House SparrowsHouse Sparrow Trapping Experience

House Sparrow Trapping Experience

  • by Paula Ziebarth

Also see: HOSP Photos, History, Attacks (warning: graphic photos), photos and descriptions of other brown birds that look like HOSP, Biology, Population Proliferation, Video Clip of HOSP Attack, information on euthanizing captured birds, HOSP advisory handout for people with boxes used by HOSP and one for commercial facilities allowing HOSP to breed/roost/feed, trap review, and essay “Are HOSP Evil?” Separate webpages with drawings and photos on sparrow spookers, Magic Halo, and How to Trim Wings and Links for more information and DIY drawings. Also see ongoing experiments to deter HOSP and Bluebird Widows/Widowers/Orphans.

I monitor a number of trails in central Ohio and northern Ohio. I am a backyard bluebirder, Eastern Bluebird (EABL)/Tree Swallow (TRES) trail monitor, TRES grid monitor, and Purple Martin (PUMA) landlady.

I can tell you that House Sparrow (HOSP) trapping makes a huge difference in my experience and HOSP numbers can be reduced at any given site. Most of my trapping is done during nesting season using inbox Van Ert traps. I only use a repeating trap in my backyard when the need arises. I can give you some examples of areas of extreme HOSP infestation where trapping has made a big difference and some examples of areas where trapping was not employed with disastrous results.

Campden Lakes Subdivision: There are 8 boxes on this small trail which is located at the entrance to a residential subdivision in the City of Dublin, Ohio. In 2006, I took the trail over and instituted inbox trapping. It had gone unmonitored for several years prior to this. In 2006, 47 adult HOSP were removed from these 8 boxes. In 2007, only 11 HOSP were trapped in these boxes. In 2008, only 3 were captured. Interestingly, this trail had been earmarked for a “no kill” HOSP study in 2008 so the 3 HOSP that were captured this year were not actually dispatched. They did disappear after the first trapping, however. They were banded and did not return to the site. Due to the lack of HOSP interest at this site this year, it was deemed inappropriate for our study, but it is certainly interesting and encouraging that inbox trapping has made such a significant difference at this site.

Liberty Township Park: 26 boxes in mowed, soccer park setting. In 2002, I instituted inbox trapping – the site had old nestboxes that had gone unmonitored for at least 5 years. The old boxes were removed and 21 new ones installed. This first year, only 8 HOSP were trapped as I was using combination of trapping and HOSP egg refrigeration/nest removal. In 2003, 18 were trapped. In 2004, 20 HOSP were trapped. In 2005, 18 HOSP were trapped. In 2006, 10 were trapped. In 2007, we added 5 boxes, but only 9 HOSP trapped. In 2008, 9 HOSP trapped.

Powell City Parks Trails: 40 boxes dispersed throughout the city park system (8 different local parks) and some adjacent residential lots where people asked for my help. This was brand new trail installed in the spring of 2006. 21 HOSP trapped in 2006. 40 HOSP trapped in 2007 – did not surprise me as boxes were new in 2006 and it likely took HOSP a while to investigate them. 28 HOSP trapped in 2008.

Backyard Bluebirding in my subdivision: There are 11 nestboxes on our street today. After losing two nests of EABL to HOSP in the mid-1990’s, I learned about HOSP and inbox trapping. EABL have been successfully nesting in my backyard and in other neighbors’ boxes for the past 7 years with no native birds killed. HOSP trapped were: 12 in 2002 (only 2 nestboxes then), 14 in 2003 (5 nestboxes), 10 in 2004 (11 nestboxes), 8 in 2005, 4 in 2006, 4 in 2007 and none in 2008. I did not even have a HOSP try to nest in a box on our street this year. Perhaps they are learning.

Safari Golf Club: In 2008, my mentor and I embarked on an experiment designating this 12-box trail as a “no kill” trail. Protocol involved trapping and banding HOSP so we could observe where they went and what they did. Protocol also involved removal of HOSP nests and/or eggs on a weekly basis. We did not interfere with nesting attempts on trail visit where individual HOSP was banded. After the initial trapping and banding, HOSP were left alone and observed. It was interesting to observe that several of the banded HOSP left the site after our initial banding and did not return. However, most of the banded birds did remain and became extremely aggressive and probably frustrated as the nesting season wore on. HOSP killed 8 adult TRES, 6 TRES chicks and one adult male EABL. After two months of the study, we began trapping, had no more native bird casualties, and had 4 pairs of EABL nesting where we had only 2 pairs prior to instituting trapping.

Glacier Ridge Park TRES grid: For those unfamiliar with TRES grids, they are nestboxes spaced 22 – 25 yards apart in a grid format. Glacier Ridge Park installed a brand new grid this spring. I have monitored TRES grids in four other locations and the dynamics of HOSP/TRES interactions here is absolutely fascinating. A TRES grid is no place for passive HOSP management. I was called to help with this 16-box grid in mid-June as the girl scouts monitoring the trail had noticed some HOSP in the boxes. In one day, I trapped 3 male HOSP and 1 female – all the HOSP at the site (no new HOSP showed up for remainder of nesting season). They had been there for some time, however, and although a male and female were paired in one box with eggs, two male HOSP were still trying to attract mates. The HOSP were destroying adjacent TRES nesting attempts and reserving these boxes for potential mates. 10 out of 16 boxes had been taken over by these 4 HOSP. Only 3 of the boxes still had viable TRES nestings in them, and 16 TRES eggs were destroyed throughout the other boxes. The remaining TRES had abandoned the nesting site. Due to the close proximity of nestboxes in a TRES grid, one male HOSP can claim 4 or more boxes for himself, killing adults, eggs, chicks he finds there.


The likelihood of catching a native bird in a nestbox that a HOSP has “claimed” is small, but it is there nonetheless. That is one reason to check traps frequently if you have them set. The other reason is that, when you capture a HOSP, no creature should be caused undue stress by being trapped for any period of time.

Repeating traps do not catch native birds often either, as long as you have HOSP decoys in there. HOSP draw other HOSP to the trap. HOSP seem to deter natives from entering. This works equally as well (if not better) with nonnative EUST in the winter months. Trapping a native bird in a good repeating trap like the Deluxe Repeating Sparrow Trap is not a big concern as you should have food and water in the trap for the birds and they can easily be removed and released ASAP. Coopers and Red-Tailed Hawks are drawn to my traps during the winter months. You can discontinue trapping for a time if this happens or move traps away from feeding stations if you are concerned. Having feeding stations invites them in any way and I have seen evidence of hawk kills in my yard whether I am trapping or not.

So if you are feeding the birds, you may be feeding ALL the birds ….

In summary, I strongly believe that inbox trapping reduces the HOSP population in my nestboxes. If one merely chases them off (hard to do for most HOSP) or makes them unsuccessful in their nestboxes by piercing eggs, etc., the HOSP will likely find another nestbox outside of your monitoring range. He/she may kill a native bird it finds there or raise several broods that will do this in the future. We can never rid the continent of them, but we can greatly reduce the threat on our trails with inbox trapping during nesting season and repeated bait trapping.

More Information:

Without question the most deplorable event in the history of American ornithology was the introduction of the English Sparrow.”
-W.L. Dawson, The Birds of Ohio, 1903


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