Saving the uncommon sparrow
There is lack of nesting spaces in the modern setup due to changing architectural specifications. Since recesses and niches in design have given way to smooth lines, it has made it difficult for sparrows to seek shelter

Aditi Garg

MY early memories are interspersed with images of our kitchen garden and the incessant chirping of the common sparrow. The sparrows were such a permanent feature of my growing up years that one never gave their being all around a thought. Till they vanished, that is. It was not until they were nowhere to be seen any more that one realised how long it had been since I last saw one. How does such a common bird go from being omnipresent to being endangered? The answer lies in the fact that like every other endangered species, it fell prey to human indifference. I would have been concerned about the tigers and the blue whales as well had they been around me as much while I was growing up. They don’t pique my curiosity like the humble sparrow. 

With the sparrow being conferred the title of Delhi’s State Bird; the prospects for this tiny bird seem to be looking up. “Rise For the Sparrow” is India’s largest step towards conservation of sparrows. From being everywhere to being hardly visible, this bird is fighting a losing battle against lack of public interest towards it. This initiative should help put the importance of conserving this bird in its right perspective. Including common bird monitoring in the school curriculum is also being mulled upon. 

Many reasons have been proposed for the disappearance of the sparrow. The lack of nesting spaces in the modern setup is one. With changing architectural specifications, recesses and niches in design have given way to smooth lines making it difficult for them to find a place to seek shelter. The local flora has given way to exotic varieties which decreases their chances of finding much-loved worms and insects. As if lack of food and shelter is not enough, they are bombarded with newer problems. The web of electromagnetic radiations has them in its grip and has a detrimental effect on them. Alfonso Balmori from Valladolid, Spain has set forth the results of his study regarding the effects of EMR (Electromagnetic radiation) on sparrows. He puts forward many hypotheses for deducing the same. He points out that the population started declining only after the setting up of mobile towers and has not significantly dropped in rural areas. Their undesirable effect on reproduction, circulation and the Central Nervous System of humans are being debated. It is no surprise then that such a petite bird could suffer from ill-effects opf electromagnetic pollution. 

Other than the electromagnetic pollution to which they are exposed, there is a higher incidence of atmospheric pollution which has exponential effects on sparrows. Unleaded petrol was made mandatory for it was considered a more environment-friendly option but Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, a component of unleaded petrol, began working like an insecticide and further deprived the birds of their coveted meals. Kitchen gardens and farms have been replaced by malls and supermarkets, making any chances of finding food extremely difficult. 

Not even an iota of attention being lavished on bigger, endangered birds and animals is being given to these common birds.These little feathered friends have been missed and need as much help as possible in returning from obscurity. Some effort has been mobilised and wooden bird houses are being put up by environmentally conscious people across the country. Though this step seems small, it is helpful in enabling the bird population to take off. With shelter, food and water being provided for, the birds have a chance at being seen on window-sills again. One such saviour of sparrows has been Sadhana Rajkumar from Chennai. She has been distributing sparrow nests to people to encourage them to facilitate the growth in population of these little birds. As the president of Sparrow Saviours, she has taken it upon herself to educate people regarding their dwindling numbers and seek their support. Within days of putting up the wood nests, the birds started flocking in. This example clearly elucidates the power of every singular effort. 

Initiatives like the ‘Citizen Sparrow’ have been raising awareness about the birds by inviting stories and data from people across the country. By making it a people-fuelled exercise, it asks for specific parameters to be defined in a questionnaire to help in accessing the situation at various locations. Run by the Bombay Natural History Society, the project has been completed (you can still give information regarding sparrows by filling out the questionnaires, though) and should go a long way in paving way for research to best help this bird, which is already underway. 

Every effort goes a long way and the best way to go about it is to raise awareness about the issue. Like every living organism, they are a part of the delicate food chain and wiping off of this species from the web could have dire consequences for the balance. After all, who would not like to see this bird around again?