The Bush Army

There are small armies living among us. You probably don’t even realize it. They’re almost everywhere: in our bushes, at our feeders, in our parking lots. And the soldiers are only about 6″ inches tall!

It’s the House Sparrow Army. Yesterday we talked about House Sparrows. Dave and I have House Sparrows moving into our new nest box. House Sparrows live in colonies, and each family member has a specific rank, just like members of an army.

Most small bird flocks have a dominance hierarchy. Many people know this concept as “pecking order”. This idea originally came from studies on chickens. The alpha chicken could peck at the beta chicken, while beta chicken can peck at “lower” birds but not the alpha and so on. In many flocks the male is dominant over the females, while adult birds are dominant over the young birds. If you ever watched House Sparrows at a feeder, you might notice some birds chasing others away to get to the food. This is pecking order in action.

In the case of the House Sparrow there is usual a Dominant Male. How can you tell which sparrow is the Dominant Male? He has the largest black patch of feathers on his chest. He’s the Sergeant Major of the Sparrow Army. Everyone else has a lower rank and knows what orders that have to follow in order to be successful in the flock. If you are a Private or a Corporal in the Sparrow Army you’ll have to watch out for the Dominant Male. The title “Sergeant Major” doesn’t always stay with the same bird though. As birds leave the colony or die ranks can change.

Check out this guy’s black patch (Image via

Having the largest black patch has many perks: larger breeding territories, better and more numerous mates, being first in line for food. Sparrows with larger black patches tend to be older and better fighters. If you are a subordinate sparrow and you see the dominant male you know to save your energy and not start a fight with him.

So the next time you see the House Sparrow Army at their bush “base” or at your feeder check out their colors. You’ll start to notice the ranks of the families living near you.

Speaking of House Sparrows, our tenants have added larger items to their house:

3-8 nest


Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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