About a decade ago, if you asked anyone what a sparrow looked like and if they’ve seen one in person, the answer would have been an affirmative. But barely anyone can sight a sparrow today, and perhaps wouldn’t recognise one even of they did.
A look at the numbers from 2005 till now show a very obvious decline in the household bird’s population. What was 21.8 per cent in 2005 dropped to a abysmal 5.03 per cent, and is even now steadily decreasing.
“The rise in pigeons is one factor that has contributed to the decline but also the absence of self seeding trees in the city is another factor. We plant exotic trees in the name of greenery which don’t do much good. We should plant more trees like Neem, Jamun, Tamarind and Mango which gives fruits and provides shelter as well to the birds. Sadly there are very few in number in the city,” laments Dr Hampaiah, chairman, Andhra Pradesh Bio Diversity Board.
To raise an awareness about the decline and the danger of the receding numbers, the Nature Forever Society (NFS) was in fact responsible for the start of World Sparrow Day in 2010. Organising a host of events, the NGO has been instrumental in bringing the issue to the fore.
“Every aspect of the environment is important. Our main goal was to raise awareness about the dwindling numbers of not only sparrow, but also other bird species, flora and fauna and involve the public in the conservation movement,” says Mohammad Dilawar, founder-president of NFS.
Since its inception in 2008, NFS has spearheaded various initiatives like the Common Bird Monitoring of India (CBMI), World Sparrow Day, Project SOS, NFS Sparrow Awards and Adopt a Feeder and Nest program, among others. With these initiatives, the society has been able to gain some information about the number of common bird species which are slowly on the decline.
In their CBMI program, the society asks people to spend 15 minutes in the open to bird watch and enter the data in the CBMI website. Some of the common bird species sighted are the Copper Smith Barbet, Greater Coucal, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Green Bee Eater, Red Vented Bulbul, White Browned Wagtail and common Myna.
“Due to these efforts, sparrow conservation has gained respect not only in the general public but also in research fields. People are now coming forward to initiate studies and surveys in the area,” adds Dilawar who points out that NFS was never meant to be an NGO, but the need of the hour turned into one. “Back then there was no organisation which was specifically dealing with involving citizens in these issues. They only worked for a specific cause.”
But while a day is set aside to at least draw attention to the sorry state of the sparrow, what of the other bird species that are also under duress?
“It is not only sparrows but also other birds which are no longer seen anymore in the city. When was the last time you saw a vulture?” questions Dr Hampaiah.
The surge in pigeon numbers has imbalanced the avian community at large. In terms of food, pigeons have easy access from the kabutarkhanas (dovecotes); the seeds are easily converted into vegetable milk which is high in protein content by simple regurgitation. On the other hand, the young ones of sparrows require a particular insect for their protein in the first 16 days due to their high metabolic rate and need to grow fast.
With the green cover in the city vanishing alarmingly, there has been a marked decline of insects as well, leading to high mortality rates for the house sparrow. Also, change in architecture has made our buildings an unsuitable alternative to the tree for nesting.