Mohamed Imranullah S.

MADURAI: ‘Kuruvi,' meaning sparrow, has the distinction of being one of the most widely used word in Tamil literature _ be it epic, poem or folk tale. For, the cute little bird has the rare character of living in places of human habitation. Once ubiquitous, house sparrows are now hard to find and scientists blame man-made changes for the poignant situation.

P.A. Azeez, Director of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History in Coimbatore, feels that changes in structural design of buildings, increase in number of departmental stores where grains are sold in sealed packets compared to old provision stores which sold them loose and absence of insects in gardens due to use of pesticides are among the reasons for declining population of sparrows. Speaking to The Hindu over phone on Saturday, he said: “Gone are the days when these birds flew into our houses chirping merrily and built nests on lofts and every other possible place. These days, sparrows do not get appropriate nesting sites.”

Besides, these birds find it difficult to feed themselves in the absence of grains that spill over from provision stores. The practice of drying up cereals and millets in open places and terraces has also reduced because people prefer to buy packed flour from shops instead of taking pains to dry the grains and then pound them.

“During breeding season, sparrows need protein-rich food. They need insects. But the irony is that most of our city gardens do not have insects. Further, these birds do not get proper roosting site. They don't prefer to roost with bigger birds on tall trees. They need relatively shorter trees with thick foliage. A roosting site is a place where a bird rests and it is different from a nesting site,” Dr. Azeez added.

Mohammed Dilawar of Nature Forever Society, an organisation working for conservation of sparrows, based in Nasik, Maharashtra, has hit upon an idea to help these birds survive even in sophisticated localities. He has designed nest boxes and feeders that could be fixed on window grills, balconies, tree tops and such other places. These two gadgets are being sold for around Rs.300.

“Fixing a nest box in your house and feeding the birds regularly helps in keeping yourself as well as your children close to nature. You will get emotionally attached to the birds when you get to see them lay eggs and shelter the young ones. The children at home will also get motivated to involve themselves in environmental issues,” he said over phone. “The need of the hour is to act decisively or house sparrows may not be spotted anymore near our houses,” he concluded.