House Sparrow

The sound of the house sparrow has been described by some as a monotonous chirping. For human listeners the house sparrow is not going to eclipse the nightingale or blackbird with the variety of its song, but this everyday sound deserves closer attention than that imperious listener gave it. Sparrow make a variety of vocalisations at different pitches and loudness levels depending on their proximity to others of their kind. The frequent chatter and squabbling of sparrows is part of their charm, particulary in urban locations juxtaposed with our own similarly garrulous and social species.

This is the classic sparrow chirp, often heard for up to half an hour in the Spring from an unmated male at the nest site trying to attract a female. Either sex can produce this kind of chirp all year round though for much shorter periods. As well as the breeding period usage of attracting a mate this call is also used to keep the flock aware of where other individuals are. A lone sparrow arriving may begin chirping to attract other sparrows. There is another variant of this, which has a disyllabic chirr-up, giving rise to an old English name for the house sparrow, "Phyllip sparrow" where the "phyll-ip" is onomatopoeic. It is the loudest house sparrow vocalisation.

This 'chattering' sound is common where there are sparrows in proximity. Although it sounds like angry scolding, and sometimes seems to perform a social function as in 'stop crowding my space/food/mate' this sound can also be uttered by an individual on discovering a new food source, and may therefore also draw attention. It is also used to warn of ground predators.

Low level churrs. Though the house sparrow is a common bird not many people have heard this sound because it is emitted at a fairly low level. This was recorded about six inches from sparrows feeding at a confined location (squirrelproof mealworm feeder) and seemed to enable the sparrows to resolve their space needs without conflict so they could feed closer to each other (< 1 inch) than even this social bird normally permits.

A flock of about 200 sparrows, recorded at Titchwell bird reserve, Norfolk. Sparrows are not a permanent part of the reserve, but this flock took up residence for a few winter months over 2006/2007.

Tree Sparrow sounds

Tree sparrows chirping - there is a lot of similarity between these two species; some listeners discern a more distinct 'twang' to the tree sparrow's higher pitched calls.