Oh, where have all the sparrows gone? (Feature)

February 15th, 2009 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

Ahmedabad, Feb 15 (IANS) William Wordsworth’s “vision of delight”, in his poem “The Sparrow’s Nest”, has almost gone missing from our lives as sparrows have long since stopped building nests in our homes and neighbourhoods.

“We thought of it as a nuisance. The nest was ‘kutchra’ (garbage) and, concerned as we were about improving our hygiene, we stopped the sparrows from nesting. Today sparrows have become scarce in our towns and cities,” said K.L. Mathews, associate professor in Junagadh Agriculture University (JAU) who has done a thesis on sparrows for his PhD.

Are sparrows truly a vanishing breed? Yes, says Mathews. “Today one can find sparrows nesting only in remote villages. Vanishing sparrows reflect our changing lifestyle. Secondly, our agriculture system is to be blamed and, thirdly, changes in landscape have affected our ecosystem,” Mathews told IANS.

The house sparrow has no doubt lived close to man ever since humans started cultivating. It was welcome in our houses and in some parts of south India it was even considered a good omen if the sparrow built a nest inside the house. One could see nests behind the electric meter box, in the attic or under the rafters. No more.

B.P. Patil, deputy conservator of social forestry in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, said: “Fast-paced urbanisation, chemically prepared fruits, grain and degradation of green belts are some of the common factors harming the house sparrow.”

“We went to town on vastu shastra but totally ignored the small bird,” said M.I. Patel, an ornithologist and principal of M N College of Visnagar in Mehsana. “Sparrows need a hole to build their nest and survive. Today there are no ventilators in rooms for sparrows to nest,” Patel said.

“During my research I found even magnetic waves from cellular phone towers being a threat to sparrows,” Patel told IANS..

“Till two decades ago, sparrows were seen on trees chirping and nesting. Once dark, they would settle down peacefully until the next dawn when the first rays of sunlight would get them going again. Many of us woke to their chirping,” Mathews said.

But there are diehard optimists like Sudhir Khandekar, who runs the Khandekars Sangitam Symphony School of Music here and who is also a keen bird watcher, having photographed 325 birds of different species.

“Yes, sparrows are disappearing from urban limits but they can be seen aplenty on city outskirts and in fields,” Khandekar said. “I have a lot of sparrows in my neighbourhood in Bopal on the outskirts of the city,” he said.

Can we bring the sparrows back into our houses?

“Yes, they are friendly birds and can be made to come back. We need to change our mindset. We can start by providing artificial nest boxes so that a sparrow can come back to roost,” Mathews said.

Unlike the dodo, sparrows do have some hope of survival, albeit in small measure.

(V.N. Balakrishna can be contacted at vnbalakrishna@gmail.com)

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