Whether you live in the country, the city, or somewhere in between, you’ve undoubtedly seen house sparrows. These little brown-gray birds hop fearlessly around your chicken run, gleaning morsels of feed from the ground. One of the most common wild birds in North America, house sparrows can make themselves right at home among your chickens, sometimes going so far as spending all day with them.
As cute as it might be to see a tiny bird dust-bathing beside your 12-pound Brahma, this situation is far from desirable. Unlike other wild birds, house sparrows thrive near humans, especially in areas where plentiful food, water and shelter can be found. A poultry farm is paradise to house sparrows, providing everything they need. Once house sparrows have staked their claim among your flock, evicting them is close to impossible. With their aggressively territorial ways and their ability to produce as many as four clutches of eight fledglings each season, your house-sparrow population can quickly become overwhelming.
Beyond being nuisances, however, these wild birds can also be a health hazard. House sparrows carry more than 60 transmissable diseases, including Avian influenza, cryptoccocosis and salmonellosis. Through their droppings, their secretions and their close association with your birds, house sparrows can pass these along to your flock, endangering your chickens’ well-being as well as your own.
Despite their ubiquity, house sparrows can be controlled. To keep your backyard flock sparrow free, follow these four steps to safeguard your chickens.
Feed More Neatly
Easily accessible food is the primary reason house sparrows home in on your chicken run. The easiest way to curtail this infestation is to revamp how you feed your flock, making it difficult for sparrows to freeload.
- Move your feeders indoors. Designate a space inside your coop for your flock’s feeder as well as for any hoppers used to provide supplements. As cavity nesters, house sparrows will avoid the expansive interior of your henhouse.
- Change the type of feeder you use. Replace bowls and dispensers with a Grandpa’s Feeder, which features a trough covered by a cantilevered lid. A Grandpa’s Feeder operates similarly to a step-operated garbage can: The lid lifts when a chicken steps on the feeder’s platform. House sparrows are too light to activate the Grandpa’s Feeder, which also protects feed from rain and other precipitation.
- Clean up spilled feed. Never assume that your birds will gobble up any feed that was accidentally spilled. They’ll eat some, of course, but the spill will quickly become a buffet for house sparrows (and for other vermin, such as mice). Designate a scrub brush and dust pan for feed spills and clean them up the moment they occur.
- Compost your kitchen scraps. Your omnivorous chickens might absolutely adore your family’s leftovers, but so will house sparrows. To prevent sparrows from swarming every time you bring your birds scraps, consider composting them instead in an area far from your chicken run.
Inspect Your Structures
- Cover your vents. House sparrows are notorious for building nests inside vents and other small cavities. Inspect your coop for these openings, and cover them with quarter-inch mesh to prevent house sparrows from nesting within.
- Eliminate eaves. Designing your coop? Incorporate a roof that features no (or minimal) overhangs, as these tend to attract nesting house sparrows.
- Enclose your run. A contained coop is the best defense against aerial predators and moochers such as the house sparrow. Use half- or quarter-inch hardware mesh to prevent sparrows from entering your run (and to thwart other predators, too).
Use Strategies With Songbirds
- Avoid feeding wildlife. House sparrows congregate at songbird feeders and often make the jump from these to chicken runs. Avoid attracting house sparrows in the first place by removing your wild-bird feeders.
- Use breed-specific feeders. If you must feed songbirds, discourage house sparrows by putting out wild-bird feeders designed for specific breeds. Examples of breed-specific feeders include thistle socks for goldfinches, orange feeders for orioles and nectar feeders for hummingbirds. Install these feeders well away from your chicken run.
- Offer birdseed disliked by sparrows. Offer black-oil sunflower seed and safflower seed in your feeders, both of which sparrows avoid. Steer clear of songbird mixes, millet and cracked corn.
Use Sparrow Control
If all other methods fail to deter house sparrows, consider using sparrow control. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all native migratory birds, making it a federal offense to hunt, capture, kill or transport any migratory bird or any part, nest or egg of any such bird. Two birds, however, are not protected by this act: the house sparrow and the European starling, both of which are invasive species.
- Passive control. Search your coop and run—and the surrounding yard—for house-sparrow nests. These tall, canopied nests are constructed from straw, weeds, chicken feathers and assorted garbage. When you find a house-sparrow nest, remove the nesting material and dispose of it as well as any eggs found within.
- Active control. Set a repeating sparrow trap in your chicken run near your feeder or in a location where house sparrows regularly congregate. Repeating sparrow traps will hold as many as 40 sparrows and automatically reset each time a sparrow gets trapped. Remember to provide shade and water for the sparrows trapped inside until you can properly dispatch them.