World sparrow day: Where have the chirpy birds gone?

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This is the most frequently asked question these days -- once everywhere -- chirping insistently and flapping their wings at the window sills -- where have all the little sparrows gone?

Many bird watchers and ornithologists recall with fondness how the house sparrow gave flight to their passion for observing birds. Sparrow nests dotted almost every house in the neighbourhood as well as public places like bus stands and railway stations, where they lived in colonies and survived on food grains and tiny worms.

Fond childhood memories

The association between humans and the house sparrow dates back to several centuries -- no other bird has been associated with humans on a daily basis like the house sparrow. Sparrows are birds that evoke fond childhood memories and add a freshness to households through its presence.  

A decline of 58% since 1970

A decline of 58% since 1970

Unfortunately, the house sparrow has now become a disappearing species. Like all other plants and animals which were once abundant and are now facing an uncertain future, their numbers are also declining across their natural range. A study conducted by the Andhra University, Visakhapatnam highlighted that population of house sparrows fell by over 60 per cent even in rural areas of coastal Andhra Pradesh. A survey conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology showed that house sparrow population in Britain has declined by about 58 per cent since 1970.

Sparrows seen at a banana leaf on the eve of the World Sparrow Day in Guwahati. All photographs: credit: PTI

Why have they disappeared?

Why have they disappeared?

There is no one single reason for the decline of house sparrow. Scientists and experts say that severe changes in the urban ecosystem in recent times have had tremendous impact on the population of house sparrows whose numbers are declining constantly. Mobile tower radiation and excessive use of chemical fertilizers are aggravating the problem and have been identified as potent sparrow killers.

In addition, sparrows have also become targets of poachers, who have been marketing them as aphrodisiac and a permanent cure for sexual ailments.

There have been many theories put forward for their almost worldwide decline.

It is said that sparrow chicks, who require insect food for their survival in their early days, have not been getting adequate supply from their parents. This has triggered large-scale deaths of chicks leading to gradual decline of their population.
Urban landscape too, has been dramatically altered over the years. Old houses with courtyards in front and backyards, have made way for concrete multi-stories, with little greenery. No longer are sparrows able to find the tiny nooks, crannies and holes where they used to build their nests. Habitat degradation and loss have taken their toll in not only on populations but in the variety of species as well.

A sparrow collects rice grains.

World Sparrow Day

World Sparrow Day

The idea of celebrating the World Sparrow Day came up during an informal discussion over tea at the Nature Forever Society's office in Nashik, Maharashtra. "The idea was to earmark a day for the House Sparrow to convey the message of conservation of the House Sparrow and other common birds and also mark a day of celebration to appreciate the beauty of the common biodiversity which we take so much for granted," according to Mohammed Dilavar of the Nature Forever Society.

March 20 is being observed as the World House Sparrow Day, across the globe to raise public awareness about the decline of the house sparrow and throw light on the problems faced by the species in its daily fight for survival.

National and international organisations, voluntary organisations, clubs and societies, universities, schools and individuals across the world celebrate the event by organising awareness programs.

A sparrow feeds its chick in Dharamsala.

Important bio-indicators

Important bio-indicators

Typically, sparrows were never an issue of concern for us with their diminutive presence in our households. To many people across the world, the house sparrow is the most familiar wild animal and, because of its association with humans and familiarity, it is frequently used to represent the common and vulgar, or the lewd.

The reason being that house sparrows are important bio-indicators and their decline is a grim reminder of degradation of the urban environment and the danger from it to the humans in the long run.

Sparrows feeding from a nest box in New Dehi.

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