Chennai

Marina can have a sparrow corner

The passerine bird has made a section of the beach its pit-stop; and the Corporation can use it to promote house-sparrow conservation

Every evening, at South Mada Street in Triplicane, a rout of noisy sparrows would scud across the evening sky, and disappear eastward. They would do “the vanishing act” in small batches, lest you expect a dramatic exodus.

There is another near-certainty out there. Around the same hour — discounting rainy days and probably an inexplicably bad-hair day for birds — unsuspecting visitors at a section of Marina would let out squeals of delight.

“Look, there are sparrows here!”

Marina can have a sparrow corner

The regulars — that is counting a security guard at a Smart Bike station — would watch the birds with an air of nonchalance.

The house sparrows are found in noticeable numbers in the morning hours too, and estimates of their numbers would vary, depending on which of the regulars you are talking to. Roughly, it should be in the 25-to-50 range, and the birds would be scattered across this section (see box). In the intervening period of the day, between the morning and evening hours, a small group of three or four sparrows can be sighted now and then.

This section of the Marina, which in a rough, back-of-the-envelope sketch would include the garden area and service lane of the beach opposite the Thanthai Periyar Maligai and the building of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. The Eastern approach road to the Sri Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane is just a few nimble paces away. In the streets around the temple, especially South Mada Street, this passerine bird’s presence can’t be missed — a fact reported recently in these pages.

There is another locality not too far away — Srinivasapuram — where the twitter of house sparrows is also continuous. Besides, this writer has noticed house sparrows at Karneeswarar Pagoda Street, another locality not too far from this section.

However, the odds are high — in fact, 100 to nil — that the house-sparrow movement is primarily between the streets of Triplicane and this section of the Marina.

However, in this context, where the house sparrows come from is not as important as knowing that they are making Marina their pit-stop, and seeing a conservation opportunity in it.

As part of The Sparrow Project, when this writer visits neighbourhoods where sparrows have carved out a niche and a nook for themselves, there would always be someone spouting the now-usual line “Where are the sparrows?” when a couple of these birds would be doing a noisy flit over their heads.

Marina can have a sparrow corner

For people such as these who think sparrows are a lost cause, there should a space that would cry out loud that the battle it still on, and there have been victories in recent times.

What better place than the Marina, the grand hangout of Chennai? The major factor tipping the choice in Marina’s favour is that the house sparrows have chosen it.

There can be signages that tell visitors all about sparrows and also provide information about how to conserve them, and where to find the resources and support to do so. Elements could be introduced to make sparrows more at home in this space. On the days when this writer was watching this phenomenon, the sparrows would peck at leftover food, hop around on the low walls raised for people to sit and perch themselves on the short plumeria trees.

They would slip into the dense leaves of the bougainvillea shrubs. It’s a proven fact that sparrows love jasmine climbers, and bougainvillea shrubs seem to give them the same comfort. The writer has seen the birds spend some time at a densely-leaved tree on the promenade.

Usually, the sparrow “displays” happen primarily within the time frame, 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m.

A sparrow enclosure can be designed with features that would ensure only sparrows can enter them, and any other bird that is marginally bigger than the sparrows can’t. That would keep the granivorous pigeons out.

Marina can have a sparrow corner

Inside the enclosure, grains and water bowls can be kept for the sparrows.

At present, whatever is holding these birds to this space is certainly tenuous, and so there is a need to act before the link snaps and house-sparrows strike the Marina off their map.

The Greater Chennai Corporation’s parks department should take note of this phenomenon and start a conservation initiative at the Marina.

The sparrow count

This section of the Marina includes a free public modern toilet, a drinking water kiosk and a Smart Bike station. In response to a question, two workers at the public toilet — under Ward 116, Zone 9 — have a debate over the number of house sparrows visiting in the morning and evening hours, and finally put it at 25 to 30.

C. Ezhumalai at the Smart Bike station believes it is higher, and estimates the house sparrow presence at 40 to 50.

The house sparrows would be scattered across the area, and so it is difficult to put a confident number to it.

“The birds like to sit in these plants,” he says, pointing to the bougainvillea bushes behind the bike-hiring station.

“In the evening, they will start arriving around 3 p.m. They will eat food items left behind by people; they would love to peck at mixture,” says Ezhumalai and pointing to a tiny mass of sand, he adds that the sparrows like to play in the sand.

This writer has made a few evening visits to study the pattern, and during the “peak hour”, there could be around 40 sparrows.

The sparrows don’t seem to roost here, and are also drawn to a couple of trees, on the premises of a building that has the office of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board.

The birds probably return to the streets around Sri Parthasarathy Temple, and settle down in their roosting trees.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 4:58:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chennais-marina-can-have-a-sparrow-corner/article29992205.ece

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