February Atlasing Spotlight: Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows

By Amber Wiewel 11 Feb 2024
House Sparrow Passer domesticus

A little over a month into the year, the very early breeders are still active and breeding season is drawing near for a few other species, but overall it remains a relatively quiet time for Atlasing. Here’s what you can focus on in February.



Great Horned and Barred Owls, Red Crossbill, and Rock Pigeon are still all actively breeding (i.e., in “Breeding Only” weeks on the Breeding Guidelines chart). If you see adults of these species in suitable habitat for nesting, you can assume they are breeding individuals and as such, any appropriate breeding code can be used.

Rock Pigeons, a naturalized species introduced to North America over 400 years ago, are often overlooked, but now is the perfect time to check them off on your block species lists. They are closely linked to human infrastructure in North America, so be sure to check barns, building ledges, parking garages, and bridges and overpasses for birds or nest sites. Commonly used codes for Rock Pigeons include: P (pair), C (courtship display), N (visiting probable nest site), and H (in suitable nesting habitat), but use H cautiously as groups of pigeons may forage a considerable distance from a nesting area.


American Goshawk, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and Barn Owl remain in “Either” weeks on the Breeding Guidelines chart. This means that, across the state, individuals of these species could either be breeding, or could be migrants or otherwise not breeding yet. Therefore, you should only record Probable or Confirmed breeding behaviors for these species at this time, because these behaviors are greater evidence of breeding.



House Sparrow breeding season has begun. House Sparrows were introduced to North America nearly 200 years ago. They’ve evolved to cohabitate with humans and are rarely found away from human settlements. They rely almost exclusively on human-made structures for nesting and are known for displacing native species from nest boxes. Regardless of your opinions on these ubiquitous LBBs (Little Brown Birds), they are a fascinating species and they are found throughout Pennsylvania. Like Rock Pigeons, now is a great time to begin looking for breeding behavior and check them off for your blocks.

Because House Sparrows live where we live and are usually not shy birds, they can be easy to observe during your day-to-day activities. Look for males courting females or chasing other males, copulation, birds carrying nesting material or food, and birds entering nest boxes or any sort of nooks and crannies in houses and other structures. Their nests are messy structures and often contain bits of feathers and string or other trash.


Short-eared Owl, Common Raven, and Carolina Chickadee will begin breeding within the next few weeks or so and atlasing will slowly begin picking up!