House Sparrows Conflict Solutions

Did you know that house sparrows (the little brown birds we see all the time on city streets) are one of the most common birds to be found in cities due to their reliance on the food and shelter we provide?  Unfortunately, that means they are also one of the most common species for wildlife conflict encounters.  However, remember that these birds are our city neighbors and deserve to be treated with compassion.

Under Ordinance No. 36 that HAP helped passed, it is illegal in Pittsburgh to harm any wild bird. As such, it is strictly prohibited in the City of Pittsburgh to use poison or other inhumane methods. Keep reading for common problems and humane solutions.

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Stop House Sparrows from Nesting in Building Crevices

The best way to prevent house sparrows from building nests in building crevices is to prevent them from building these nests in the first place.  Check the screening over louvers before these birds can find their way inside.

If prevention isn’t possible because the birds have already nested, it isn’t difficult to remove the birds.  Simply find where they are nesting, make sure there are no babies, remove the nesting material, and block openings with netting, hardware cloth, or other humane materials.

Note: If you do find eggs or babies in the nests, please leave them alone.  The babies will hatch at different times and leave over a staggered period, so you may have to wait between two and four weeks.  Make sure to check the nest often and remove the material as soon as the young leave.

Dryer and Stove Vents

Vents with nests inside may not function properly, and nesting material will need to be removed immediately.

If there are babies inside the nest, please leave the vent unused and remove the nesting material as soon as the babies leave on their own.  If leaving the vent unused is not an option, try to assist the parents in raising their young in an alternate nest.  Please see these tips from HSUS:

  • Make a substitute nest from a wicker basket, a plastic gallon jug, or a small birdhouse.
  • Cut an U shape opening in the plastic jug and flip the “door” up to keep rain out.
  • Attach the substitute nest as close as possible to the original nest, but in as much shade as possible.
  • Carefully remove nesting material and nestlings, and place in substitute nest.

Noisy nestlings usually attract the parents who will continue to care for them. Watch the substitute nest to see that the adults return. They should not take more than a half hour or so, as growing young birds need constant feeding. If the adults do not return to nestlings, contact a wildlife rehabilitator in your area for advice. This procedure won’t work with eggs, and you can remove house sparrow eggs when cleaning nest material out of ducts. However, we recommend leaving them to complete the cycle for this one nesting period, and bear in mind that virtually all birds but starlings and house sparrows are protected by federal law, and to remove their nests or eggs would be illegal.

Immediately install a vent cover to keep other sparrows, and other birds, out.

Black bear roaming in the wild

Sparrow Conflicts with Other Birds

If you have a birdhouse to attract certain species of birds not including sparrows, there are several steps you can take:

  • Use houses designed for your preferred species and place them where that species likes to nest.
  • Feed the favorite foods of the birds you want to attract.  For example, house sparrows do not like black oil sunflower seeds, but many native species do. 
  • Please houses away about 300 feet away from buildings and human activity, as house sparrows prefer to be near humans.
  • Wait to install your birdhouse until migratory birds arrive (or keep the holes plugged).  House sparrows stay in our area year-round.
  • Try to put two houses between 5 and 15 apart.  This will encourage the house sparrows to claim one and other species the other.
Black bear roaming in the wild

Public Outdoor Spaces

House sparrows enjoy leftovers and dropped crumbs, so clean up food and open trash promptly.

Public Indoor Spaces

Sometimes house sparrows may move into malls or large stores.  Building managers may hire pest control companies to shoot the birds or – even worse – use glueboard traps, one of the most inhumane products around.  Humane solutions exist.

Try bird-proofing entry points by using strip doors or curtains or overlapping flexible strips.

If the birds are already inside, they can be removed humanely with nets or live-traps, and then released outside.  Keep in mind this is a short-term solution, and bird-proofing the entry points as described above is the best way to solve the problem long-term, in addition to ensuring open trash and leftover food are not around.

Please note, Humane Action Pittsburgh (HAP) is not a wildlife rescue and is unable to address concerns or assist with wildlife emergencies. Please utilize the resources on our website to find the appropriate organization to contact. Submissions to HAP through our contact form or email will not be able to be addressed.