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Updated: April 12, 2012 21:20 IST

Count the sparrows

Akila Kannadasan
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Sparrows seem to have suddenly disappeared from our lives. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
The Hindu
Sparrows seem to have suddenly disappeared from our lives. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Bombay Natural History Society has launched ‘Citizen Sparrow', an online survey to study the decline in the population of house sparrows

“They are feeling my house to make a nest…”

“They are like family; they lived with us in our house…in the walls and old roofs…”

“They would build nests in our fans…and in every nook and cranny of the house. They would hop around eating crumbs and drinking water, even bathing in the dog's bowls…”

“They enjoy Basmati rice much more than the cheaper variety!”

It's stories such as these that make ‘Citizen Sparrow' so interesting. Launched by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), ‘Citizen Sparrow' is an online survey aimed at “documenting the presence or absence of sparrows” in India. Sparrows seem to have suddenly disappeared from our lives. Where have they gone? Conservation experts from across the country have come together to find out.

According to Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS, questions in Parliament about the fall in the population of sparrows triggered the survey. “The Ministry of Environment and Forests wrote to me asking me to prepare a report. I made one and the government replied that they would like BNHS to study sparrows. Initially, the question of mobile towers affecting sparrows came up and we did a literature survey to find out more. But we found that there were contradictory reports. There was no concrete evidence that mobile towers caused the decline. That led us to this project.” The subject being vast and since sparrows were found all over the country, the scientists decided to involve people in the project. “At the end of two months, we will analyse the results,” explains Rahmani.

So why are there fewer sparrows now when compared to the past? “There are multiple reasons for the decline. The major cause being pesticides,” says Rahmani. “They have killed a lot of soft-bodied insects. Young house sparrows feed on such insects — they are almost gone now. I can hardly see earthworms in the soil these days. It's because of all the chemicals we have brought in.”

In cities, sparrows lack nesting sites, he says. “The young ones are not healthy since the food they eat is harmful. They just die.” Rahmani wants to involve people in conservation. He says they will feel good about doing something for the environment. “We need a lot of data from the people for this project,” he says.

At the time of writing this article, ‘Citizen Sparrow' had about 4500 contributions. But, says Rahmani, this won't do. “We need more. In conservation, there is never enough.”

The Citizen Sparrow initiative was launched on April 1. It will close on May 31.

How does it work?

Spend a few minutes on the ‘Citizen Sparrow' website in order to do your bit for the bird. After registering at participants are asked to fill out a form with details on the frequency and number of sparrows observed in their locality during a certain time period. There is space to share interesting observations, anecdotes, and stories with fellow participants. (You can click on the ‘stories' tab in the website to read these.) One can also report on sparrow activity for various localities by filling out separate forms.

Some organisations in Tamil Nadu involved in ‘Citizen Sparrow'

Madras Crocodile Bank Trust

Madras Naturalists' Society

Nature Conservation Foundation

OSAI Environmental Organisation

Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History

I used to visit a Temple frquently near Padappai Village were I could
see number of cute little sparrows collecting its food from Rice
Grains which have been shattered from the hay stock. Since the temple
owns milking cows they have enough hay in their back yard.But now a
days the visits of the sparrows have come down I have suggested to
them that they can collect the rice grains and put it in a pot and
tie it in the ceiling so that these sparrows come and stay and hatch
eggs.It is really unfortunate that the present generation are missing
the wonderful small tiny bird. In the name of advances of sciences we
are missing some of the wonderful natural gifts

Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 11:36 IST

I have this interesting episode to share: On our window sill we have been keeping two small dishes, one with broken rice grains (raw) and the other with water, for sparrows. And the birds have been happily having their fill throughout the day while also providing us with free entertaintment by their antics.Now here is the interesting episode: one night around 10.30 a female sparrow flew in and to our utter shock started pecking the rice grains. After a couple of pecks it seemed to have realized it was at the right place but at the wrong time. It stopped, and then flew right into the room and started flying in circles, appearing thoroughly disoriented. Then thankfully it found its way out. We waited in horrow hoping it would not injure itself. We wonder whether this was an equivalent of human sleep walk! It has never happened again.

from:  suryaprabha s
Posted on: Apr 22, 2012 at 18:23 IST

The sparrows are gone ....due to loss of habitat...natural small, medium being replaced by fast growing subabul etc trees being planted by municipalities....also heavy construction destoying land mass...filled with cement and household waste....

its high time that we realize greenery in cities is artificial....
lets get back to old world....babol tree, neem, mango, jamumntree

from:  srinivas
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 21:32 IST

I have noticed that the eggs were hatched by the sparrow in the nest which was existing in the roof of the 150 year old masjid in moosapet,
afer 12-15 days when the fledglings came out of the eggs the noise made by them was sweet to hear and this incident has happen not ones but five years during my stay at Moosapet, a village in mahabubnagar Distict.

the other strange thing is that this happen in the holy month of ramzan.
the early prayers with the twilight in the back ground,sweet noise of the fledglings was an awesome experiwnce of mine with the sparrows and its young ones for about five years ......

Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 16:34 IST

During my routine walk at the outskirts of Chennai, I see sparrows. Even yesterday, I saw a sparrow near Anakaputhur bus stand. Few years back, where the number of sparrows seen have declined considerably. It is a great way to map the location of sparrow. In fact, it would be nice to bring this database into a geographic map in GIS environment. This helps in many ways to understand the reason for sparrow population in certain areas. I would be interested to help through GIS.

from:  OM Murali
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012 at 12:57 IST

I am all for the sparrows however do want to highlight the fact that we have a bizarre
approach to conservation. Temples where rats are allowed to run free because they
are considered sacred - the monkey menace in Shimla that has made the city
unliveable - packs of wild dogs running around Shrinagar-

from:  Ananda
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 19:57 IST

Fifteen days back, to my joy, I could see a good number of the lovely house sparrows at Trymbakeshwar temple, Maharashtra and at Mantralayam Road Railway Station.

from:  A.Somasundaram.
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 16:02 IST

i think many of the people involved in the conservation activity dont know that there are sparrow poachers in the city it self. If the police identifies and catches them the sparrows numbers will increase considerably.the sparrow flesh is used as a potency enhancer, so to increase the sexual pleasure they are killed in large number so if you want to do some thing really worth on this project look at this aspect. after sparrow the animal in line is cat. it is also killed regularly by the poachers for its meat its a cheap source of meat. god save the animals from man.

from:  Jayeshdev
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 09:50 IST

At this rate no flora & fauna will survive and human beings are going to
be alone in this 'would be' colourless world for sure-the prize one has
to pay for the advancement of technology & increase in the
uncontrollable increase in human population!!

from:  T.G.Ramachandran
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 07:14 IST

yes and i am at a loss to miss these sparrows which i used to see since daybreak almost everyday just waiting for our wake up to escape from the cover of metal sheet covered for winter season and i should thank my grandpa who while constructing the age old building and plan did carved exclusively some 20 nests in a squareshaped opening in the mmiddle of verandah and sparrows gave us natural clock and mind was estimated with black color beaks for male sparrow from pure brown color face for female ones and it is a flash back now since modern apartments system of life have given vent for the souls of these sparrows in the form human dwellings and i could still remember that bird the sparrow hitting its beak on the mirror time and again ,and sudden flying , of course i was lucky enough for some times i rememmber sparrows sit on my left shoulders and even if i hold them on my convex palms they didn't try for fly and time and again they used to sit on my shoulders . nature resurrects.

from:  S.rajasekaran
Posted on: Apr 13, 2012 at 01:02 IST
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