Tree sparrow: facts & profile


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

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What do female tree sparrows and juvenile tree sparrows look like? And how can you tell the difference between a house sparrow and a tree sparrow? Get all the facts on the Eurasian tree sparrow.

Two Eurasian tree sparrows
Field sparrows are (unfortunately) becoming an increasingly rare sight [Photo: Vishnevskiy Vasily/]

Although sparrows are one of the best-known songbirds, there are actually two different species of the passerine birds. Besides the house sparrow (Passer domesticus), which is often found in towns and settlements, there is the shyer and rarer tree sparrow (Passer montanus).

The tree sparrow is sensitive to disturbances and suffers from industrialised agriculture. In the past, it was a pest – it tended to eat grains and ruin harvests. Nowadays, it is so rare that the bird is classified red under the Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK.

Read on to find out how to identify the Eurasian tree sparrow, distinguish it from the house sparrow, and support this endangered species.

Eurasian tree sparrow: key facts

SizeAbout 14cm
WeightUp to 25g

Breeding season
LifespanUp to 8 years
HabitatSemi-open landscapes, forest edges, agricultural land
Food preferences
Seeds and buds, aphids and other insects
ThreatsHabitat loss, disturbance by agricultural machinery

How to identify the Eurasian tree sparrow

The tree sparrow is characterised by brown and black striped wing feathers and a uniform grey underside. Its head is marked with a chocolate-brown cap, while its brilliant white facial feathers are highlighted by a black throat patch and black cheek patches. Female and male tree sparrows are visually indistinguishable from one another.

How do house sparrows and tree sparrows differ?

It can be difficult to tell a house sparrow from a tree sparrow. Both share a brown-black plumage pattern and grey belly. However, their head markings are different. While the tree sparrow has a rusty brown cap, the house sparrow’s is grey. The house sparrow also has grey, monochrome cheeks, unlike the tree sparrow, whose distinctive dark cheek patches are framed by snow-white feathers.

Grey headed and grey cheeked house sparrow
The house sparrow can be distinguished from the tree sparrow by the grey colour of its cheeks and cap [Photo: Jgade/]

What does the tree sparrow’s song sound like?

The song of the tree sparrow is rather monotonous. It consists of an endlessly repeating “tschelp”. The tree sparrow’s chirp is similar to the house sparrow’s voice, though it is lower pitched and less friendly.

How to recognise a young tree sparrow?

Juvenile tree sparrows are easy to identify. They have brown-black wings, grey bellies and distinctive throat patches. However, the young birds do not display their parent’s cheek patches or beautiful rusty brown cap. Instead, they sport a slightly dirty, grey-brown cap.

Young tree sparrow with grey cheeks
Young field sparrows have not yet developed the dark cheek patch [Photo: stmilan/]

How to identify tree sparrow eggs

Eurasian tree sparrow eggs are about 2cm in diameter, pale grey in colour and densely decorated with fine brown spots, which cluster at the blunt end of the egg. The female lays between four and six eggs per clutch in a nest of leaves and twigs, which is padded with fine hairs and feathers.

What is the perfect habitat for tree sparrows?

Tree sparrows love semi-open landscapes, forest edges and settlements that are adjacent to agricultural fields. On the one hand, they need open meadows and fields where they can forage for grains. On the other, they require old woodland with hollows in which they can raise their offspring.

Where does the tree sparrow build its nest?

As cavity-nesting birds, tree sparrows prefer natural tree hollows, wall crevices and other cave-like structures. They also like bird boxes in parks or gardens. Importantly, tree sparrows tend to use good nesting spots for several years in a row.

Tree sparrows are also very social birds, and usually breed in loose colonies, which can consist of up to 50 breeding pairs. They also like to travel in smaller and larger groups outside of breeding season.

Eurasian tree sparrow nesting in tree hollow
Tree sparrows are cavity-nesting birds [Photo: Pavel Mikoska/]

When does the tree sparrow breed?

Eurasian tree sparrows are monogamous. Once a pair has found one another, they remain faithful for life. The breeding season of the tree sparrow begins in April and can extend into July, depending on the number of broods. During this period, the pair can nurture up to three broods.

After a 14-day incubation, small tree sparrow chicks hatch. They are born blind and featherless and take up to 20 days to leave the nest, during which time their parents feed them around the clock. Once they have left the nest, the chicks continue to be fed by their father, while their mother prepares for the next brood.

Where does the tree sparrow spend the winter?

UK tree sparrows spend winter in their breeding grounds. As such, it is possible to spot the sparrows year-round. They tend to cluster in loose groups and forage in fields and meadows. It is also worth keeping an eye on your bird feeder, as the rare tree sparrow may pay a visit!

Tree sparrows feeding at bird feeder
In winter, tree sparrows can also be spotted at bird feeders [Photo: Anton MirMar/]

Help the tree sparrow!

Tree sparrows are now so endangered, they rely on our support. Here is how you can turn your garden into a sparrow paradise.

What does the tree sparrow eat?

Tree sparrows are seed lovers. They eat grass, herb and grain seeds, which they like to pick from the ground or from stalks. Occasionally, the birds will feed on leaf and flower buds and berries. In their first days, sparrow nestlings are also fed small insects.

Which bird boxes are suitable for tree sparrows?

Because they are cavity breeders, tree sparrows feel at home in enclosed birdhouses. In fact, for a fun DIY project, you can build your own nesting box at home! For the tree sparrow, an ideal birdhouse has a single, round entrance hole, about 28mm in diameter, and, because the birds are colony breeders, is close to several other nest boxes.

Tree sparrow perched on bird house
Tree sparrows like to nest in bird boxes [Photo: R. Maximiliane/]

How else can I support the tree sparrow?

Like other field birds, modern agricultural practices threaten the tree sparrow. You can support the birds by paying attention to the farming methods used to make the products you buy. You can also provide food to the birds by growing a range of bird-friendly herbs and bird-friendly plants.

Many other garden birds benefit from bird-friendly foliage. To find out more, have a read about other species, such as the European serin or the barn swallow?

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