The Life Cycle of the Sparrow

Pet Health


February 7, 2022

One of the most common types of bird that people see is the sparrow. This makes sense, as there are sparrows for just about every environment out there. There are sparrows that are known for making their way into houses, there are sparrows found exclusively in the savannah, and there are sparrows that are found only in the winter.

No matter what kind of sparrows frequent your feeders, you may be interested in learning about the life span of the sparrow, and how long you might be able to see these fine feathered friends frequenting your feeders.

Does the Life Span of the Sparrow Vary Between Species?

With as many as 35 sparrow species that are found in North America alone and some of those species having up to 40 subspecies from that, it can go without saying that there is going to be some variation in the life span of some sparrow species. Not to mention that, on top of this, there are two classifications of sparrow to start with: Old World sparrows and New World sparrows.

The sparrow life span can vary by as much as 18 years depending on the species of the sparrow. For instance, some of the most common sparrows such as the house sparrow and the song sparrow have life spans between two and five years. On the other hand, there are sparrows that have been known to regularly reach between 15 and 20 years, such as the Italian sparrow and the white-crowned sparrow.

While species is not the only factor that plays a role in answering the question how long do sparrows live for, it does set enough of a precedent that it should be considered when trying to determine how long sparrows will stay in any nests they have on your property. As such, you may be inclined to research which sparrows frequent your area so that you can get a good sense of what you are in for.

How Do Sparrows Live in Their Nests?

There is so much variation between different species, and sometimes even subspecies, of sparrows, so it can be hard to determine the exact amount of time that all sparrows spend in the nest before they are ready to live independently.

Because of this, the information said here will refer to some of the most prevalent species of sparrow, such as the house sparrow, as this will most likely be the type of sparrow you are encountering.

The time it takes for a house sparrow to mature from a freshly born baby to a bird that is ready to start a bird family of its own is relatively short compared to other birds. After about 12 days of incubation, the three eggs that the mother sparrow has been sitting on will hatch. From here, the sparrows are considered fledges after a little over two weeks. A fledge is a bird that is ready to begin learning how to fly, though the mother still usually provides food for the young.

When sparrows are first born, the mother bird will usually add extra insects to the diet. This is done for the same reasons that kitten and puppy food is generally higher in protein. When they are learning how to fly and feed themselves, they share the same diet as their parents: a varied, opportunistic, and omnivorous diet.

How Do Sparrows Mature From Babies?

After mating has occurred and the eggs have finished gestating, most sparrows will lay between two and six eggs, though sometimes this can meet the extreme on either end, resulting in one egg or rarely eight. Once the eggs have been laid, the male and female sparrows will take turns incubating the egg for between 10 and 14 days. The baby birds will hatch completely naked.

For the first two weeks of the baby bird’s life, it will be completely dependent on its parents for all nourishment, protection, and development.

During these two weeks, the birds will quickly mature from the closed-eye and bald babies they were into fledglings. When the birds reach the stage of being fledgling, they will begin learning how to fly on their own, search for food, and become independent.

Fledglings will still be cared for by their parents for about three weeks, though this can vary heavily depending on species and overall conditions. During these three weeks, the bird will continue to grow, though not nearly as exponentially, reaching its full, mature height and becoming closer to independence. By five weeks of age, the sparrow is ready to be on its own.

How Long Does It Take for a Sparrow to Become Independent?

As mentioned above, the amount of time that it takes for a bird to fully develop will depend heavily on its species. Some sparrows will develop more quickly, while others will need to take more time with the parent birds. With that being said, most birds reach their maturity and independence around the age of five weeks, even the birds that have longer lifespans.

Keep in mind that fledglings and independent birds are different stages of life. Fledges are birds that have just gained enough control over their wings to begin learning how to fly, much in the same way that children who learn how to ride bikes need to have developed a sense of coordination and balance.

This does not make fledges adults, but rather, could be considered the first major stage of life as the bird learns how to fly, socialize, feed, and protect itself while still under the care of its parent birds.

How Long Do Most Sparrows Live for?

While there are always going to be outliers, such as sparrows that have been known to live well into their first decade of life, the average life span of the sparrow is significantly shorter.

Most sparrows will live between two and five years, with exceptions to this being rare and somewhat uncommon. Chances are that most of the sparrows in your area will fall under this umbrella.

Consider, for instance, the most common sparrows of North America. These include the house sparrow, the song sparrow, the black-throated sparrow, the grasshopper sparrow, and the white-throated sparrow. Out of all these sparrows, the only major outlier is the white-throated sparrow that has an average life span of nine years. The rest of the sparrows mentioned live between two and seven years.

There are many reasons why sparrow life spans are as short as they are. Sparrows face a number of threats to their well-being including natural predation, contaminated environments, habitat loss, and climate change driving them out of their natural homes and into unfamiliar lands.

What Are the Oldest Recorded Sparrow Life Spans?

The numbers that were mentioned above were all regarding wild sparrows that will see little to no human assistance in their lives. This makes sense, as most people do not bring in wild sparrows to keep in captivity.

For the people who either rescue sparrows or are looking to keep them as pet birds, it is important to note that keeping a sparrow in captivity can drastically increase its life span.

The expected ages of sparrows that are raised in captivity and have no prior medical issues range from 13 to 20 years of life. This is comparable to your average dog or housecat, all packed into one loveable bird. It is for this reason why some people take an interest in caring for their own sparrows.

As for the oldest recorded sparrow life spans, there are a few to look at due to how many species of sparrow there are.

The oldest recorded house sparrow that lived free was known to be 19 years and 9 months the last time she was seen. The oldest saltmarsh sparrow was known to be nine years of age. The oldest Bachman’s sparrow was nearly four years of age. The oldest captive sparrow reached an age of 23 years.

The Takeaway

Sparrows are fascinating creatures that are one of the most common sights of any backyard. These tiny little birds are either loved or hated, but no matter what your stance on them is, a lot of benefit can come from understanding what makes the sparrow what it is.

These small birds often only live for a handful of years, although there are some species that are known to live longer and people who keep sparrows in captivity have seen ages reaching past 20, which is quite the feat when you consider that the expected life span of some of these sparrows is only two years.