CHENNAI: Around this time last year, D Ganesan, the founder of Koodugal Trust, had had big plans — the distribution of thousand bird boxes, the design for which he’d just about perfected through much trial and error, to eager sparrow warriors in one part of the city. Unbeknownst to him, a pandemic was on the rise. Despite the setback brought on by the lockdown and the deadly spread of the virus, he and his conservation brigade persisted, setting up wooden nests and welcoming birds to their homes and schools. Now, one year later, he’s working on yet another big target — Koodugal 10K and sparrow sanctuaries.
A promising project
“Since the lockdown period, we’ve developed four sparrow sanctuaries — in four schools in north Chennai. It’s picked up very well in two schools in particular. The number of birds here have increased. In many nests, the birds have laid eggs and hatched younglings. Sparrows usually are in crowds but it’s difficult to see them like that (in those numbers) now. In these schools, we’ve developed an environment where these birds can be seen in groups again,” he shares.
Reboot Padmanaba Chetty School in Tiruvottriyur — one of the sites of the flourishing sparrow sanctuaries — has had a history of being bird-friendly. It began with the school correspondent’s effort to feed the pigeons that show up there. Over the years, the school has come to host over 500 of these birds, giving them food and space to roost. The school’s terrace had been lined with plants that they can feed on too, explains principal Banumathy. So, it was only natural for them to coordinate with Koodugal to make space for sparrows too. The results are evident, she says; the number of sparrows there has increased manifold. And the children, as long as they were coming to school before the pandemic, had taken great interest in contributing to the project. Some even taking the effort home, she reports.
That’s one of the positive effects this project has had on students during the lockdown period, says Ganesan. “We heard in the news that kids, not going to school and stuck at home were disturbed. But, there was a change in the children who took home nests from us last March. During the lockdown, these kids were able to engage in this activity. Even parents were able to take part in it. So much so that there is now a considerable population of sparrows in north Madras,” says Ganesan, happy with the projects promising side effects.
Taking steps for safety
There are a few essentials for a place to become sparrow-friendly, says Ganesan. “Soil/sand is one of the things that sparrows like. They tend to sit in the sand and beat their feathers on it. So, we need sand. But, in Madras, it’s rare to see sand in open areas; except for in school grounds (that too has become sparse). Besides, they like to sit on pieces of rope or clothesline or cable wire and swing,” he reveals. If you were interested in bringing these birds home, you might want to look into these amenities. Ganesan, going one step further, suggests that people can collaborate with builders and ensure that these elements are taken care of during the construction itself. After all, who doesn’t like songbirds where they live?
With the success he’s seen in the city, Ganesan wants to take the project forward to the rest of the state. Hence, the grand Koodugal 10K. With 70 per cent of the work done and dusted, he hopes to be able to take it to schoolchildren during the next academic year — possibly by August. Before that, on the occasion of World Sparrow Day on March 20, he’s giving away a thousand nests to teachers and students of three different schools in North Chennai (one in Villivakkam and two in Tiruvottriyur).
With the pandemic clearly not behind us yet, Ganesan’s big plans are having to be done at a measured pace. But, given how much the children — from more than 10 schools that have collaborated with him — have taken to the cause, he had to find ways to mark the occasion of Sparrow Day and honour their effort, it seems. “With the coronavirus still around, the 10K event has been pushed to the start of the new academic year. Around 30 per cent of work remains to be completed, thanks to the shortage of funds. But, for Sparrow Day, we are giving away a thousand nests that are ready. For 17 students (from different schools) who performed well last year, we’re honouring them with a Sparrow Saver Award 2020. These students have taken the effort to maintain the nests, monitor them continuously and ensure there are new hatchlings,” he details.
Besides this, there’s going to be a photo exhibition too. While the students started by enthusiastically documenting the birds in their schools and houses and sending it over to Ganesan, they soon started taking great interest in photography itself, getting better and better with each go. The best among these — 100 of them — will be displayed. All in the effort to make this city a better place for sparrows. And there’s plenty more to come.
Taking care of your tiny friends
“Soil/sand is one of the things that sparrows like. They tend to sit in the sand and beat their feathers on it,” says Ganesan. If you were interested in bringing these birds home, you might want to look into these amenities. He suggests that people can collaborate with builders and ensure that these elements are taken care of during the construction itself.