A Strategy to Deter English Sparrows

It’s good to put out feeders with shelled peanuts for the birds, especially in winter. Peanuts attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees, and are a good source of calories and protein. That’s why I buy 20 lb. sacks marked “Peanut Rejects”. (Why were they rejected? They look fine to me, so I do wonder. Also, is rejection painful even for peanuts?)

Chickadee (right) and English sparrow (left) at peanut feeder.
Chickadee (right) and English sparrow (left) at peanut feeder.

The bad thing about putting out shelled peanuts is that they are also loved by less welcome birds: grackles, starlings, and English sparrows. Especially English sparrows. They can sometimes empty a feeder in less than a day. This gets expensive.

I was ready to give up on peanuts, but a friend of mine urged me to try a new strategy: fishing line. More specifically, tape lengths of fishing line to the inside of of the plastic dome used as a squirrel baffle. Depending on the size of the dome, he attaches four to six pieces of line. He said it deters the English sparrows, though not starlings or the more desirable birds who like peanuts.

White breasted nuthatch at the peanut feeder.
White breasted nuthatch at the peanut feeder.

So last Sunday I tried it. I put up the peanut feeder with the squirrel baffle on top, and with six pieces of fishing line taped to the inside.ย The result: a lot of uneaten peanuts. By Wednesday, it looked as if none of the birds were getting at the feeder, so I removed two of the pieces of fishing line.

As of today, it does appear that a few peanuts are being eaten. However, I haven’t actually seen any birds at the feeder, and neither has Judy.

So this strategy may be a little too effective. On the other hand, it may be that it takes the birds time to adjust to the fishing line blowing in the wind around the peanut feeder. I will give it more time, and report back in the near future.

Do you have any strategies for deterring English sparrows?

34 Comments on “A Strategy to Deter English Sparrows

  1. I’m more of a live and let live kind of guy (whether by principle or by laziness I’m not sure) so the house sparrows are welcome to their share around here. I’ve become less popular after switching to a straight black oil feeding policy, but if there’s nothing good at the neighbor’s feeders the sparrows come back in force.
    I’ve heard of people having success by putting up nesting boxes and then well…. “taking care of” the young, but I guess I’ll just deal with the sparrow flocks and hope they’re not always up to no good.

  2. The strategy was suggested to me by one of the owners of Wild Birdz. I tried it this past summer, tying four lines of mono filament to each of my feeders. Like your experience, no one came to the feeders for several days. As time went by, the birds learned to ignore them. Now it is as if they don’t exist.

  3. We don’t have a problem with them here, as a matter of fact their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate, so I read the other day. How did the English get into your country anyway? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Ah, passer domesticus. The birds that have been raiding grain stocks since the pharaohs… well, I’m afraid I don’t do much to deter them. They come in large flocks, the House Finches do too, and in between their comings and goings is when I usually see the woodpeckers and chickadees. But everyone has been avoiding my peanut feeder for the last few weeks and I think it must be weather-related. The peanuts look fine to me but maybe they’re just plain frozen and therefore less attractive. I’ll have to empty out the feeder and take stock. By the way, I feed “rejects” too – it seems to be what I get with the Chicago Audubon sale, and they’re just fine.

    • Your approach sounds very sensible, but maybe it is my inner stingy old man that hates seeing all those peanuts go down the gullets of English sparrows.

      • I don’t know if it’s sensible or it’s just all I can do in my small yard battling squirrels and being thankful that I don’t have feral pigeons visiting… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I have heard about putting the lines on bluebird boxes to keep out sparrows. All you have to do it put it on top to keep them from landing on top and they keep going. As to feeders… good luck. Will be interested to hear if anything works.

    • Some birds come in large numbers and are very greedy. They empty out the feeders and leave nothing for the others. Also, some are non-native and, frankly, just boring to look at. So I confess to not treating all birds as equal.

  6. Poor English sparrows, sorry about the expense but just beause they aren’t a beautiful red colour or rare doesn’t mean they should starve does it?

    • But what about the other birds who don’t get food because the feeders have been empties out – or because the English sparrows chase them away from the feeders?

  7. I have to say, you lot over there are doing a much better job of looking after our sparrows….I never see them really which is weird given they were everywhere once upon a time. I have problems with the wood pigeons and collared doves eating all the red squirrels nuts….xxx

  8. Hi Jason, we’re doing our best to attract them from your garden into ours but it sounds like we’re not doing a good enough job. While the fishing line might deter (all the) birds for a while, if one little bird tells all the others then it might not be long before things are back to normal and they just ignore it.

  9. This is sad, they are so missed over here and a problem for you, we had not witnessed any aggressive behaviour either, just the normal pecking order stuff. Do you feed throughout the summer months too?

  10. I never did try to keep them from the feeders because I don’t mind them, but I doubt there is a method that would keep them out. This year with the multitudes of Starlings visiting, it did keep the Sparrows numbers down, yet did not discourage all the desirable songbirds, like cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadee, and nuthatch. The starlings ate more food than did the Sparrows though.

    • We have starlings also, but they spend the winters eating all the fruit off all the trees. By late winter or spring they are back at the feeders.

  11. That’s an interesting experiment. I’ve heard that sparrows will do just about anything for Virginia creeper berries. Maybe if they could get some of those they’d leave your feeder alone. Of course, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) takes up quite a lot of space.

    • We have Virginia creeper growing on our back fence and up the telephone pole – it doesn’t seem to be enough to keep the English sparrows from my feeders.

  12. My attitude is, COme one, come all. And I spend a ridiculous amount of money on hulled sunflower seed because it doesnt leave a mess. It’s a free for all – though the only free thing they eat are the berries on my holly trees – the robins have been showing up for that treat!

    • I also buy the hulled sunflower seed. The sunflower hulls don’t just make a mess, they kill any plants that are around the bird feeder. I try to push the cost of the hulled seeds out of my consciousness.

  13. This is the first winter that I’ve seen English house sparrows come to our feeder so this was a timely post for me. Since their appearance I have definitely seen a reduction in nuthatches and chickadees. I am a little worried.

    As for squirrels … We have a bunch of mature pecan trees but they seem to only produce nuts once every two years. On those years that there are nuts I love watching squirrels foraging. But this was a non-producing year and winter was considerably colder than has been lately. A tough year for the resident fox squirrel. It only seemed neighborly to help him out.

    • You’re lucky that you haven’t seen English sparrows before now. They are super abundant around here and have been so for years. We’ll see if it’s possible to do much that discourages them.

  14. We do have a few English sparrows, but frankly I don’t see too many of them compared with all the juncos, nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers, chickadees, and finches. Maybe it’s too cold here for English sparrows in the winter? And then in the summer they’re outnumbered.

  15. We have squirrels that would eat peanuts up if we put them in feeders. I prefer to just put safflower seeds in the feeders, because squirrels don’t eat those, but Larry sometimes puts mixed seeds in them. I hope your desirable birds figure out how to get to the peanuts. Oh, and I’m not sure what kind of sparrows we have, but I just tried looking them up. They may be house sparrows or common sparrows.

    • The house sparrows have kind of a black and white bib. And if you look at their beaks, you will see that they are actually finches, though they are called sparrows.

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