Effective population size (Ne) is a key parameter to understand evolutionary processes and the viability of endangered populations as it determines the rate of genetic drift and inbreeding. Low Ne can lead to inbreeding depression and reduced population adaptability. In this study, we estimated contemporary Ne using genetic estimators (LDNE, ONeSAMP, MLNE and CoNe) as well as a demographic estimator in a natural insular house sparrow metapopulation. We investigated whether population characteristics (population size, sex ratio, immigration rate, variance in population size and population growth rate) explained variation within and among populations in the ratio of effective to census population size (Ne/Nc). In general, Ne/Nc ratios increased with immigration rates. Genetic Ne was much larger than demographic Ne, probably due to a greater effect of immigration on genetic than demographic processes in local populations. Moreover, although estimates of genetic Ne seemed to track Nc quite well, the genetic Ne-estimates were often larger than Nc within populations. Estimates of genetic Ne for the metapopulation were however within the expected range (<Nc). Our results suggest that in fragmented populations, even low levels of gene flow may have important consequences for the interpretation of genetic estimates of Ne. Consequently, further studies are needed to understand how Ne estimated in local populations or the total metapopulation relates to actual rates of genetic drift and inbreeding.