A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


One of the most common avian sights and sounds around human habitation in Sonoma County--urban, suburban, and rural--is the Old World sparrow we call the House Sparrow. Sometimes called English Sparrow, as ours were introduced from Europe in the 19th century--in 1840 according to the Peterson Guide; Sibley says the mid-1800s, specifically, between 1850 and 1867. Maligned for its incessant chirping, messy nests, and its habit of taking over nesting sites from native species, there have been many attempts to eradicate the House Sparrow, none successful. Has spread widely enough throughout the United States and been here long enough now that regional variations have evolved. Commonly forms small flocks. Not shy about looking for handouts in parks, around picnic tables, at outdoor cafés or anywhere else that looks promising. Almost never encountered away from human habitation.

Male  in breeding plumage (photo above) has a grey crown; chestnut nape; black bill, throat, and upper breast, but with grey cheek patch and a spot of white behind the eye; back and wings streaked brown with a single white wing bar; pale grey below, paler under the tail. In non-breeding plumage the face pattern fades considerably, the bill becomes pale, and the black at the throat and upper breast becomes greatly attenuated (note that the bird pictured above is somewhat unusual; although apparently in breeding plumage, it has only a suggestion of the black bib. The bird below is more typical in that respect). Females are a dull brown with a pale eyebrow and brownish eyestripe (both mostly behind the eye, photo below). A House Sparrow in fresh plumage away from the city can be very pretty indeed--like the bird pictured above. City birds often look very dull and dingy.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 126

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 478

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 182

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 464

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 528

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 679-680

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 632

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 366

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 479

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 344

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 419-433 (notes on sparrow ID generally), pp. 32, 36, 98, 420

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 281-282

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 75

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 318

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 366

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 246

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 456

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 761

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 331

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--House Sparrow



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Female House Sparrow, Sebastopol, June 18, 2011

Male House Sparrow, breeding plumage, Sebastopol, June 18, 2011

House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 15, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

House Sparrow, Monterrey (Monterey County), December 30, 2011