows much-needed protection from their predators as well as places to build nests and shade from the hot sun. Sparrows also eat berries. If you plant a shrub that also produces berries, then sparrows will not only have protection but they will also have another food source. Make sure that the area where the birds feed is cat-safe. Build a fence to stop cats from catching birds. If you own a cat, make sure that it cannot have access to the birds' feeding area.
Shelter: Sparrows can be skittish and will quickly retreat to dense shelter if they feel threatened or startled. Thick shrubbery, including evergreen foliage, can help make a lawn sparrow-friendly, and adding a brush pile is good for supplemental shelter. Establish corridors of shelter throughout the lawn, such as alongside buildings and driveways, to give the birds secure pathways where they can feel safe without being restricted to one small space.
Nesting Sites: Provide nesting spots. If you make nesting spots, sparrows will more likely stay near your home year-round. Plant trees, thickets or shrubs to make a safe spot for sparrows to nest. You can also put birdhouses in trees, but make sure the birdhouses have big enough holes. Provide nesting material around your lawn to make it easier for sparrows to built nests. Loose, dry grass or small twigs should be readily available for any bird who wants to build a nest. Some sparrows will nest in birdhouses with the proper entrance hole sizes; when in doubt, opt for a basic, simple house with a somewhat larger hole.
Eliminate Chemicals: The most critical step for any bird-friendly lawn is eliminating insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Not only do these chemicals kill birds’ food sources, but they can also poison birds directly. If chemical treatments are absolutely necessary, use spot treatments as needed rather than broad applications and apply chemicals when birds are less active.
Leave Bare Spots Bare: Bare spots on the lawn might seem unsightly at first, but in a bird-friendly lawn, these spots can be very attractive to feathered visitors. A bare patch provides easier foraging for ground-feeding birds seeking spilled seeds, and it can be ideal for sunning or dust bathing.
Minimize Raking: Just like it is a good idea to minimize how often you mow, minimizing raking is also better for birds. Many birds forage in leaf litter for insects, seeds and nuts. Fallen leaves can provide additional shelter and water for birds to use just when other natural sources are growing scarce.
Even when a lawn meets all of a sparrow’s needs, the birds may be shy and reluctant to become regular guests. If you’re having trouble attracting sparrows, consider providing a sunny area with loose soil suitable for dust bathing, discouraging feral cats that prey on ground-feeding birds, creating multiple thicket areas for birds to flit between and establishing several feeding areas to accommodate larger sparrow flocks. While it can be a challenge to attract different types of sparrows to the lawn, the rewards are well worth the effort.