Sparrows eat mostly seeds. The most common sparrow, the House Sparrow, has a varied diet, but other types such as American Tree Sparrows, Clay-Colored Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and Song Sparrows, are more selective. Usually, the male sparrow will catch insects and bring them to his female mate to feed their young.
The Common House Sparrow
Common House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) follow humans to cities, suburbs, and farms and find food wherever they go. They prefer seed and grain, but will also eat berries, buds, livestock feed, and discarded food waste. They will eat commercial bird seed, especially mixtures that contain millet, milo, and sunflower seed. In rural areas they will eat ragweed, crabgrass, buckwheat, cultivated corn, oats, wheat, and sorghum. Common House Sparrows also eat insects they can catch in flight. They will follow lawnmowers or hunt near lights at dusk to find insects.
Other common sparrow varieties, such as American Tree Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Fox Sparrows all eat seeds and insects. Most also feed insects to their young. Sparrows prefer bees, flies, caterpillars and crickets.
Berries and fruit are the preferred food for the American Tree Sparrow, White-Throated Sparrow, and White-Crowned Sparrow. The Field Sparrow eats grasses, especially the flower heads the bird pulls to the ground with the weight of its body.
Even though all sparrows eat seeds, not all are interested in seed feeders put out by humans. The Common House Sparrow and the Fox Sparrow will eat from feeders while the American Tree Sparrow will rarely be enticed by feeders. The White-Throated Sparrow and the White-Crowned Sparrow will only eat from ground feeders. The Song Sparrow will not eat from a feeder at all. Sparrows tend to prefer millet, milo, and sunflower seeds in feeders.
The sparrow was introduced to New York City from England in 1850. (The House Sparrow is also called the English Sparrow.) By 1887, some places had too many sparrows, usually Common House Sparrows, and they took food away from domestic songbirds. The problem persists in the 21st century. Sparrows have a habit of taking more than their share from feeders. Backyard bird enthusiasts can discourage sparrows by using bird feeders that have no perches, and filling them with safflower seed rather than sunflower seed. Millet, the favorite seed of the sparrow, is found in inexpensive commercial mixtures. If their millet supply disappears, they will try to find it someplace else.