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Recently named Delhi's 'state bird', the house sparrow needs our care
R. Dhanya and P.A. Azeez
House sparrows are very intimately associated with our day-to-day life. All of us may have sweet childhood memories linked to these chirruping beauties. Undoubtedly, we still expect these chirpings from our courtyards; but in vain. Our high-profile lifestyle, sophisticated buildings, exotic gardens and pollution made the birds' life complicated and failed to offer them a safe haven. But, unfortunately, it is not just sparrows that are declining; several other erstwhile common species show the same trend and we need to deflect it.
The House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus) is a brown bird about 15cm long and very common in human-made habitats. They usually feed on grains, seeds, and lately more on garbage and refuse from eateries. But the nestlings are fed mostly animal matter, especially insects. Usually, these birds make their nests with grass and suchlike they find nearby, in built-up structures.
A decline in the house sparrow population across the world has been reported for the past few decades. Long-term monitoring of the sparrow population is conducted by several organisations and individual researchers. In India too, the phenomenon is reported, although information is anecdotal and requires further investigation.
Several reasons seem likely. The suspected culprits are lack of animal matter in the diet, lack of nest sites, electromagnetic radiation, increased traffic, pollution, chemicals applied on seeds and cereals and perhaps disease. These factors would vary from place to place. Most of these causes are aftermaths of urbanisation, changing lifestyles and architecture. Rapid construction activity results in local habitat destruction. Similarly, urban gardens are being dominated by exotic plants which may not be very hospitable to the native insect fauna. Moreover, most urban gardens are manicured and groomed regularly, using agrochemicals. Hence, most such gardens would offer no ecosystem to sparrows. The sparrow population is positively correlated with the number of weedy patches, as they offer wild seeds or grains. The spillover of grains from provision stores was an important food source. Malls and departmental stores, with neatly packed (in plastic) grocery items, would also deprive these creatures of food. Competition with other bird species such as House Crow, Common Myna and Rock Pigeon can also be a reason for food shortage. Unlike these species, sparrows are apparently much less adept in adapting to rapid changes of urbanisation.
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