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The sparrow is dying out in Indian cities.

This is how you can help save it from your


terrace
Conservation can start with something as simple as buying a nest online, hanging a bird
feeder in your windows, and offering the birds a safe space.
Prakash Mathema/AFP
Apr 28, 2018 · 11:30 am
Selina Sen
My earliest memory of a bird – any bird – is that of a couple of house sparrows,
which played a very comforting role in my five-year-old life. My grandmother’s
home, whom we visited annually, was like a taxidermist’s parlor. A number of our
ancestors were, I am sorry to say, keen shikaris, and though I did not mind the
antler heads, I absolutely refused to enter the drawing room where a large tiger was
spread-eagled across the wall. His snarling face and his mouth, studded with
pointed fangs, rested on a wooden bracket. And it became the subject of
nightmares, until a pair of cheerful sparrows decided to nest inside that gaping
mouth. Dida allowed the birds to make a home only to ensure my fears vanished.
They were the friendliest of birds and would accept breadcrumbs from my hand,
darting down from their home in the jaws of the tiger.

So, it is with sadness that I now notice the dwindling numbers of sparrows in Delhi
and Kolkata, the two cities I am most familiar with. Research shows that the bird
(Passer Domesticus) – once the most common avian visitor to every garden – has
declined in alarming numbers the world over, especially in urban areas and certain
rural regions where pesticide use is high.
Photo credit: Rakesh Khatri
Dying species
Saving sparrows has become a matter of urgency as the birds have been recognised
as an indicator of environmental health and urban biodiversity. World Sparrow
Day is marked on March 20 and a number of measures to increase their numbers
are encouraged on this day.

Speaking of policy, the single most cruel decision to cull the creatures was
introduced by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958 in China, during his Four Pests
Campaign. The entire populace was encouraged to kill rodents, flies, mosquitoes
and, very wrongly, sparrows. It was believed that sparrows depleted fields of grain
but the fact was that by 1960, the large-scale extermination of the birds was
correlated to a decline in grain as it was proven that sparrows played an important
role in pest control, because their young fed on small insects that infested paddy
fields. Recognising the folly of his decision, Mao was induced to replace sparrows
with bed-bugs, but the damage was done.

But why are sparrows declining in countries which are more bird-friendly? There
are a number of reasons, mostly linked to loss of habitat. Town houses built in
India by older generations had Mangalore tiles, eaves and projecting balconies.
These architectural details with crevices and overhangs made it easy for the birds
to nest. There were small gardens filled with shrubs, and boundary walls were
often green hedges – all very sparrow-friendly, besides being good for the
environment. Today, an increasing number of people live in apartments in sleek
gleaming towers with metres of plate glass, boundary walls are solid with concrete
and gardens are vanishing. Even parks have concrete walkways and Phoenix palms
instead of shade-giving trees.

It would be ideal if town planners would plant shady trees and cover boundary
walls with creepers in public parks. The new park in Delhi at Sunder Nursery and
the Agri- Horticultural Park at Alipur, Kolkata, are good role models. Scientists
have also correlated the decrease in birds to radiation from mobile towers as their
reproductive capacities are adversely affected by the electromagnetic radiation.
They suggest cities should have wooded mobile-tower-free areas for the birds to
survive in. In addition, birds are also threatened by global warming and noise
pollution.

Gardens for all


Gardens are not only about colourful flowers or organic vegetables – they are
traditionally supposed to appeal to other senses. Fragrance is very important, but so
is the soothing sound of splashing fountains and early morning birdsong. The
twittering song of the sparrow is sweet and must be allowed to survive. It should
not vanish into dim memory like the glow of the firefly.

Photo credit: Rakesh Khatri


I attended a workshop recently on how to make sparrow nesting stations for the
small town garden, balcony or rooftop terrace garden. This, along with a bird seed
dispenser for smaller birds – which is available online and is relatively inexpensive
– can help the gregarious sparrow feel more welcome. It is a great project for
children during the summer holidays, and was conducted by the ECO-Roots
Foundation, a conservation body which has made and distributed around 30,000
sparrow nests in Delhi-National Capital Region alone. The sparrow is, after all, the
state bird of Delhi.

Materials required building a nest

4 strips of split bamboo


Jute cloth cut from a gunny bag
Coconut husk fibre
A spool of thread
A pair of scissors

Bend the strips of bamboo into circles and tie with string. Interlock three circles
vertically and tie to form a sphere. Tie the last bamboo strip horizontally around
the central diameter to strengthen the sphere. Secure all cross joints with the string
firmly in order that the sphere retains shape.

Bend the wire into a small hole for the bird to enter the nest and secure in an upper
quadrant. Cover the sphere with jute cloth and cut away the area around the
entrance hole with the scissors. Cover the jute ball with coconut fibre and secure
with string.

The nest is ready and can be hung at between 8 and 10 feet. Do hang the seed
dispenser nearby and set out an earthenware bowl with drinking water. If you do
not have the time for a DIY effort, small birdhouses are available online and birds
love them. Hopefully the sparrows and other birds such as bulbuls should come
calling, especially if there are no mobile towers in the vicinity.

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