Thursday, 26 March 2015

Where is our beloved sparrow?

Where is the sparrow?

This is the question most of us who have been brought up in Bangalore are asking ourselves.  These lovely, harmless, brown-white birds are nowhere to be seen.

I have some personal relevance in this matter of the missing sparrows.  When I was a child, we had two little holes in a wall on the terrace, complete with a little curved ledges on the outside for birds to perch on.  Both the holes - which rather looked like large 'commas' from far - were occupied by our winged tenants.  It also helped that the terrace was canopied by the spreading branches of a large tree from across the road.  Several types of birds - crows, mynahs, sparrows - would sit on the branches, chirp their raucous symphony, and swoop down on the terrace if there were any sandige (homemade crisps) spread out for drying.  

Because the holes were too small for a larger bird, they were exclusively occupied by sparrows.  I have spent many a childhood hour watching the parent sparrows descend on to the ledge with food in their little beaks and feed the hungry chicks in the hole cushioned with straw and leaves.  I would put a stool to climb up to the level of the hole and peek inside to catch a glimpse of the delicate pink chicks.  Sometimes, a few adventurous chicks would attempt to come out of the hole and fall down, only to be swooped up by a bigger bird or a cat.  Whenever we found one outside, we would try to put it back in the hole, but they were often so delicate that they would not survive.  

Several reasons have been proposed for the disappearance of the sparrows from our urban landscape.  The most obvious reason would have to be the rapid and unchecked urbanisation that has taken place in Bangalore over the last two decades.  There are apartments everywhere, rising into the sky, with hardly any breathing space between two buildings.  Trees in residential areas have dwindled as every inch of the available space has been used up in building concrete homes. 

We don't find bird holes in the wall such as those in my childhood home any more.  That house, in which we stayed as tenants for several years, has sadly been demolished since.  In its place, commercial establishments have sprung up - shops selling food and tyres.   

Increasing pollution levels may be another reason for the diminishing sparrow population.  Some believe that the staple of the sparrows; certain larvae and grains have also disappeared from our houses making it difficult for sparrows to sustain themselves. 

It is in this context that the heart warming news of somebody taking up the cause of restoring sparrows to their habitat appeared recently in the paper.  A group called Green Army in Dharwad has been conducting the Citizen Sparrow project in which homes are encouraged to put up artificial nests for sparrows to inhabit.

More such initiatives are needed to restore the presence of sparrows in our midst.  Or else, the sparrow might just go the dodo way, and we will be left with another species that we would have to introduce to our children through pictures only.


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