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Do feeder halos keep House Sparrows at bay?

October 9, 2012

A version of this article appeared in Volume 8 of Winter Bird Highlights.

Some FeederWatchers are content to count any species that visit their feeders.  Others, however, are continually plagued by so-called “pest” species, be it grackles, starlings, pigeons, or the ubiquitous House Sparrow. Although these birds can be interesting and attractive in their own way, they can act aggressively toward smaller and more timid species at the feeders, and the non-native House Sparrow, in particular, doesn’t have a large fan-club.

House Sparrows are native to Europe and Asia, but were introduced to Brooklyn, New York in 1851.  By 1900, the species had already spread to the Rocky Mountains.  With several more western introductions in the 1800s, House Sparrows easily spread across almost all of North America – only absent now from Alaska and Northern Canada.  House Sparrows spread so quickly and so successfully across the continent because of their preference for human-created habitat.  House Sparrows actually prefer to nest in man-made structures such as eaves and street lights, and they will feed both at bird feeders and from scraps and trash on the ground.  In fact, House Sparrows are only found within the immediate vicinity of humans – they are absent from heavily wooded areas, grasslands, and deserts.

House Sparrows can sometimes discourage other, native, birds from visiting feeders, and during the breeding season they will even sometimes oust native species from nest boxes. For these reasons, FeederWatchers who have been plagued by House Sparrows sometimes become frustrated by the little black-bibbed birds.  One solution is to shy away from millet and to sweep away any seed that accumulates below feeders.  However, there may be another solution to the House Sparrow conundrum – feeder halos.

Hopper feeder with attached halo. Sketch by Cornell Lab Bartels Science Illustration intern Caitlin Turner.

The idea for feeder halos stems from techniques used to keep gulls away from landfills and reservoirs where wires are hung in the air to deter the unwanted birds. University of Nebraska, Lincoln researchers applied this same technique to bird feeders in the hopes that House Sparrows would react similarly to the gulls.  The researchers found a significant reduction in House Sparrow visits to the feeders in their study.  The hypothesis behind the halo is that House Sparrows perceive the wires as a possible hindrance to rapid escape from the treated feeder.  Interestingly, the effect seems to be relatively species-specific, as other species such as finches, cardinals, and native sparrows are unperturbed by the wires.  The effect may also have something to do with the angle at which different species approach feeders.

Some FeederWatchers have reported success with sparrow halos. Brian Winters, a naturalist at River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, IL reported on the feeders at the nature center. In the first few weeks of using the halo, the nature center saw some results. “At first, the House Sparrows seemed to completely avoid the halos.  Now, they are visiting… but at a reduced rate.”  The reduced rate of House Sparrows means other birds may have a better chance at the feeders.  “We have seen other species able to find an opening whereas before they could not,” Brian reports. Linda C. Brennan of Coventry, RI notes, “It seems to be working. I haven’t seen any house sparrows at the feeder with the halo. We are even getting fewer house sparrows at our other feeders.”  Linda has also noticed a greater number and variety of native birds at her feeders.

If you would like to discourage House Sparrows from your yard, you might try using a halo baffle.  You can buy one at a specialty bird-feeding store, or you could easily make one for your feeders. Start with a sturdy object – a baffle or a clothes hanger bent into a circle will do – and hang the ring above your feeder. Next, attach wires to dangle from the ring.  Don’t use fishing line as birds can easily become entangled; instead use something like hobby wire, which can be purchased at craft stores. Shinier wire may also be more effective, as visibility of the wire may play a role in keeping the sparrows away – the glittering of shiny wire could make it harder for the sparrows to determine where the wire is, and thus they may be more wary. Be sure to weight the wires with something like fishing weights, or fix the wires to the ground, in order to prevent entanglement.  Note that the distance between the wires is also important due to the body size and wingspan of the House Sparrows in relation to that distance (space lines 30 or 60 cm. apart [one or two ft.] for optimal results).

Be aware, however, that halo deterrents may become less effective over time.  As with any obstacle, it’s possible that the birds may learn to become more comfortable with the wires as time goes on.  The University of Nebraska researchers also found that the wires were not effective in deterring juvenile House Sparrows or breeding females.  This may be explained by the fact that juvenile birds are less wary of dangers and adult birds become more likely to take risks during breeding season in order to care for young.

Have you used a halo to attempt to deter House Sparrows?  Let us know about its success or failure in the comments below.

93 Comments
  1. October 9, 2012 12:08 pm

    I enjoy the House Sparrows along with any bird or critter who pass through my property. For some reason the Sparrows stay at a low number, and haven’t seemed to chase anyone away. The same birds seem to appear. The Scrub Jays in fact try to chase everyone but the little birds just move aside, wait until they leave and go back to feeding. A pair of Starlings nest here every year, but over a ten year period they haven’t become a gang as of yet! We call our place Spirit Hill, and the people come and refresh themselves in the peaceful setting. Maybe the birds and critters feel the same! Food, water, and peace for a time, and then they hit the skies on their various migrations, while others are native to this area and stay all year long, a process worth watching. Thank you for Project Feederwatch. It had been a blessing here on Spirit Hill.

  2. jenjilks permalink
    October 11, 2012 8:22 am

    I agree with Shirley. I love all of the critters who visit my feeders! We have one for jays, one for the mourning doves, another for the squirrels! Everyone is entitled to food in our 16 acre plot! http://mymuskoka.blogspot.ca/2012/01/who-do-you-see-at-your-bird-feeder.html

  3. October 15, 2012 9:07 am

    I feel the same, I love them all! I am fortunate to be able to set up feeding stations at home and work. I do not get House Sparrows at home, in a heavily wooded rural area. I do get many at work in a more commercial area, with many tree’s near a lake. I see the same activity as Shirley, Cardinal’s, House Finch, Blue Jays and in season sparrows among others frequent this feeder all year long, They all hang out in the same bayberry bushes and get along fine. It seems to me that location is the key.

    • eliza permalink
      October 4, 2013 11:20 am

      The plural of anecdote is not data. You people who think you know that the house sparrows you observe are not in fact a real threat to the native species around them, are willfully ignoring reams of data that indicate otherwise. I find myself amazed that you can sentimentalize the cute “innocence” of the individual sparrows you see and “love,” while failing to comprehend how a non-native, invasive species harms the ecosystem, which I am pretty sure you would also claim to care about.

  4. Diane permalink
    October 15, 2012 4:24 pm

    could this work also for starlings? they are a problem when I put out any seed other than safflower. They mob the feeder and will devour all the feed within a day

  5. October 17, 2012 10:16 am

    We live in Chicago, and saw a total decline in all species _except_ House Sparrows before we set up a halo. The sparrows chased away Gold Finches and House Finches. It was really upsetting. Now, with the halo, we get a good mix of Sparrows and Finches. We’re halo-believers for sure. I wish we would have been more diligent about tracking actual numbers, as most of observations of the effects of the halo are purely anecdotal.

    • Debbie K. permalink
      October 19, 2012 8:21 pm

      Chris, what type of Halo did you get? I am inindated with at least 30 sparrows. Initially, they were not too bad until they had babies and now my finches do not come to the feeder and the goldfinches and cardinals come at non-peak hours but not daily. I would like to reduce their numbers if possible. Will they move-on and look for other food sources?

  6. Bob J. permalink
    October 22, 2012 1:16 pm

    Years ago I destroyed a House Sparrow nest in one of our nest boxes and really felt like a heel after they “begged” me to stop. I’ve never interfered with any bird’s nest again

    • George Newberger permalink
      December 6, 2012 10:31 am

      Bob J Maybe I’m a bit more callus, but after you find the butchered remains of a Bluebird (a native American bird) in a nestbox ,caused by a house sparrow,you toughen up in a hurry

    • Brenda permalink
      December 6, 2012 1:09 pm

      Not just 1 bluebird – the house sparrows here have taken out entire nests of bluebirds. I finally bought a sparrow trap and it helps but I intend to try one of these halos for even more results.

      • Karen S. permalink
        December 7, 2012 7:51 am

        Not just bluebirds…..we’ve had the great majority of our Tree Swallow boxes raided and the occupants (both adults and nestlings) killed by Sparrows. They’ve even raided many of our duck box nests. You’d think that on some 300 acres that there would be a peacable existance ! Anybody have a really good plan for a Sparrow trap ? ….would be a good project during our long Montana winter.

    • Judy Schwarzmeier permalink
      December 7, 2012 7:52 pm

      Bob, we’ve even seen starlings chase American Kestrels away from nest boxes! Starlings and House Sparrows really are disruptive to our native bird species and ecosystems. I liken them to dandelions.

      • DKMac permalink
        December 19, 2012 10:38 am

        I’m with you Judy. I’ve had them chase flickers out of nest holes in our big trees. They take every available nesting hole that I would much prefer to be used by the native birds. I wish there was a way to get rid of them; as far as I’m concerned, they are a weed.

    • Russ Paulson permalink
      December 27, 2012 4:08 pm

      BoB. It’s always a bad feeling to do such, but when one see’s what a house sparrow does to blue birds/chick-a-dees/purple martins/tree swallows and other cavity nesting birds (kill them/their young and build their nest ontop of the) victims. You might feel better about getting rid of the invasive species. I use a sparrow trap that I bought from a man in Minnesota (recommended by the Minn DNR) to get rid of them and it works fine.

  7. Melanie C. permalink
    October 28, 2012 11:15 pm

    I have been using homemade halos for 3-4 years with some success. I live 5 miles outside of a major city and house sparrows are abundant. I made the first halo using the metal tray from my microwave as the ring and the second one using some leftover plastic screen as the ring. Because I did have a bird become entangled the first year I tried this, I started threading the weighted wires through sturdy drinking straws that I bought at a craft store. I haven’t had that problem since.

    If I had to put a number on it, I would say that since using the halo, only about 30% of the house sparrows are bold enough to dart past the weighted lines. I believe this gives some of the less assertive birds a better chance to get at the food.

    • October 29, 2012 9:42 am

      Hi Melanie,

      Thanks for your reply. It’s good to hear that halos have worked for you, and that you have had success making them yourself.

    • December 6, 2012 3:29 pm

      A BBQ grill or rack from an old refrigerator would work.

      • ROBERT CUGNO permalink
        July 29, 2013 9:28 pm

        THAT’S A GREAT IDEA I WILL TRY.

        ABOUT 50/60 SPARROWS HAVE BEEN EATING ALL DAY LONG. AT SEVERAL OF OUR FEEDERS. THEY EAT ANY SEEDS, ANTS, AND BIT PIECES OF BREAD LEFT FOR RABBITS AND GRAKLES. THE LATTER KEEP AWAY FROM THE FEEDERS AND ARE SATISFIED WITH BREAD..

        WE HAD ABOUT 50 GOLDFNCHES LATE SPRING AND EARALY SUMMER. THE SPARROWS MAY HAVE PUT A FEAR IN THEM AS PERHAPS FOUR RETURN DURING THE WEEK.

        DOVES (14) GRACKLES (TOO MANY) FOUR SQUIRRELS AND TWO RABBITS, PLUS A CARDINAL PAIR BASICALLY FEED ON THE GROUND.

        THANKFULLY, A FRIEND BRINGS ABOUT 7 LOAVES OF OLDER BREAD WEEKLY THAT HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM STORES.

        SIX TO EIGHT RACOONS HAVE NOT BEEN SHOWING U P SINCE

        SIX TO EIGHT RACOONS HAVE NOT BEEN SHOWING UP NIGHTLY .

  8. November 5, 2012 12:59 pm

    I use a homemade halo (it’s a peony plant support..wire hoop with three stiff wire “legs” that dangle from it) and it works like sparrow Kryptonite! There are a few brave ones who may still feed here and there, but the vast majority of sparrows (who used to chow down on my feeders, draining them off all seed in one day!) are terrified of it. They hover then drop to the ground, underneath. I never use bird seed that has millet in it.

    • November 5, 2012 5:37 pm

      Another great idea for a creative material to use! Thanks for chiming in, Carolyn.

    • Mary Lou McGuire permalink
      December 6, 2012 6:17 pm

      The peony hoop is a super idea, and seems like it would be easy to install. There were about 25 sparrows at my feeders early this am, so this idea is very timely. Thank you. Mary Lou

      • December 11, 2012 3:10 pm

        You’re welcome, Mary Lou. I used copper wire to string the hoop to the feeder. To do this, just fasten a wire from one end of the hoop (in the middle) to the other side and secure both sides by wrapping the ends around the hoop. I do it twice, giving the hoop a way to rest on top of my feeder. Just string the feeder cable between both of these two wires. It’s easy and the sparrows hate it :)

  9. Mimi Bouchee permalink
    November 11, 2012 6:29 pm

    I do not have a halo, but this article brought to mind that in the past year or two I have not even seen a English sparrow in my back yard. I offer only black sunflower seeds adding suet cakes in winter. Chickadees, house finch, dark-eyed juncos, nuthatches and occasional white-crowned sparrows, house wrens, siskins visit. I live on Whidbey Island, western Washington.

    • Van Kleiner permalink
      December 6, 2012 10:23 am

      In North Texas I use only black oil sunflower seed but the sparrows (up to thirty at a time) inundate my feeder (for scraps of seeds). I will install a halo.

  10. Beverly Anhorn permalink
    November 13, 2012 3:23 pm

    I ordered a squirrel proof feeder from “Picket Fences” catalogue, it has a small squared cover around it. all my littler birds get in it, even the wht breasted nuthatch but no sparrows. Living on a farm like I do I have many , many sparrows and they have plenty to eat around the livestock and graineries.

    • Leila Saheli permalink
      May 4, 2013 9:59 am

      Hi, do you have the site of Picket Fences? I would love to try this squirrel proof feeder. I’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, the sparrow population has doubled from last year in my backyard and they’ve been bullying and chasing away my titmice, chickadees and all my tiny birds,,, :(
      Thanks for your help!

  11. Ruth Bergstrom permalink
    November 14, 2012 8:16 pm

    I have been tying silver metallic gift ribbon (about 1/2 ” wide) to the tops of my tube feeders so they hang down next to it – about 2 per feeder (the ribbons are the length of the feeders). This has kept the House Sparrows away especially when the wind is blowing. Since I feed the Juncos on the ground, I’ve hung the ribbons on the branches of the bushes so they hang down to the ground and it works well there too. The other birds don’t seem to care (not sure what the neighbors think!). I’m going to try it on Bluebird houses next nesting season.

    • Mike permalink
      March 3, 2013 12:00 pm

      I tried this and it has so far worked wonderfully, the sparrows approach the feeder but will not try to land on the feeders they seem to be afraid of the shimmering ribbon waving in the wind. The chickadees and other birds are not afraid and still come to feed except for the cardinals which is unfortunate but I still get to see them sitting in he trees near by. We’ll see if the finches will feed too when it becomes warmer. Thanks for the tip I was really getting frustrated by the starlings and sparrows bullying all of the other birds away.

  12. November 15, 2012 12:08 am

    English sparrows have gotten into any where a finch can get. Starlings have taken over the woodpecker suet cages. Devices to keep out the “bad: birds don’t seem to work.

    • November 17, 2012 6:04 pm

      Have you tried taking the feeders down for a few days and just leaving the ground scraps for whichever birds will eat there? We often have a large flock of starlings gabbling and gobbling our seed (we feed black oil sunflower seed) and suet. When they’ve cleaned us out every day for awhile, we stop filling the feeders for a couple days. They seem to get the hint and take off for some other source. We have the same problem with red-winged blackbirds and use the same strategy to keep the consumption to a tolerable level.

    • Bill permalink
      December 7, 2012 9:00 pm

      To protect your suet cage from starlings purchase or make a suet feeder that presents the suet cage at the bottom. You’ll find that woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc., will easily cling upside down to the suet cage to feed but starlings and Jays won’t bother. Now to further protect the suet from English Sparrows, attach at the four corners of the feeder 1-2 ft lengths of piano or hobby wire with fishing weights or stainless steel hex nuts tied on at the bottom. Believe it or not, I used to get Sparrows that would fly up underneath the feeder and hover, Hummingbird-like, long enough to get a peck or two of the suet and then come back for more. Here’s an example of a commercial upside down feeder, and you can easily make one of these with some scraps of wood and nails. http://www.duncraft.com/Duncraft-Underneath-Suet-Feeder

  13. Steve J permalink
    November 15, 2012 2:34 pm

    It works if I can keep the squirrels from eating the lead weights…one of those rodents while I was away, hopped on the feeder from above and somehow got one of those lead weights off of the halo, and buried it…somewhere.

  14. November 17, 2012 2:39 pm

    Here is a thought…. Now that thanksgiving is approaching many of us use the disposable or recyclable aluminum turkey trays in the oven. Some of these trays come with a steel frame that may be suitable for use as a feeder halo AND are large enough to fit larger feeders! Worth a try…. And thinking green too…

  15. S Keating permalink
    November 21, 2012 12:23 pm

    I’m going to try this – where did you get the feeder halo? I appreciate the sentiment of feeding all of the animals that come to the feeders, but right now I’m ONLY feeding about 40 sparrows while the chickadees and woodpeckers sit in the trees and complain!

    • November 21, 2012 1:25 pm

      If you get a lot of woodpeckers, maybe fill your feeder with peanuts (they LOVE them), I did and it made all the sparrows go away.

    • Melanie C. permalink
      November 25, 2012 8:17 am

      As an urban birder, I empathize with your house sparrow dilemma. One tactic that I use to help (not solve, unfortunately) this situation is to offer a tray-style feeder full of cheaper bird seed. Although house sparrows are adaptive, they still prefer to eat off of the ground or low to the ground. My tray feeder is their preferred feeder, so while their busy munching away, it lives my hanging feeders (w/ halos on them) of sunflower seed, peanuts and niger seed open to the other birds.

      Selective food choices have not worked for me; the house sparrows in my area eat anything – sunflower seeds, peanuts, even the niger seed. The tray feeder at least keeps a majority of them concentrated in one area.

      • Noemail permalink
        September 26, 2013 8:48 am

        Sounds like the only reasonable solution to the aggressive house sparrows, thank you!

  16. marnie smith permalink
    December 5, 2012 7:48 pm

    I have always enjoyed the little sparrows as well – we had a family in our hanging flowers on the front porch and had a first row seat to watch them grow.

  17. Margaret peet permalink
    December 6, 2012 6:55 am

    I tried this and it worked well for a few weeks, then became totally ineffective as the house sparrows seemed to adapt.

    • December 7, 2012 9:58 am

      I had the same thing happen. I made a halo that worked well for a couple of months, and then the resident house sparrow flock figured it out, and it stopped working. So I took it down.

      Interestingly, when we had a flock of Pine Siskins stop by (during the Finch Irruption this year caused by the drought in Canada), they were very aggressive and caused the House Sparrows to go elsewhere for food, and most have not returned even though the Siskins have mostly left.

      I have a sparrow trap that I have not yet used, as I am working to increase the local Bluebird population. I agree that as House Sparrows are a non-native species, they should not be allowed to kill native cavity nesters like Bluebirds.

  18. bob stanko permalink
    December 6, 2012 7:46 am

    I am going to try to get one because I have a problem with them.I Have just got Blue birds to come and the House Sparrows are going into the nest and killing the babies.They are not a good bird to have around.

  19. December 6, 2012 8:01 am

    For the suet feeders, make a wooden box shaped the same size as the suet cage, and shaped like a square shoe box lid. Zip tie through holes the wire cage under the “lid” and hang the same way. The Starlings cannot get under the feeder to the suet since they cannot hang upside down like Chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, etc. I have bluebird boxes and the European House Sparrows have killed the eggs and babies twice before I put up a coat hanger above the nest boxes in the shape of a “V” with gold mylar strips hanging from it which brush the top of the house. HOSP will not get near them. However, do not put up the mylar strips till after the bluebirds lay the first egg. Male house sparrows that get near the nest box or he and the several females that are with him will make the bluebirds abandon the nest boxes. In three nest attempts, they have fledged 13 and now we have many bluebirds around. The house sparrows have also killed a Tufted Tit mouse and her eggs before I have figured out how to defeat them. House sparrows are viscous killers of our native birds. Please don’t allow them to nest.

    • Van Kleiner permalink
      December 6, 2012 10:30 am

      I agree with everything you say. We fledged two broods of bluebirds last year but the sparrows killed the third brood six eggs).

    • Karen S. permalink
      December 7, 2012 8:11 am

      They killed so many of our Tree Swallow adults in the nest boxes that we finally covered the entrances.! They manage to “squeek” into a hole too small for a Swallow. They even post guards to keep the Swallows away ! We finally moved our nest boxes to the woods by the river instead of around the lake. Think I’ll give the ‘ribbon’ thing a try….

    • December 7, 2012 1:46 pm

      HI,
      thanks for the input about the shoe box adaptation to the suet feeder. I had read starlings couldn’t hang upside down, but they do! Not as well, but they eat at the suet as a grab and go, then perch on an adjacent branch and come back. They have run off the Downy woodpecker, goldfinches, nuthatches, ruby crowned sparrows etc.
      I don’t use community feeders as we have a salmonella problem here in the Pacific NW– that kills many native birds–from eating where other bird’s feces drop into the feed.

      I am beginning to consider methods to euthanize the house sparrows and starlings, but it seems difficult to find humane ways to do so.

  20. Donna Cunningham permalink
    December 6, 2012 8:07 am

    We live in a suburban area just north of Detroit. We’ve used thistle, cracked sunflower, oily sunflower and of course suet feeders for many years. The house sparrows were emptying the cracked sunflower feeder on a daily basis. Also, they kept away some of the native species. We installed a halo in early November and it has worked wonderfully.
    Because we are frequently out of town, we couldn’t fill the feeder daily. We have more of our usual visitors – finches, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, and nut hatches. To our delight, the pine siskin and tufted titmouse have returned. An occasional house sparrow braves the halo but most feed off the ground from seeds that have dropped. Thus far, we are definite proponents of the halo!

    • December 6, 2012 4:41 pm

      Donna, I live in Indian Village, have a nice variety of birds who feed with us, but also a couple of flocks of house sparrows that must number 20-30, and clean everything out – the No-Mess Patio blends, the safflower, etc.! We have titmice, downies, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, pheasants and more on a pretty regular basis, and if we sit in our solarium, we can spook some of the sparrows, but they remain voracious, and it is discouraging. There’s an elegant cooper’s hawk patrolling our street, but she can’t get into the corner of the yard with our feeders; wld gladly give her the sparrow menu…
      I feel as if we are abetting natural selection, because they ape the finches on the finch feeder, eat upside down like nuthatches on the anti-squirrel cage feeder, etc. Truly frustrating! I’d love to put it bluebird nest boxes, and the halo gives me hope. Would you be willing to call me or my wife, Jackie at home to fill us in on how you installed the halo. We can be reached at Xx3.x.1.3.Ww571xX51X45 – the extra letters are an attempt to thwart the spam-bots that can “read” web pages and harvest the data. Maybe wishful thinking, but hope it works. Ron Spann

  21. Carol Ann O'Leary permalink
    December 6, 2012 10:12 am

    I’m glad to see this article today; I have an abundant variety of birds at my feeders – Harris’s Sparrow and Painted Bunting among the more unusual, but the HOSP is interfering with my hanging feeders and they take over a Bluebird box whenever they can (in fact, they are doing it now!) so I am definitely going to make this baffle today. HOSP are VERY resilient so I’m not worried about cutting them out of the hanging feeders where I have masses of finch, wren, red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals,tufted titmouse, chickadees, nut hatches, etc. Also, I do use a higher grade seed as well as thistle but that does not deter them.

  22. Bee Faith permalink
    December 6, 2012 10:15 am

    We have two feeders, one for cracked corn which the sparrows love and one with finch feed. Only the finch and the seasonal red wing black birds feed in it. It is an upside down feeder, but the black birds figured out real quick how to feed upside down. The starlings made a nest in my snub nose motor home. Very difficult to clean out even with the dog house cover off. Could hardly get my hands in between and around the motor.

  23. Chet Ogan permalink
    December 6, 2012 10:46 am

    l attached a 2X4 inch wire mesh around my feeder. It keeps English Sparrows at bay yet allows even Evening Grosbeaks onto the feeder.

  24. MikeKerr permalink
    December 6, 2012 1:24 pm

    Being a biologist, I much prefer our native birds and critters – not the English House Sparrows, starlings, feral cats or feral hogs – all way too common in Texas. Will try a halo, sounds like a good idea – thanks. I have also used sometimes a live trap baited with bread crumbs – let natives go and not the others.

    • December 11, 2012 5:25 pm

      The idea of a live trap is appealing and our conservation folks use them in the field. The challenge for me is the need to only trap when I will be available for a 24 hour shift to monitor and let go any native birds.

  25. M L Frank permalink
    December 6, 2012 2:03 pm

    I also have a problem with the House Sparrows. They were driving away all the Goldfinches and House Finches. I read about the Halo and looked at them online but couldn’t see spending that much at this time. Then I read in another blog about someone making their own. I bought an umbrella hat (the small kind that has an elastic band to go over your head) for 99 cents and put that on top of my octagonal hopper feeder. The elastic part fit over the corners and I just duct taped the rest to stay on the lid of the feeder. Within a day of putting it on my feeder about 85% of the House Sparrows were almost gone. I do get some eating off the ground and some went to the front yard where I have another feeder. The good news is that the Goldfinches and House Finches and all the other birds came back! It really does work. I’ve had it on the feeder now for almost 5-6 months. I may have to figure something out for the front feeder now too.

  26. December 6, 2012 2:06 pm

    We have a good mix of finches, sparrows, and a few towees, grosbeaks, and exotics (like ring necked doves) at our black oil sunflower with grain feeders. The house sparrows are a very welcome part of the mix as far as we’re concerned. Maybe we have relatively fewer house sparrows here in San Diego than other locations.

    We also have hummingbird feeders, two dedicated goldfinch feeders, and a platform feeder where I put a handful of peanuts and dog kibble for my favorite birds, crows and jays. The corvids are super smart and have a sense of humor that’s we find entertaining and sometimes amazing.

    We visited London in May, and ironically saw very few “English” sparrows.

    • George Newberger permalink
      December 6, 2012 9:23 pm

      re: David Colton’s comment on seing very few “English”sparrows in London : A few years back our Bluebird Society got word that there was a “decline” of English sparrow, alias House sparrow,aliasWeaver Finch in England and we were hoping they would find the cause of this decline so we could employ it here in the states

  27. Barb permalink
    December 6, 2012 2:15 pm

    I enjoy all the birds and squirrels and chipmunks who come to eat at my house. They are all beautiful and they are all welcome.

  28. James permalink
    December 6, 2012 2:59 pm

    Am I to understand that sparrows keep other birds from the feeder, or do other birds simply dislike sparrows? IAnyone and everyone please respond, even if it is just an opinion. Thanks!

    • December 6, 2012 3:54 pm

      House sparrows tend to be pushy and aggressive. That doesn’t apply to all species of sparrows, some of which are extremely shy. In general, the birds at our feeders get along pretty well, though sometimes the beautiful male house finches tend to squabble with each other.

      We have only a few house sparrows at our feeder so we have no problem with them. I suppose that a large number of house sparrows could keep other birds away from both feeders and nesting sites. Here in San Diego, that’s something I’ve never witnessed.

      The only birds that are disliked by other birds at our feeders are the resident Sharp Shinned and Cooper’s hawks, which are ferocious. They manage to take a few the birds attracted to our feeders every week. Our resident crows and Brewers Black Birds do their best to courageously mob the hawks away, but not always successfully..

      • December 6, 2012 4:13 pm

        Yes, house sparrows are really aggressive. They are bullies at the feeder and scare away the songbirds. And, they drain food from feeders very fast if allowed to. A group of sparrows ate 9 pounds of bird seed from my feeder in ONE day! I made my own halo by buying a wire hoop (with dangling wire legs) used for staking peony plants at WalMart, then running wire across the circle of the hoop itself twice, so there would be a place to put over the birdfeeder (the hoop rests on the feeder using those two wires). You just let the “legs” of it dangle down. And the sparrows are terrified of it. They hover then drop to the ground to eat there instead. Works great. I have a bunch of goldfinches, woodpeckers, nuthatches and more now, instead of a bunch of sparrows.

    • M L Frank permalink
      December 6, 2012 4:22 pm

      In our case, yes, the House Sparrows were bullies. I could never get an accurate count but I’d say at least between 40-50 at a time. They ate all the food (even the kinds I’d read that they weren’t supposed to “like”) and went after the other, smaller birds and finches. Pretty soon the other birds stopped coming around. I have found a few dead birds off and on while the House Sparrows were here but don’t know if they had anything to do with it. I have nothing against the birds and I would be willing to have them at my feeders if they just didn’t take over and run off the other ones. I would watch the finches sitting on the branches of the tree near the feeders and waiting for turns to eat and the House Sparrows would fly up and sit on the same branches and keep moving closer and closer to the finches and make kind of threatening gestures until they made them fly away.

  29. December 6, 2012 5:05 pm

    This sort of washers on wire/line has been tried with varying degrees of success in south Texas. Initially, it does work, but House Sparrow quickly acclimate to them and return.

  30. December 6, 2012 6:57 pm

    I’ll have to make one. The house sparrows overrun the feeders! They do a wonderful job repelling the Tufted Titmice and the Red-Breasted Nuthatches. The only birds they don’t scare away are the Downy Woodpecker and the Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

  31. walter rodgers permalink
    December 6, 2012 7:47 pm

    In Britain these are nicknamed ‘Cockney sparrows’ and their numbers have
    been decimated for reasons uncertain. They used to mob St. James Park. Now
    they are next to non existent. Perhaps we can ship a million or so back to London.
    10,000 years ago they originated in south or southwest Asia.

  32. Roland Chaput permalink
    December 6, 2012 9:57 pm

    After watching a larger and larger flock of house sparrows depleting my feeder in a single day, I made a halo from two 24″ metal bars cut in half and crossed over the support bar of the feeder. I used white clothes hanger wire and hung four pieces down to about the bottom of the feeder. The birds came the next morning, saw this new challenge and did nothing for at least an hour. Then I guess hunger got the best of them and they came back but in fewer numbers. I think it’s working up to a point. I’ll know better after a week or so and begin to see other species returning. I also keep my bird bath full and all the birds are using it with a relish!.

  33. Paul Howard permalink
    December 6, 2012 10:33 pm

    Hi, I would like everyone who “likes” European House Sparrows to do a little homework and do some research on just how destructive they are. We have repeatedly had them move in and kill adult female chickadees, violet-green swallows, nuthatches, western bluebirds (and other cavity-nesting small birds) as well as kill all the chicks and destroy the eggs in nest boxes and tree cavities. Yes, they do this, not to eat them but to push them out and take over. It is well documented. This is why most towns have almost nothing but non-native Euro House sparrows in their downtown and commercial areas. They love human made cavities and they love millet filled birdseed. Please do not use millet filled bird seed. Please use restrictor holes on your nest boxes – you can look this up for the dimension on the internet easily enough. We set traps. Since we have done that, we have seen every other species benefit from this.
    Sorry if this offends anyone’s sensabilities but millet filled birdseed feeders and people combined with the Euro House Sparrrow have set forth epicenters of disappearances of native species everywhere.

    Thanks – Paul Howard

  34. Michael gaffney permalink
    December 7, 2012 10:00 am

    I live in dallas and with mixed feed sparrows
    were the only bird most times. They only are moved out by cardinals. Sparrows also knock seed out looking for sunflower seed so i went to 100% safflower and the incidence of sparrows went down by 75%. They occasionally knock seed out looking for the stray seed but i now see chickadees, tufted tm, bewicks et al.

  35. janinNewton permalink
    December 7, 2012 10:35 am

    i have a Brome cylindrical squirrel-proof feeder, hung directly below a cone-shaped baffle. (lots of squirrels, but my system is highly effective at keeping them out.) does anyone have a suggestion for how i would attach a halo to this feeder plus baffle arrangement and have wires that dangle long enough? thanks!

  36. Gini Hunter permalink
    December 7, 2012 12:23 pm

    To stop squirrels from stealing weight, maybe the square drapery wts.might work. They have a hole with bar across in the middle to attach to wire. I use carpet stretcher strips on the birdhouse posts to deter the snakes that eat eggs. It’s disconcerting to find one hanging out of the box, but they won’t climb the spikey post.

  37. Tracey Bolseng permalink
    December 7, 2012 7:07 pm

    Thanks for all the great info! I will be hanging up a halo asap! The house sparrows have keep away the chickadees, finches, nuthatches from our feeders for too long now! The other small birds come around if we are outside in the yard – the sparrows stay away while we are out. I do like to watch the sparrows, however, they are welcome to ground feed, not dominate the feeder.

  38. Phil Normand permalink
    December 8, 2012 2:50 pm

    I saw your news letter about the halo to keep house sparrows away from a feeder. I had a problem keeping my wire basket full of sunflower seeds because the house sparrows would pounce on it by the dozens and empty it in a day. This also kept the other birds from getting to the feeder. Not anymore no house sparrows will come close to the feedersince I installed the halo. I see them all perched in bushes near by but will not come close to the feeder. Thanks for the halo instructions.

  39. Kathy Winger permalink
    December 9, 2012 11:12 pm

    A single pair of House Sparrows increased to approximately 11 over the summer. Unlike my indigenous sparrows they produced at least two separate broods. They travel in a mob and cooperate to drive all the other birds away. With the exception of a couple of hardy Dark-Eyed Juncos, and the indomitable Chickadees, they’ve succeeded in driving away all the other small birds. I haven’t seen a Song Sparrow or a House Finch since this summer and the Goldfinches returned only when I installed a separate Nyjer feeder for them.

    The House Sparrows take turns sitting on all the feeder perches and systematically flipping the contents out on to the ground without even eating. They empty my 6 pound feeder in less than a day. I started mixing my own seed – black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn – but it doesn’t seem to have discouraged them at all. They’ve even started feeding off the suet block and chasing away my Downy Woodpeckers and Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches. I love animals but I’ve had it with these interlopers. Since I already have a squirrel baffle hanging above my primary feeder, first thing tomorrow I plan to drill a few well-placed holes around the edge and upgrade the device to a “Squirrel and House Sparrow Baffle.” Fingers crossed!

  40. Gini Hunter permalink
    December 12, 2012 11:55 am

    We made a suet feeder below a flat board many years ago and it worked well, until the raccoons discovered it. Actually had built an open ended cage of rabbit fencing attached to a board that extended about 2 inches all around and it did work well for the birds. The ‘coons learned to sit on top or just take in down and work on it on the ground.

  41. Mike Griffin permalink
    December 12, 2012 1:28 pm

    While house sparrows are not a feeder problem with me, I have a mob of about 20 house finches that descends like a plague of locusts. They are aggressive, chasing away smaller birds. Will try the halo to see if it works with house finches….

    • December 13, 2012 12:28 pm

      Mike, if you’re going to be mobbed with anything, you can’t do better than house finches in my opinion. They’re colorful and they have a happy song, especially a mob of them. They pretty much ignore other species of birds though the males do squabble with each other.

      They do hog the feeders, but the flock comes and goes, leaving plenty of down time for other birds at the feeder. I’ve never seen a house finch chase smaller birds. They’re highly social and pretty totally fixated on each other and avoiding getting eaten by hawks.

      Are you sure they’re house finches? Male house finches are real beauties with red, pink, or orange heads and chests. Females have streaks that run the length of their bellies..

      • Mike Griffin permalink
        December 13, 2012 1:44 pm

        Dave,
        I’m new to the birding world, so i think they are house finches. They don’t actively chase other birds like titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches; but will chase them away from the feeder. They will also empty the feeder quickly. The woodpeckers, on the other hand, will make the finches leave the feeder, but the woodpeckers (like the smaller birds) only take one seed at a time.
        Thanks for getting back…

  42. Tony permalink
    December 13, 2012 3:24 pm

    I have set up a halo on my one feeder, and within minutes not a single sparrow would land on it to feed, but every other bird went right in, even a red bellied woodpecker took advantage of the no sparrow feeder.
    I used an old Christmas wreath wire form, hung foil streamers from it, and suspended it from the top of the feeder. No complicated tools or equipment were used for the construction.
    Thanks for the info.

  43. December 13, 2012 4:27 pm

    A pleasure Mike. If you or others aren’t familiar with it, the best single bird site I’ve found on the web is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=1189 . The bird guide is at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search is great to learn about the different species.

    • December 13, 2012 5:09 pm

      Mike, right now there are about six house finches and three sparrows on one of my mixed grain feeders. The finches are squabbling, as usual, but are completely ignoring the sparrows. BTW, we live in San Diego.

      • Mike Griffin permalink
        December 13, 2012 6:22 pm

        Dave,
        Thanks for the helpful information. I will check the sites out. I live on the far eastern tip of the north fork of Long Island in New York…

  44. Bree permalink
    December 17, 2012 10:32 am

    I have tried two kinds of halos a few years ago – one I bought online, and one I made myself. Neither completely eliminated the birds. Even from day 1, many were not spooked. Over time, they became less effective, and after about 1-2 weeks, the House Sparrows completely ignored them altogether. We have a terrible problem with HOSPs outside of Boston – not helped by neighbors who let them roost in big flocks in the bushes of their homes. I have three feeders in the backyard, and they can easily empty all three in one day – a rollerfeeder (fantastic at keeping out squirrels, by the way), a brome, and even an upside down finch feeder. Nothing keeps these nuisance birds away, and they chase away all the other birds. I’ve seen them attack in what looks like a well-organized mob to chase away Cardinals, Woodpeckers, any number of smaller birds, and even big guys like Grackles and Red-Winged Black Birds! It is extremely frustrating – so much so that I have almost given up with the feeders altogether. I worry I’m just making the HOSP population worse by unintentionally feeding them. They eat black-oil sunflower, peanuts, cracked corn, nyger – whatever I put out. I’ve cut the perches short on the feeders, but that did not help either. They have learned to eat upside down, and even to grab & hang, like a woodpecker. I like some of your ideas though, so maybe I’ll try again. I’m too much of a wuss to try trapping them – and there are so many, I feel like I wouldn’t even make a dent. Sigh.

  45. December 17, 2012 12:35 pm

    Bree, a word of hope.

    I’m 70 years old and have been into birds for much of that time. Over and over, I’ve seen populations of different species explode in an area, inevitably followed by a crash of that species. Over the years here in Southern California that includes rock doves, house sparrows, crows, Brewer’s blackbirds, et. al.

    I could almost guarantee that within a year or two, some disease to which they have little resistance will take advantage of their huge numbers and wipe out most of them. When they return, the population will regrow to reasonable numbers, like we have here in Southern California. They really are not pests here, quite the contrary. They’re chipper, active, curious, smart, and a welcome addition to our bird mix. The same thing will happen where you live.

  46. December 17, 2012 1:38 pm

    We installed a homemade halo for our wire mesh tube-style finch feeder about a year and a half ago. I was desperate at the time, since, after two years of eating on the ground and ignoring the finch feeder, an entire flock of house sparrows suddenly took over the feeder, seeming more like a constant swarm of rats than birds, completely preventing any finches from using the feeder, and empying out the very expensive thistle seed at a phenominal rate daily. We tried a sparrow trap (works great at live-capturing birds, but basically mostly caught everything else on the face of the planet! We were constantly releasing untargetted species instead, so gave up). When I read about the halo style deterent, I was sceptical, but tried it anyway. We fashioned a halo above the feeder, and hung several weighted wires from it, about 6 to 8 inches apart, to completely surround the feeder. After a couple initial attempts of fluttering around the wires, the sparrows totally gave up. Everything else ignores the wires, and finches just zip on through as if they aren’t even there! But although we have plenty of house sparrows at the bird block on the ground every day, we have never had even one single house sparrow on the finch tube since we installed the halo. I am astonished at how well it worked. This thing is magic, and I love it!!!!

    • Roland Chaput permalink
      December 17, 2012 2:13 pm

      Dear Callme et al: I’ve had my home made halo up for about two weeks now and in the Boston area, we seem to be plagued with an overabundance of House Sparrows. Initially they were skittish but after an hour or so, came back with a vengeance! The only other birds who tried the feeder (a tube style with the usual seeds including a heavy mix of black sunflower seeds), were a few cardinals and a couple of chickadees.

      After reading comments from various “feeder folks” about better methods, I tried extending the wire length another six inches so they (4), now hang down below the base of the feeder. So far so food but will keep my eye on how it goes. In the meantime, we are seeing more cardinals, jays etc. back, along with an ever present gray squirrel! Only time will tell.

  47. Evelyn Ball permalink
    December 18, 2012 1:00 am

    I feed whatever birds come to my yard. Currently we have starlings, magpies, bluejays, chickadees, juncos, red and white breasted nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, redpolls, gray partridges, even a red squirrel. I don’t pick and choose who to feed.

  48. December 20, 2012 12:27 pm

    I made a ‘magic’ halo out of a clothes hanger with wire ties on instead of weighted wires. It has worked great for 6 days now. No sparrrows on the protected feeders and now the titmice and red-breasted nuthatches can get the seed they want. Don’t know how it works, but it does (has)!

  49. Cindy permalink
    December 29, 2012 12:08 pm

    Hey, this is all so informative. I live in Central Alberta and feed birds year round- I am in a suburb with a normal sized back yard. With a large oak and three spruce trees. I have always had a house sparrow issue but felt I could not be exclusive. But the sparrows are doing a good job of excluding everyone else! I feed so much food that I go through 80 pounds of seed and nuts in about six weeks. I feel guilty when the temperature hits minus 15.

    I am definitely going to make my own hallow for my black oil seed feeder as a test!

    feeders in my yard
    – 1 hanging wooden feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. (sparrows clean out the entire feeder in one day)
    – Suet balls hanging off side of tree, no sparrow issues here. I get a single flicker, a woodpecker, a couple of nut hatches and a few chickadees.
    – One tabletop feeder close to the ground where I put mixed seed with millet, corn, sunflower etc and large nuts. I get a family of five to six magpies first thing and they take all the larger nuts, then the sparrows come and I am sure I have about 60 of them…all at the same time. They are good at cleaning up the waste seeds. Every once and awhile I see a junco, a few chickadees, The bluejays come after the magpies and remove every other large nut and piece of corn they can fine. Then later in the day the squirrel comes to see if there is anything left.
    – 1 larger metal cylinder feeder where I add larger nuts. I think this one was my biggest mistake as I wanted it to be for the bluejays but the magpies have figured out how to perch on it now.

    I also have three bird houses that the sparrows have ruined by enlarging the entry holes. I am going to be taking them down this week and trying to figure out how to improve on their design to deter sparrows. What do you all think of this design? http://blog.duncraft.com/2012/07/12/duncrafts-new-bird-house-helps-to-discourage-house-sparrows/ Also I am assuming the houses should be deep and what is the hole size appropriate for chickadees? Should I use a metal plate on the front of the house so the holes cannot be enlarged? I had a squirrel enlarge the hole on my gourde bird house. Hilarious, he started storing nuts in it and the bluejay would wait for him to store his nuts and then go in and get them for himself.

    Thank you everyone. I have loved reading every comment!

    • Barb E permalink
      January 2, 2013 6:31 pm

      Cindy if you get rid of the mixed seed some of the HOSP may go elsewhere. They love the millet & that attracts them. I only feed black oil sunflower and sunflower hearts (expensive). I have a house similar to your link but it didn’t deter the HOSP at all – in fact when I cleaned the 7 houses I have there was a frozen HOSP female in that very house. Now in the spring I do put the hole guards on every house. 1-1/4″ for the chickadees and 1″ for the wrens. They do nest every year but after 3 years of the HOSP killing the moms & newborns I was fit to be tied. I also bought some plastic pine branches at the craft store, I criss-cross the ends & tie together with garden velcro, then use another piece through the center & thumb tack to the top of the birdhouse. The HOSP love to sit on top of the houses & peek inside, but they won’t sit on the house with the branches there. It worked last year and the wrens and chickadees raised their families without a problem. Check out audubonworkshop.com – they have a great choice of houses the right size for many different birds and they have the hole guards too. Don’t forget to put out a heated birdbath in winter and you will see many birds once they find it. Good luck with the halo and getting rid of those pesky HOSP.

      • Cindy permalink
        January 3, 2013 1:54 pm

        Thanks so much Barb, will take your suggestions to heart. Anyone want a bag of mixed seed? :) Will be fixing the bird houses this weekend. Halo seems to be working. No HOSP but not much activity at all yet. Will see what I can do for a heated bird bath. Again…thank you!

      • Cindy permalink
        January 6, 2013 10:14 am

        Barb, I just bought hole guards at a local wild bird shop but I am not clear on your technique of using fake branches. When you say that you crisscross the branches are you letting them hang over the edge of the roof or are they flush with the edges? This is going to be a very interesting spring with all the changes I am making. I also bought a heated birdbath and will install it today.

      • Barb E permalink
        January 6, 2013 11:59 am

        Cindy, Good luck with your habitat! I love watching & feeding the birds, they are truly amazing creatures. The branches do hang over the edges of the nest box, and some stick up in the air as well. The HOSP do not like them at all and won’t land on them. If you watch them, the male will sit on top of the nest box and bend over the roof to peek into the hole before going in. I watched them for a long time before thinking that something on the roof would deter them. I first tried real branches from some shrubs, that worked but they dried out quickly. Then I bought the fake pine branches with some pinecones on them at the craft store on clearance day after last Xmas. I put them up in the spring when the chickadees started to nest. It worked and the chickadees raised two broods! The wrens nested in another box and 7 eggs hatched – the day after they hatched I went to check on them for project nestwatch and they were all gone!! The HOSP got them while I was at work. That nestbox did not have the branches on top! Luckily the wrens took over the chickadee nestbox with branches on top the day the chickadees fledged and raised another family successfully. I take the branches off for the winter, but will put them back on ALL 6 of my nestboxes in the spring when the native birds start nesting. Just take the branches putting the bare ends together & inside each other, hold them together with the floral velcro in a couple spots (or string would work too but is hard to hold). Then take 1 long strip of the velcro once you put the branches on top of the nestbox and put the strip over them at the center and thumb tack through the velcro at the front and the back. I hope you have success with this idea too. The branches do not deter the wrens or chickadees that nest in my boxes every year! You will have to let me know how it works for you, and the birds will love you for providing them with fresh water during the winter too!! Oh, for cleaning the birdbath I use a mixture of 1/2 water & 1/2 hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle & scrub with a sponge, then rinse & wipe & refill. It gets rid of algae, bacteria, mold & germs leaving the plastic bath nice and clean. Email me at iam1barb1@comcast.net and I will send you a picture of the branch set up.

  50. Diann wylie permalink
    January 26, 2013 11:43 am

    I am trying to find out if House Sparrows chase away Redpolls, Chipping Sparrows etc. I used ti have these birds come to my feeders in winter, now i rarely see them and only a few if i do. I live in Park Rapids MN

    • January 31, 2013 10:58 am

      Hi Diann,

      Yes, House Sparrows will chase away Redpolls, Chipping Sparrows, and a myriad of other species. They are very dominant birds. However, this will not prevent these other species from coming back again.

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