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Sparrow census takes wing

Olympia Shilpa Gerald
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Exercise by college students reveals numbers in city fringes and suburbs

Bird trail:Students of Nature Club of Bishop Heber College taking a sparrow census in Tiruchi.— Photo:M.Srinath.
Bird trail:Students of Nature Club of Bishop Heber College taking a sparrow census in Tiruchi.— Photo:M.Srinath.

When Blessie, a second year student, determinedly stepped out on a mission of tailing sparrows on Sunday afternoon, she did not expect to return home many hours later, disappointed. “A friend and I spent hours walking up and down all 14 crosses of Bharathi Nagar twice, but we didn't chance on a single sparrow. The only consolation was an empty sparrow's nest.”

Fortunately, unlike Blessie, some of her friends from Bishop Heber College who participated in the sparrow census organised by the Nature Club and Department of Environmental Studies, got luckier.

Over 60 students were roped in to take a sparrow count in and around Tiruchi as part of World Sparrow Day. There has been growing concern worldwide on dwindling numbers of house sparrows as the ubiquitous creature whose trill we woke up to every morning is now uncommon in our neighbourhoods.

According to the sparrow count, almost no birds have been sighted in residential areas in the heart of the city like Cantonment, Thillai Nagar, Puthur and Woraiyur. “Though this is a cause for concern, it was heartening to find sparrows are still found in localities on the fringe of city limits. The numbers are also encouraging in rural pockets,” says A.Relton, staff advisor, Nature Club.

According to results obtained from the project, Panjapur topped the list with a count of 32 sparrows, followed by Ariyavur and Alithurai. The census took wing when club members grew anxious failing to spot house sparrows on a campus that boasts around 60 varieties of birds.

No place to nest

Students were apprised prior to the study on how to distinguish male and female sparrows by identifying specific characteristics. “For instance the male has a black or white patch on the throat while the female is of a uniform shade,” says Nissie adding that members also looked for common nesting spots like eaves of houses, crevices and grooves. “The sparrow is a cavity nester and change in architectural styles is one of the reasons behind falling numbers. There are a few houses with thatched roofs or tiles that make for nesting places,” adds Mr. Relton.

A combination of reasons such as urbanisation, pollution and even possible radiation emitted from cell phone towers have been attributed to the elusiveness of the bird.

Unavailability of organic, chemical-free food grains may be responsible for lesser success in breeding rate of sparrows, believe bird watchers.

The Department of Environmental Studies of the college also conducted a short study to evaluate if cell phone towers kept the birds at bay, but could find no established correlation.

Students feel individual and collective efforts are necessary to ensure that the sparrow is not something we encounter only in books. “Putting out a little grain and water for the sparrows as a daily ritual could be an interesting hobby,” suggests Asha, a student.

The college plans to distribute ‘sparrow boxes'- boxes with holes for nesting- in areas that have showed significant numbers to save whatever remains of the bird population in the vicinity of the city. School children would be roped in to ensure the birds are undisturbed.

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