Out of sight, out of mind

The house sparrow, named the State bird of Delhi in 2012, remains forgotten

May 30, 2016 07:44 am | Updated 07:44 am IST - NEW DELHI:

THOOTHUKUDI,TAMILNADU:19/03/2016: A rare shot of sparrow aspart of World Sparrow day observed on March 20 , in Thoothukudi on Saturday.Photo : N.Rajesh

THOOTHUKUDI,TAMILNADU:19/03/2016: A rare shot of sparrow aspart of World Sparrow day observed on March 20 , in Thoothukudi on Saturday.Photo : N.Rajesh

The house sparrow is struggling to find a home in Delhi today, four years after it was declared the official State bird. Numbers of the once-ubiquitous small bird have declined over the years to a point that a sparrow sighting has become a happy, but rare occasion.

The then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had in 2012 named the sparrow the State bird, after experts lobbied for the move in order to raise awareness and numbers.

Mohammed Dilawar, president of the Nature Forever Society, had launched a campaign to save the sparrow in 2011 and given Ms. Dikshit a memorandum asking for the tag of the State bird for the sparrow.

“There has been a decline in sparrow population in the past decade, and not just in India. Sparrows are found near human habitation, not forests. It is important that urban habitats of sparrows are conserved,” said Mr. Dilawar.

While experts say sparrow population has been decreasing, there are no exact numbers. Mr. Dilawar said a common bird monitoring programme had been initiated, but it did not reach a critical mass to establish a trend. Data for at least five to six years will be needed to gauge the changes.

The Delhi Parks and Garden Society, which answers to the Delhi government’s Environment and Forest Department, conducts a bird count, but does not have details for individual species.

“We have managed to increase the total green cover in Delhi over the past few years and have been encouraging RWAs to plant sparrow-friendly plants. We have started seeing results in some areas,” said Dr. S.D. Singh, the CEO of the society.

He added that flocks of sparrows are seen at the society’s plant nursery near Millennium Bus Depot.

The former Chief Minister, who spearheaded the campaign to improve sparrow numbers, told The Hindu that the Aam Aadmi Party government has not done enough to carry on the programme.

“They [AAP government] haven’t given it the kind of importance it deserves. The kind of follow-up actions needed after declaring the sparrow the State bird haven’t happened after my government demitted office in 2013,” said Ms. Dikshit.

But, she added, sparrow numbers have picked up in certain areas, like near her South Delhi home.

While there hasn’t been any major public campaign for sparrows in the past few years, the Delhi Parks and Garden Society does hold regular workshops for RWAs to encourage them to plant native species of greenery. Native plants help insects thrive, which in turn provide food for sparrows.

“Urban gardens these days have more exotic plants, which are not conducive for sparrows. Urban buildings also tend to not have cavities, which are used for nesting. The glass façade of buildings too adds to the problem as sparrows can’t fly very high,” added Mr. Dilawar.

All is not lost, though. He said he will be giving policy recommendations to the AAP government soon. From making native plants compulsory for new developments to leaving one brick out of a building to make nesting space, the suggestions will be aimed at public-government cooperation.

Requests for comment from Delhi Environment and Forest Minister Imran Hussain were not returned.

However, a senior official from the Environment and Forest Department said since sparrows were not “wildlife”, there were no dedicated initiatives to increase their population, and that the Delhi Parks and Gardens Society was working towards improving the habitat for the birds.

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