Sparrow Tail Cut Off Success with Bluebirds in Virginia

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Posts: 3
Joined: Tue May 16, 2017 12:27 pm
Location: Fairfax Virginia


I am in Fairfax Virginia and trying to support Bluebirds. I read all the posts about the tail cutting here and I wanted to report I had success with this method! Thank you to Scully for sharing info on this method and how to do it.

I had a Bluebird (BB) couple nest and raise one clutch of babies, but after the babies left I guess they were too busy tending to their young to defend the box and a male sparrow took up sitting on the box. for a week I went out and removed the sparrow's nest but he would not leave. I made an in-house trap from cardboard and paperclips. trapped the male sparrow, cut off his tail and have a couple of BB building a nest now.

I have attached some pictures of my in-house trap and the sparrow with out his tail. there is also a photo of the nest box and a feeder near the box where I feed the dried meal worms. the BB seem to like the dried meal worms and nothing else seems to eat them, but I do have them in a cage feeder to keep the starlings out. To hold the trap in place I put a longer piece of wire through to the front of the trap by poking two ends of it through to the front just under the opening for the hole. then I bent the wires down the outside front of the box to hold the trap up close to the front of the box.

I put the trap in Monday evening but the sparrow only looked inside but did not enter. so I took it out and put it back Tuesday morning about 6am. It took three hours for the male sparrow to finally enter the house and set the trap. I rushed out and put my laundry mesh bag over the entire house and removed it from the pole. got a hold of the sparrow in the bag and cut off his tail and a little of the under side feathers. Let him go and he flew right off. I went inside and in 5 minutes Mr. no tail was back sitting on the house. I was late for work so I left and when I came back there was a pair of BBs going in the box and sitting around in my yard. Again this morning the pair of BBs were actively building the nest, carrying grass and twigs into the house. I also saw them chase off any male sparrow that landed anywhere near the house too. I did not see Mr. no tail. I just did not have the heart to kill the sparrow. I am glad this method seems to have worked. I have another nest box on the side of the house where I let the sparrows nest in and then I destroy the eggs and remove the nest. I may try to put the trap in that one too and cut any males tails I can catch. If it prevents breeding then I would be happy with that result. Thanks for being here for me to learn from!
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My Bluebird house and feeder in the rear of my yard
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sparrow after tail is cut
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in-house trap
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in-house trap
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Posts: 215
Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2016 10:43 am
Location: Sugarcreek, Ohio
Martin Colony History: 2016 First Yr.

Like your idea of pulling tail feathers, unfortunately those grow back and problem comes back
2016 - 1st Yr. 14 Compartments 4 Active Nests 9 fledged, 2.25 Fledged per Active Nest
2017 - 2nd Yr. 36 Compartments 18 Active Nests 65 Fledged, 3.61 Fledged per Active Nest
2018 - 3rd Yr. 54 Compartments 43 Active Nests 169 Fledged, 3.93 Fledged per Active Nest
2019 - 4th Yr. 108 Compartments 67 Active Nests 209 Fledged, 3.12 Fledged per Active Nest
2020 - 5th Yr. 108 Compartments ?
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue May 16, 2017 12:27 pm
Location: Fairfax Virginia


Pulling out feathers is not recommended because it stimulates regrowth. Cutting them off is recommended as they don't grow back until the next molt. And yes, this does not kill the bird, but if the bird can't breed then I would say it is working is some way. I just can't bring myself to kill one.
Posts: 121
Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:22 am
Location: Silver Spring, Maryland
Martin Colony History: Active colony since 2005.

MacGyver of the BB world. Love the trap!
Becky Corbett. PM landlord since 2005; 12 supergourds.
Matt F.
Posts: 3894
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:48 am
Location: Houston, TX

Hi Holly,
I agree, Mike Scully came up with as good a house sparrow control option as he could, given his circumstances.
Just to further explain for others, the male house sparrows use their tales for not only their courtship displays, but they are also needed for balancing during copulation.
Cut the tail off - the male will most likely not attract a mate. And, even if it does, it will not be able to successfully copulate.
This also does not prevent the house sparrow from being able to fly somewhat normally.
Even though we want to control house sparrows, we also want to make sure to do it in the most humane way possible.
Trimming wing feathers would render the sparrow flightless, which would very likely lead to it slowly dying, due to dehydration and/or starvation.
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue May 16, 2017 12:27 pm
Location: Fairfax Virginia

Thanks Matt,
It is quite a dilemma for the average backyard bird watcher. Last year I let the sparrows breed in a box on the side of the house because I did not know enough about how to stop them. I was happy because the Bluebirds were nesting in the backyard. This year I am trying to do better by crushing any sparrow eggs and now, I will try to trap and trim the tails of sparrows. Keeping the sparrows away from the BB house is a priority.

If the sparrows cant make offspring and multiply I think that is a good thing. maybe having the sterile males around will keep out others from moving in to the territory. There is no one easy answer to the issue.

Next I am going to try and trap the male sparrow using my second house on the side and cut his tail too. I read about putting a mirror in the bottom of the house to get the male to jump in faster. My husband thinks I am crazy, but I will see what I can do.
4th Gen Martin Fan
Posts: 1483
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2013 1:19 pm
Location: TN/Collierville
Martin Colony History: I have been exposed to purple martin sounds in utero when my mother went out to get my father away from his martin colony.
I played around the martin colony every summer and watched as my father maintained his colony. In the late 50's until the 70's he did not notice European Starlings in south Texas.
When old enough, I helped maintain his colony. My primary task was eliminating English House Sparrows with a 1956 Benjamin 317 .177 air rifle.
When I settled into my own home, I started my first colony with an original Trio Castle and Trio Grandpa. When I moved again, I did not put up any martin houses. Frustration with European Starlings in the Southeast US was overwhelming.
Found PMCA Forum and learned about modern enlarged compartments and SREHs.
Inherited my father's last martin house, a Trio Grandma, modified it to modern specifications and have had good results since then.

I like your cardboard and wire trap. Ingenious.
I wish the English House Sparrows and European Starlings were as kind and compassionate as you are.
I hope you never have to see the vicious and deadly nature of these 2 imported species.
Firm believer in HOSP/EUST Control, Enlarged Compartments, SREHs, Pole Predator Guards, Owl/Hawk Guards, Mite/Parasite Control, Housing Insulation, and Vents for Compartment Cooling.
PMCA Member.
Posts: 319
Joined: Mon May 12, 2014 1:02 pm
Location: Western KY
Martin Colony History:

Tried to attract PMs since 2004; began a more ernest attempt in 2014.

2018 — 3 pairs: 1 ASY pair & 1 SY pair in the Trio; 1 SY pair in a supergourd on the gourd multi-rack.

2019 — 6 pairs

2020 — In progress

Current housing consists of two modified Trio M12Ks at 20' and a round gourd rack at 20'.

We've also provided housing for bluebirds, Carolina wrens, house wrens, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, great-crested flycatchers and northern flickers for ~15 years.

Holly wrote:I have another nest box on the side of the house where I let the sparrows nest in and then I destroy the eggs and remove the nest. I may try to put the trap in that one too and cut any males tails I can catch. If it prevents breeding then I would be happy with that result.
Have you every tried putting fishing line on the top of the box and around the entrance hole as a deterrent? If you have any interest in "citizen science" programs, Cornell has one called Sparrow Swap.
Matt F.
Posts: 3894
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2005 9:48 am
Location: Houston, TX

Another thing to add - at the university I work at, we also have a few Bluebird houses, that usually host a couple of pairs.
The old, conventional, house sparrow attracting houses were getting worn out, and we replaced them with the "slot" style houses, like these: ... -set-of-2/

The combination of the large, wide, slot entrance, along with the reduced compartment depth, makes them much less attractive to house sparrows.
The first season we deployed the slots (last year), the Bluebirds acted a bit snooty towards them, and did not nest in them.
Apparently what makes them less attractive to house sparrows, also makes them less attractive to Bluebirds, when compared to the deep, round hole equipped, conventional houses.
However, the Bluebirds will still use them (especially once we removed all the old houses).
This season, we had a pair nest, and successfully fledge babies from one of the new slot houses.
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