Until recently, the house sparrow was known to be one of the common birds of our country. However, one hardly comes across this chirpy bird of late. The bird listed under the ‘least concern’ category till 2011 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is now on the brink of extinction. A survey by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has reported that Andhra Pradesh has lost 80 per cent of its sparrow population. The alarming fact though is that a major part of the loss has occurred over the last decade. This is of concern as sparrows are ‘Bio-indicators’ and their presence reflects the health of the environment. “Hyderabad is no longer home to many sparrows. As of now, they are commonly found in most villages,” says Dr R Hampaiah, chairman of AP Bio Diversity Board.
The house sparrow is known for its ubiquitous presence and can survive in varied and even extreme conditions. Yet simple and seemingly unharmful lifestyle changes of humans are responsible for the turn in numbers of this species. Though the primary reason behind their disappearance is not completely known, modern architecture has had a direct impact on the food resources and nesting sites of the birds. Also, their numbers have been dwindling particularly in areas with cell-phone towers as the electro-magnetic radiation generated by them is known to affect the flight of sparrows. Rampant use of pesticides, chemicals such as DDT, Dieldrin, Aldrin, etc, and noise pollution only compound the problem. “Another major phenomenon in the city which has affected the bird populations is the growing population of pigeons,” adds Dr Hampaiah.
To address this issue, Mohammed Dilawar and other bird enthusiasts at the Nature Forever Society (NFS) have been working for the cause of sparrow conservation for the past eight years. Their ‘House The Sparrow’ campaign is aimed at involving the common man in the conservation movement. “We cannot do much in the field of tiger or lion conservation but every person can actively participate in this campaign even with limited resources,” explains Dilawar, the founder of NFS. The campaign allows you to buy scientifically designed nest boxes or bird-feeders on a no-profit-no-loss basis which can be hung in balconies or placed on terraces.
Though this might not be a permanent solution to this problem, it can definitely make sparrows flock to your home or apartment depending on their population in the area. The feeders can be filled with grains like rice, wheat, bajra among others. Dilawar also emphasizes the need for patience as this might take some time. Once the sparrows check in, you need to make sure that you are regular with the feeding routine as the birds will depend on you from then on. Providing water is another criteria for the visitors to frequent your home, especially in the summers. “We also encourage people to provide water as the summers can be harsh on the sparrows,” adds Dilawar.
The nest boxes can also be made at home using wood or cardboard. The specific design and size for the sparrows needs to be followed for this purpose as the nest boxes also perform the function of protecting them from larger birds in addition to providing shelter. “The AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB) has also been distributing cartons that can house the birds,” says Dr WG Prasanna Kumar, chairman of National Green Corps as a part of their awareness campaign launched on the occasion of World Sparrow Day on March 20 this year. Also, containers can be filled with grains or water can replace the scientific bird-feeders. Clean water and grains need to be placed in a quiet, safe corner to attract these birds. Also make sure that the containers are not washed with soap or detergent to ensure that they don’t poison the birds.
Another important feature for bird conservation is to increase the green cover in the form of parks and lawns. Flowering plants, hedges and plants with edible berries are known to attract sparrows. Also, care must be taken to strictly avoid the use of pesticides and chemicals to protect the birds. “Manicured and pedicured lawns and gardens,” as Dilawar puts it, must also be given up. If you wish to go a little further with the attempt, you can also arrange for bird baths along with a container filled with dust. Sparrows are known for their love of dust baths.
Get started now and do a good-turn this summer for your ‘dad’s childhood friend, now homeless’ - as the posters for CoP-11 proclaim.
NFS provides scientifically designed nest boxes for various birds that range from `95 to `3,105. Bird feeders are available at `95.
How you can help
* Place bird-feeders with grains like rice, wheat or bajra
* Place containers with clean water in isolated corners
* Nest boxes can be hung to provide shelter
* Grow flowering plants and hedges
* Avoid chemicals and pesticides