World Sparrow Day – A day to chirp for the sparrows

As a kid, I used to love waking up to the sounds of the Asian koel in my backyard garden and watching the little sparrow bathing in a puddle formed by the first monsoon rains. Years later, the urban jungles and the pollution levels in cities have made sighting of this bird a rarity in Chennai.

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While Asian koel remains a regular visitor to my garden, sparrows are nowhere to be seen

It is a disturbing fact that I need to travel to a distant land to get a glimpse of this feathered friend and situations have worsened to a stage that one day in a year has been dedicated just to know and create awareness about this once ubiquitous bird.

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Sparrows are still a common sight in homes in Hyderabad

Reasons for the dwindling numbers of sparrows in cities:

  • Sparrows used to build nest in holes, roofs and crevices on traditional houses, but with the city’s changing skyline, sparrows are struggling to find a safe corner to nest and going through a habitat loss.
  • The soil cover in cities being replaced by concrete means there are no bushes for the sparrows to rest on and no worms in ground to feed on.
  • These birds were once a common sight in grocery stores once, however plastic covers replacing the paper bags meant no spillage of grains and rice for these birds. The decline in sparrow population is attributed to increased use of packaged food in cities.
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Sparrows are still a common sight in shops having spillage of grains. Picture captured in Hyderabad in Jan 2018.
  • Sparrows also feed on insects and worms. However, with non-native plants taking over the city to aid modern landscaping, their food options have minimized.
  • Studies have also blamed the presence of mobile towers for the alarming decline in their numbers.

March 20 is celebrated globally as World Sparrow Day to make people aware of the importance of the once-invincible birds. Here are few things you can do for providing a better environment for our feathered friends:

  • Put water bowls in summer in your backyard or balconies so that birds could stay hydrated. Every summer, free waterbowls are provided by Blue cross of Chennai (from Feb) and interested people could collect a bowl from their office in Velachery.
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Around 10 varieties of birds visit my garden frequently, however sparrows are nowhere to be seen.
  • Discourage the use of heavy organic/chemical pesticides in your garden. This might sound discouraging, however even the application of organic pesticides has an adverse effect on the biodiversity and we may be keeping off some of the beneficial insects by spraying these bio-inputs.
  • People facing lack of gardening space could place grains, millet/oil seeds in a vessel or coconut shell in their balconies or install bird feeders in their home. However chemicals that are used to store grains find a way into their system when fed with packaged foods.
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Sparrow in my sister’s balcony garden in Hyderabad
  • Offering a provision of food and water could help revive the numbers to a greater extent however the poor quality of the foods from our supermarkets aren’t enough to bring back these birds. What’s needed in the longer run is a natural environment for birds to nest and feed. And that’s feasible with urban gardeners planting grains, millets and oil seeds like sunflower into their gardens. In return sparrows would wipe out the unwanted worms and insects from your garden.
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Image courtesy: Bombay Naturalist History Society (BNHS)

A sparrow is to the city what a tiger is to the forest! The chirping of the common house sparrow is something that most of us have grown up listening to. It’s hard to digest that these chirpy little creatures are now seen in fewer places. The nostalgia of a long-lost childhood, fuelled by the inanity of an urban life makes me yearn to renew my relationship with my avian friends. My efforts to turn my backyard garden into a bird friendly habitat continue and I hope that with conscious efforts, these small chirpy birds would make a comeback to our city some day.

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Food and water source is very essential to retain birds in cities especially in summer months

I appeal to my readers to put up waterbowls and some grains for our winged friends to help them cope up with the habitat loss. Many hands make a light work. Together we could make a better world for everyone in this planet.

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