Quick facts

Common name: tree sparrow

Scientific name: Passer montanus

Family: Passeridae (sparrows)

Habitat: woodland, farmland

Diet: cereals, seeds, insects

Predators: owls, sparrowhawk, kestrel

Origin: native

What do tree sparrows look like?

Tree sparrows are around 14cm in length, with brown upperparts and buff undersides. They have a chestnut-brown crown, white cheeks, a white collar and black cheek spots. Both males and females are similar in appearance. Juveniles look similar to adults, however are duller with dark cheeks.

Not to be confused with: the house sparrow, which is larger than the tree sparrow, has a grey head and lacks cheek spots.

What do tree sparrows eat?

The tree sparrow’s diet consists predominantly of seeds, although they also eat insects. The young are fed on a diet made up entirely of insects and spiders for their first two weeks. Tree sparrows feed on the ground; however they will visit bird feeders during the winter months when food supplies are low.

Tree sparrow in hawthorn tree

Credit: Tony cox / WTML

How do tree sparrows breed?

Tree sparrows mate for life, and nest in loose colonies. The breeding season takes places from May to mid-August. Adults build nests in the cavities of trees or nest boxes, using grass and twigs to form their somewhat messy nests. They are also known to nest in dense bushes. 2-3 broods are usually raised each breeding season, with around 5-6 eggs in each brood.

Where do tree sparrows live?

These birds are often seen near woodland edges, farmland and hedgerows. They are widespread across England and some areas in Scotland and Northern Ireland, however they are absent from urban areas.

Signs and spotting tips

Tree sparrows are shy birds, and are rarely seen around humans. Keep an eye out for them in lowland farmland, particularly areas where grain is spilled.

Did you know?

There are around 200,000 breeding territories of tree sparrow in the UK.

Threats and conservation

Tree sparrows are seriously under threat, and are listed as a red species of conservation concern. Their numbers declined by 93% between 1970 and 2008, which could be due to changes to agricultural practices and therefore fewer food sources being available on farmland.

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