In the Wild
Most sparrows prefer to feed on the ground or close to it. You will see the more domesticated kinds in your yard grazing on dandelion and crabgrass seeds (surely a blessing for yardeners) or investigating brush or compost piles. However, the main fare for chipping sparrows is crabgrass, bristlegrass, panicgrass, oats, timothy hayseed, chickweed, pigweed, ragweed, spurge, goosefoot, orchardgrass, smartweed, purslane, and broomsedge. In the mountain, desert and Pacific regions they dine on filaree, pigweed, bristlegrass, panicgrass, oats, chickweed, needlegrass, bluegrass, redmaids and minerslettuce.
Song sparrows feed on amaranth, smartweed, bristlegrass, ragweed, panicgrass, crabgrass, oats, pigweed, dock, goosefoot, timothy hay seed, sedge, corn, vetch, wild rice, vervain, bulrush, nimblewill and muhlygrass. In the Pacific region, they eat pigweed, knotweed, nightshade, minerslettuce, oats, star-thistle, chickweed, broomgrass, goosefoot, filaree, tarweed, panicgrass, blackberry, dock, elderberry, spurry and wheat.
At the Feeder
Only certain sparrows routinely visit feeders: the American tree sparrow, song sparrow, house sparrow, fox sparrow, white-crowned sparrow and white-throated sparrow. They will feed from hanging or raised feeders in addition to foraging on the ground below them. Chipping sparrows, will not readily come anywhere near a feeder, but they are a normal part of the bird life in the yard because there are natural food sources there and they do not have problems co-existing with people.
To attract those sparrows who are willing to join the crowd under and on the feeder offer a wild bird seed mix which includes millet, fine-cracked corn, niger (thistle) seed, canary seeds, safflower seed, proso millet, nutmeats, peanut kernels or hulled oil sunflower seed. Also put out a suet cake, donut crumbs, bread or corn bread from time to time. Provide a reliable source of fresh water for sparrows year round. Water is especially important for seedeaters because there is no moisture in seeds. Various types of birdbaths will provide water for sparrows and other visiting birds for bathing and drinking.