As a child growing up in Pune, sparrows had always been an integral part of my life. I always heard stories about sparrows and crows, woke up to their chirping outside the window, and in the evening when I played outside with friends, they were there—eating grains in small clusters.
No wonder these common species of sparrows are called house sparrows—they were always a part of housing societies even in urban spaces.
But as years passed, this scenario changed. Sparrows, which were as common as crows and stray dogs, can now be spotted only in villages and fields. How did this come to be? And can we help them get their old spaces back?
While we associate most birds with wildlife, a few species have evolved in a way to thrive in human habitats. Crows, for example, feast on leftover human foods, meat pieces etc., which is why they live around us.
Sparrows mostly eat seeds and grains that can be found in plenty around any local grocery stores, but they have also adapted to eat leftover human food. According to WWF India, adult sparrows feed insects to their young ones.
The melodious chirping of these adorable little avians and a zero problem with breeding or dirtying our environment had made house sparrows a unanimous favourite among humans, and sparrows returned our love. They found homes in crevices, holes in our walls or boxes and other garden ornaments. It was a perfect symbiotic relationship.
Until rapid urbanisation made its way to the cities.
Mohammed Dilawar is a sparrow conservation activist who has been studying the nature and behaviour of these species for over 15 years now. He has narrowed down the reasons behind the decline of sparrow population to six main factors—
Lack of nesting, modern architecture, destroying what used to be a perfect habitat for them, excessive use of insecticides, large-scale plantation of exotic plant species and electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers.
A survey conducted by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in 2013 shows that sparrows vanished from about 50% of what used to be their habitat before 2005. This change occurred in just seven years. Furthermore, a study by the Ela foundation revealed that cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik have seen a 50% dip in their sparrow population.
This means that the habitats of house sparrows have cut down by half since 2005, and only half of their total population lives in the remaining areas.
Speaking about the need to conserve these birds, Mohammed told the Hindustan Times, “No one believed that sparrows needed conservation during the early 90s.
So, it was my intention to raise awareness among people as citizens are the only source of safety for these birds. Once this happened, other agencies and the government would automatically initiate conservation efforts.”
Mohammed formed the Nature Forever Society (NFS) with the aim to “involve the citizens in the conservation movement of India.” The sparrow conservationists are holders of Limca Book of Records for their conservation efforts and the distribution of bird feeders across 28 states.
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They had a major part to play in making the house sparrow the state bird of Delhi in 2012.
Over the years since NFS was formed, Dilawar has convinced more than 40,000 people to join his cause. They conduct awareness drives, exhibitions and contests to spread their word across schools, colleges. Wildlife enthusiasts, office complexes etc.
He firmly believes that the future of the birds is in the hands of the citizens, and it is up to us to provide them with a healthy environment to thrive in.
“No government policies can save these species,” he says, adding that “As citizens, all we need to do is open our doors, windows, and our heart to nurture these birds, and we will be successful.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)