Is the sociable house sparrow finally making a comeback?

The friendly bird, whose population has been declining in cities for decades, has found an ally in citizen-led movements across various States

March 20, 2021 06:40 pm | Updated March 24, 2021 04:06 pm IST

About two decades ago, the chirp of house sparrows was a familiar sound in urban neighbourhoods. Over the years, the little bird has vanished from cityscapes due to a lack of nesting sites and food, and a rise in apathy of people.

These birds are now getting a helping hand from bird lovers and citizen groups across the country.

According to conservationist Mohammed Dilawar, the decline in the population of sparrows began much earlier, but it was not until the early 2000s that the need for its conservation was stressed upon.

“About 15 years ago, we realised that we had to start a life-saving project for sparrows if we wanted to hear the chirp again. So we started reaching out to people and authorities to campaign for the bird,” says Dilawar, founder and president of Nature Forever Society (NFS) who has been working relentlessly to save house sparrows.

“In the past decade or so, we have been somewhat successful in this mission. The campaign to save the sparrow has grown beyond organisations and become a citizen-based movement across cities,” he adds over call from Nashik.

Apart from its base in Mumbai and Nashik, NFS has city coordinators in New Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru who work at local levels to empower the citizens. Coordinators work towards spreading awareness to create an ecosystem of bird feeders, nests and sources of food for house sparrows in residential localities as well as schools.

Nin Taneja, the Delhi coordinator of NFS, shares, “A couple of years ago, when I was teaching schoolchildren about birds found in our neighbourhood, I saw how a majority of them struggled to identify the house sparrow which used to be such an integral part of our lives once. It was a sad state of affairs.”

She reached out to schools and social organisations in the city to create awareness on ways to create the primary environment for sparrows to thrive again. According to her, many urban neighbourhoods are witnessing a comeback of the birds.

The movement to save house sparrows has spread its wings in semi-urban regions as well. In Odisha, the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee has been spearheading a campaign to bring back sparrows in 10 districts of the State.

“The campaign started way back in 2007 when we began by distributing earthen pot bird nests to homes in Purnabandha village in Ganjam district of Odisha. Over the years, we have made nests out of coconut husk and plywood, and distributed them across 10 districts in Odisha. Now the sparrow population has increased significantly,” says Magatha Behera, who with Rabindranath Sahu is heading the sparrow project in the region.

In Visakhapatnam, documentary filmmaker V Arjun Kumar in association with city-based NGO Green Climate has made a film on sparrow conservation, charting the need to save the species as well as ways to create an ecosystem to make the bird thrive.

The next step

While sustaining the citizen movement is important, creating an environment where birds thrive naturally is the only way to secure the future of many such neighbourhood birds. “With this in mind, we have started our phase two — to create large-scale habitats of native plant species. This is an ecological cycle. The native species bring in insect population which in turn helps support the young ones of species like the house sparrows,” says Dilawar.

Research done by Dilawar’s team indicates that a majority of plantation projects undertaken about 10 to 15 years ago have brought in non-native species in regions across the country. “Our objective is to change that approach, through a scientific understanding of what native plant species are,” he adds. He started the Native Plant Research Conservation Centre in Nashik, which now has over 450 species native to the region, and has helped create 30 high-density urban city forests that are critical for the habitat of birds.

(World Sparrow Day was on March 20.)

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