A sparrow census will be held today, the World House Sparrow Day

On the eve of the World House Sparrow Day on Tuesday, the phone rang at the office of the Malabar Natural History Society, a non-profit voluntary organisation here. Jafer Palot, the organisation’s secretary, said the voice on the other end was tinny and urgent.

Without wasting time on preliminaries, the school boyish voice had breathlessly stated: “I used to hear sparrows from my window every morning… Now, I do not.”

Mr. Palot says the caller did not introduce himself. But the caller’s concern, on the other hand, needs no introduction. The slow disappearance of the noisy, affable and restless birds, which had once colonised the tree branches and nooks and crannies, is a reality the State is yet to address.

Mr. Palot recorded the phone conversation. It will become part of a common house sparrow census to be conducted by the Malabar Natural History Society (MNHS) on the World House Sparrow Day (March 20) on Wednesday.

Those who spot sparrows can either call in or send an email to the society. Last year’s census recorded a total of 550 sparrow sightings in 52 places across the State.

“The census is only tomorrow, but we have already started getting calls, mostly from schoolchildren and birdwatchers,” Sathyan Meppayur, the society’s vice-president, said.

“We ask our callers, who are mostly ordinary people, to tell us the male and female ratio of the sparrows they spotted and their nesting habits. But most calls are from people who are looking to us for answers about the sparrows’ decline,” Mr. Palot said.

V.S. Vijayan of the Salim Ali Foundation Trust in Thrissur points to the use of pesticides in house compounds, lack of nesting sites due to the increasing number of concrete structures in urban areas and absence of grains as some of the reasons for the decline in the bird’s population.

“It is also quite possible that mobile towers are another reason, particularly in urban areas. Our observations show that birds are vacating from such areas,” he said.

Sainudeen Pattazhy, a zoology professor with S.N. College in Kollam, believes there is no doubt that mobile towers have contributed to the birds’ decline.

Dr. Pattazhy was the nominee from Kerala to the 10-member expert committee set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to study the impact of mobile towers on birds and bees. A report was submitted by the panel eight months ago.

“In the report, it was stated that proliferation of mobile towers has caused the disappearance of house sparrows. The birds are losing their flying capacity due to electromagnetic radiation from the towers,” he said.

Indicator species

He terms sparrows as a ‘biological indicator species,’ their presence indicating the healthiness of the environment.

“Last year, the Delhi government has made the house sparrow its State bird. The Indian Postal Department has issued a commemorative stamp on the sparrow. So far, Kerala has not done anything to protect the species,” Dr. Pattazhy said.

An old-timer at Valiyangadi here, relates how years ago sparrows used to flock and give labourers’ competition every time a truck came in with a load of rice.

“We don’t see any nowadays,” he said.