Map population, nesting patterns to commemorate World House Sparrow Day on March 20

With World House Sparrow Day nearing (March 20), an extraordinary task looms ahead of a team of student conservationists.

They are two localities away from charting ‘the sparrow map of north Chennai’.

“Sparrow walks and follow-up action in Perambur and Purasawalkam will complete the project, undertaken around six months ago,” said Rathnavel Pandian.

He is the secretary of Concern Awareness and Responsibility for the Environment (CARE), the eco club of Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering that has conducted the study under the guidance of the Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating (EMAI). “Once the mapping is complete, we will try to integrate the findings into Google maps of north Chennai,” said Mr. Pandian.

This is intended to encourage residents to woo sparrows back to their neighbourhoods, he said.

Modus operandi

The volunteers went door to door in the mornings in areas such as Thiruvottiyur, Royapuram, Parry’s Corner, Sowcarpet, Washermenpet and Tondiarpet to identify houses where sparrows had built nests.

Photographs of the nests were taken for an understanding of nesting preferences. “Sunshades, electricity meter boxes and eaves-cornices topped the choices,” said T. Murugavel of EMAI.

With these inputs, the team revisited the localities with artificial nests made from different materials, including wood, cardboard and sunboard.

“These nests were suitably placed in houses adjacent to the ones where the birds had already nested,” said Mr. Murugavel. Residents were asked to contact the volunteers when sparrows took shelter in the artificial nests.

Soon, five of the seven wooden nests were occupied by sparrows. The cardboard-box nests had a poor showing — only one of the six installed drew the birds. A nest made of plastic and three others made from other materials drew blanks.

“Success rate with wooden boxes is 71.42 per cent, but its cost, around Rs. 300 for each, is forbidding. In contrast, it takes just Rs. 10 to make a cardboard nest,” said Mr. Pandian.

In the evenings, volunteers visited localities with considerable sparrow population to study roosting habits. “We watched 15 to 20 sparrows roosting in the bushes, at a time. These bushes will be identified with a botanist’s help,” said Mr. Pandian.

Where bushes were scarce, trees such as Mahilam were preferred, the volunteers found. They also carried out a locality-wise count of sparrows.

“The project has confirmed much of what is already known about sparrows — their preference for old-fashioned houses and areas with easy availability of food. There are also new insights, such as artificial nesting and roosting preferences. The findings will prove invaluable in further studies and efforts to coax these birds back into our houses,” said Mr. Murugavel.

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