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The common house sparrow, Passer domesticus, is a bird that you are most likely familiar with as it inhabits yards and common public places such as grocery stores, shopping malls and restaurants. Their habits and behaviors tend to cause unsanitary conditions and unpleasant customer experiences. This article explores the history and biology of the species to understand appropriate control methods for big box stores.

Evidence suggests that this bird originated in the Mesopotamia area, or Middle East, when humans first started to grow grain such as wheat. They then followed humans around the globe as wheat was planted and proliferated. The species continued to do this and eventually learned that it was not necessary to migrate anymore and their behavior adapted to what we know today — these birds eat our food almost exclusively and live near humans. These behaviors have not changed much in 10,000 years.

While it’s important to know their history, also understanding their biology will determine the effective methods for removal and control.

Brian Beidle
The male house sparrow has a black beak, neck and breast. It has a brown patch on the side of its head and is grey on top.

BREEDING AND HABITAT. The house sparrow breeds in late winter. The male discovers a crevice or void and then chirps loudly to attract a female. The female then investigates and begins nesting almost immediately. They use a variety of straw, dry grass, plastic wrap, dry plant material, cotton balls, cigarette butts or other suitable soft debris they can weave into a nest inside the cavity. You have likely noticed this occur in an exterior sign on big box stores, with grass and debris hanging loose.

A pair of sparrows can produce three to four broods, with five offspring per brood. Many of them will not survive but studies have shown that half of them do — that equals a population growth of 50 percent each year and that initial pair of sparrows can turn into about 14 birds. Also, keep in mind that the territory for a house sparrow usually measures a few square feet around its nesting site and ranges up to four miles in their wintertime flocks. A wintertime flock equals about 50 individuals.

FOOD AND WATER. The house sparrow enjoys grains, especially items made from wheat, corn and potatoes. They will eat potato chips, French fries, cracked corn and popcorn. Naturally, like other birds that forage on the ground, they also enjoy seeds and are particularly fond of millet.

The house sparrow enjoys freshwater, which it obtains from leaking pipes, condensation on overhead pipes, as well as water fountains, drinking fountains, dripping faucets or any other running water in its territory.


The house sparrow can live inside perpetually when water and food are present. They set up territories once they are inside a big box store, and because they nest in all kinds of gaps, cavities and holes, it is easy to find a place to breed, especially if grass, straw or shredded materials of any kind are available. It’s also important to note that the house sparrow cannot survive away from humans as they depend on our structures, food and water. Living more than a mile away from humans is very uncommon.

When they do find a place to nest, they are often noticeable to the trained eye. Look for tufts of grass, straw and garbage strewn or woven together and hanging out of any kind of void or crevice.

Removal and Exclusion. The first step to removing this nuisance bird is to survey their behaviors in the store and deploy the most effective traps. There are many different solutions available to capture the house sparrow such as mist nets, cage traps, trap door traps and spring shut traps. Although these are effective methods, these traps are not guaranteed to capture the birds. It’s essential to partner with your big box store customer to perform a thorough survey of the birds so you can understand their exact behaviors. After you remove the birds, look for ways to exclude the sparrows from existing nesting cavities by use of an aerial lift or a ladder. PMPs should only do this if they can do so safely.

The female house sparrow has a tan beak, with a buff neck and breast with no marks.

Implement Strong Cleaning and Sanitation Procedures. The second step to ensuring the house sparrow stays away from a big box store is for customers to implement strong cleaning and sanitation procedures. This includes removing food, water and nesting material sources. The most popular food source for house sparrows is trash containers. Trash containers can be outfitted with spring shut doors and dumpsters can be covered with a fold-over or roll-over tarp. Dumpsters with lids that fit tightly and are in good shape are also very useful.

The other food source for house sparrows are from spills of dry food of any kind. In big box stores, foot traffic and machine traffic will crush certain foods into bite-size pieces for the sparrow. They will often sit near these areas and wait for people to crush the food. Where spillage occurs, it is best to minimize it or sweep it up as fast as possible. Have brooms and dustpans set aside near these locations. After sanitation has improved in these areas, set traps in the same area to attract birds that are used to feeding in that location.

It’s also important to eliminate any water sources in the account. House sparrows are highly visual, therefore the sight and sound of flowing water captures their attention. Removing water sources such as leaking pipes and standing water in puddles or gutters is another great step to control this bird and lessen their attraction to big box stores.

Also remove any straw, grass, installation or any soft materials that could be used to make a nest.

How PMPs and Customers Can Work Together. You, as the PMP, should provide an integrated interior/exterior program — taking a strategic approach with regular and ongoing inspection, consultation and control. With bird-specific behavior in mind, a science-based approach should include:

  • Conducting a site survey to determine risks, problem areas, and structural and sanitation concerns.
  • Reduce and deter sparrow populations by cleaning areas with activity and removing nests.
  • Provide ongoing on-site monitoring.
  • Execute scientifically proven protocols to protect the facility.

Remember, house sparrows are creatures of habit so learning their behaviors at big box stores is essential to effective removal and exclusion.

The author is a board certified entomologist and technical specialist, Ecolab, Specialty Pest Services. To learn about Ecolab’s strategic bird control solutions, visit