Category: Blog


Published: September 24, 2014

Hermon Bumpus and House Sparrows

Peter Lowther, Research Associate


" ... on February 1 of the present year (1898), when, after an uncommonly severe storm of snow, rain, and sleet, a number of English sparrows [= House Sparrows, Passer domesticus] were brought to the Anatomical Laboratory of Brown University [, Providence, Rhode Island]. Seventy-two of these birds revived; sixty-four perished; ... " (p. 209). "... the storm was of long duration, and the birds were picked up, not in one locality, but in several localities; ... " (p. 212). This event was described by Hermon Bumpus (1898) had has served as a classic example of natural selection in action. Bumpus' paper is of special interest since he included the measurements of these 136 birds in his paper. These data have been reanalyzed several times (Grant 1972, O'Donald 1973, Johnston et al. 1972). 

Bumpus, Hermon C. 1898. Eleventh lecture. The elimination of the unfit as illustrated by the introduced sparrow, Passer domesticus. (A fourth contribution to the study of variation.) Biological Lectures: Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, 209-225. 

Grant, P. R. 1972. Centripetal selection and the House Sparrow. Systematic Zoology 21: 23-30. 

Johnston, R. F., D. M. Niles and S. A. Rohwer. 1972. Hermon Bumpus and natural selection in the House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Evolution 26: 20-31. 

O'Donald, P. 1973. A further analysis of Bumpus' data: the intensity of natural selection. Evolution 27: 398-404. 

Buttemer, W. A. 1992. Differential overnight survival by Bumpus' House Sparrow: an alternate interpretation. Condor 94: 944-954. 

The accompanying data files consist of the following variables:

  1. line number from Bumpus' tables 
  2. sex, m = male; f = female 
  3. age, for males only, a = adult [= ASY], y = young [= SY] 
  4. survival, TRUE if survived, FALSE if perished 
  5. Total Length (mm) "from tip of the beak to the tip of the tail" 
  6. Alar Extent (mm) "from tip to tip of the extended wings" 
  7. Weight (g) 
  8. Length of Beak and Head (mm), "from tip of the beak to the occiput" 
  9. Length of Humerus (in) 
  10. Length of Femur (in) 
  11. Length of Tibiotarsus (in) 
  12. Width of Skull (in), "from the postorbital bone of one side to the postorbital bone of the other" 
  13. Length of Keel of Sternum (in) 



Peter Lowther
Research Associate

My research interests have included study of breeding biology of birds at population and community levels and work to understand the ecology and evolution of avian brood parasitism and resultant interactions between host and parasite populations. Active projects include monitoring breeding biology of a suburban nesting colony of House Sparrows (since 1988) and study of brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds.