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The sorry tale of the House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus)

‘The fall of a Sparrow’, was a title that legend Salim Ali rightfully gave to one of his well acclaimed works on the birds and unsurprisingly his prophecy turned out to be a phenomenon all over. The sparrow lost its count worldwide, 62% fall in numbers in just 25 years. Contrary to the popular belief, it is not just the urbanization that is the root cause of alarming fall in the numbers of the sparrow, once most common bird in urban areas. The innovative modern architecture and speedy construction techniques, wherein the excessive use of materials such as glass and aluminum panes is also a major reason for its disappearing act.The traditional carved wood and concrete ‘jali’, which for a long time have been ideal nesting sites for the sparrow, gave way to such innovative construction materials which deprived the sparrow of an adequate nesting site.

Evidently we find trees and native plants in the urban areas often cleared out for new constructions and often the lack the greenery is supplemented by exotic and decorative pot varieties of both indoor as well as outdoor plants. This leads to a drastic decline of natural food sources for the sparrow, let alone a safe hideout and nesting site owing to the lower altitude and small girth of the potted plants. To raise the sparrow numbers we need to stop this un-checked destruction of the habitat and loss of food base of the sparrow. Inevitably we need to plant native trees, shrubs and wines such as bougainvilleas, henna, ber, mulberry and plants of citrus family to name a few. Such trees, wines and shrubs don’t just house worms and pests which are necessary for the early development of newborns of the sparrow but provide the sparrows with much needed protection from the natural predators to which the sparrow is a prey.

Then there is the overwhelming invasion of the microwave radiation, primarily boosted by cell phone towers, F.M. Radio and wireless internet to name a few which disturbs both the growth and serenity of the fragile bird. To add to it, excessive use of pesticides both by the urban dwellers to ward off their ‘yuck’ tastes and by rural dwellers to protect their corps has resulted in wiping out the entire insect breeds. Such tiny worms and caterpillars, which form the basic diet of the hatchlings of the sparrows has gone scarce, which to the sparrows liking is not too bright a prospect for its further co-existence with humans. This lack of basic diet for the hatchlings has forced the sparrow to vacate both urban and rural areas and migrate to areas where the surroundings are pesticide free and much needed natural diet for the newborns is abundant. Organic farming practices have to be encouraged in farmlands and strict regulations with severe penalties have to be enforced on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

We as humans have can reverse this trend by inculcating habits of providing grains and water for sparrows and other birds all around the year within the vicinity of our dwellings. It is a habit that is tiresome to behold but we can keep earthen bowls on shady cantilevers of doors and windows of our houses or in the balconies of our apartments and regularly fill them with water and grains. We can hang earthen bowls on the trees near our houses or buildings and spread the grains in a safe shady place on the ground or in places where no natural predators. We should make bird houses from old shoe boxes or gift boxes for sparrows and see to it that they have an access to green plants where they can pick tiny worms or insects to feed their young ones. Our sustainable efforts can and will bring back the melodious chirp of the sparrow in the vicinity of our urban dwelling.

(Thanks to Mr. Sandeep Jain for adding a few points to this write up)

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