They come for Rs. 120 a pair and have many buyers due to the popular belief that releasing them would ward off evil

There was a time when house sparrows turned up in large numbers in houses, much to the excitement of children. They would toss grains, play with them and sit looking at the winged visitors for a good part of the afternoon.

Rapid urbanisation has made these birds disappear. But one still gets to spot them at the Mahboob Chowk bird market near Charminar, along with more than 50 other species sold here. Sparrows command a price of Rs. 120 a pair and have many takers due to the popular belief that releasing them would ward off evil.

Prices up

A shopkeeper at this decades-old bird market says: “We sell about ten pairs of sparrows every day. The prices have increased as these are brought from far-off places.”

Apart from sparrows one can also find parrots, owls, mynas, eagles, pigeons, hawks, exotic birds, ducks, geese and partridges here. A few traders are said to sell ‘jungle parrot’ and peacocks too.

Interestingly, trading in certain species of birds is illegal but the market here is thriving for decades. Every year, a few new shops add to the numbers, which has swelled to around 50 now.

A pair of parrots costs anywhere between Rs. 500 and Rs. 6,000, a pair of ducks Rs. 700, whereas a myna may cost Rs. 2,000, and exotic birds between Rs. 200 and Rs. 3,000. Hawks and owls used for certain rituals are sold between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 20,000 each.

‘Hidden goods’

“Traditional beliefs play a significant role in promoting the trade in birds. People releasing captive birds believe they can purify the soul and relieve themselves from personal sins,” says M. Shaffatulla, honorary secretary of the Birdwatchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh.

However, not everyone purchases these birds to release them. Many keep them as pets in their houses. It is said that some traders also colour them to make them look exotic and sell them to visitors, hardly caring for the law.

Most of the traders do not keep prohibited bird species for display but keep them hidden in their shops. It is said that a few bird catchers are regulars to the market from city outskirts and other States and they provide their catch to the traders. Efforts of the authorities to put an end to the trade have failed to yield results as instances of the traders getting tipped before the raids are many, it is said.

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