Initiative to save the birds pays off at vegetable market

The first thing a customer will notice at a mega vegetable market here is the constant flutter of sparrows that have found a new and safe home here.

Quite surprisingly, this tiny species, which faces a threat elsewhere because of a host of factors, is thriving here. Sparrows nest on wooden, bamboo and paper boxes and clay pots fixed on the walls and roofs of the shops and feed on seeds of coriander plants, worms and caterpillars emerging out of decayed vegetables and fruits.

It is estimated that about 400 pairs of sparrows have occupied the complex, in which the market run by Agriculture Products Producers and Traders’ Association (APPTA) is located.

Since 2007, when the initiative to help the sparrow population began, organisations like Rotary Club have supplied several boxes, but many more are needed.

“Human movement through the day keeps predators like the vulture and troublesome birds such as crow, myna and koel at bay. The traders also do not allow other birds to enter the vicinity,” said S.S. Davidson, a schoolteacher-turned-environment educator, who is instrumental in encouraging the traders to put up nests.

Conversion of tiled-roof houses into concrete buildings, conversion of backyard wells — a traditional nesting site — into septic tanks, lack of feeding ground, proliferation of motor vehicles and noise pollution are some of the factors that have greatly reduced the sparrow population in Kanyakumari district.

“Even though the sparrow population has survived these ravages, I can see that their breeding rate is not as high as in the past. Pesticides and insecticides also have a deadly impact on the species,” said Mr Davidson.

A regular watcher of sparrows will clearly notice that the sparrows living in the APPTA complex are slightly bigger in size than their cousins elsewhere.

The constant supply of fodder in the form of worms and insects that accompany the loads of vegetables, fruits, banana leaves and green vegetables is cited as a reason for the presence of healthy sparrows.

“I am used to having sparrows in my shop even when I managed a shop in Vadasery market. When I shifted here, I put up a box and almost immediately a few birds moved in,” said B.T. Boopathy, an areca nut merchant. He regularly feeds the birds with millets.

So protective of these birds are these traders that many of them even avoid rolling down the shutters of their shop lest they disturb any nest. In this part of the State, the sparrow itself is referred to as adaikkalam kuruvi (sparrow of refuge) as it is believed that the bird seeks refuge in human habitations.

Also, an age-old belief that the sparrow is a symbol of prosperity has also encouraged the traders to grant asylum to these birds.

However, not every bird enjoys such affection. Vegetable trader S.S. Mani said unlike traders elsewhere, the shop owners here do not encourage crows by feeding them.

“Once you feed a crow, it will become a regular visitor…more often than not, an unwelcome guest,” he said.

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