While I was growing up, my paternal grandparents lived in Bombay (now Mumbai) and other than the obvious reasons why my brother and I loved visiting them during our holidays, there was one other significant reason.
Every morning after his bath, my grandfather would scoop a handful of grains and place it in a small plate that was left by the window for the sparrows.
Within seconds, the little birds would flock in and sit by the window nibbling on the grains, and my grandfather, brother, and I would stand there watching them quietly.
It was such a delightful time.
Life moved on, and we grew up; forgetting all about the sparrows and the little ritual that my grandfather followed for as long as he lived.
I am reminded of this today because Sadhna Rajkumar, the protagonist of my story, has been given the moniker ‘Sparrow Queen’ by the residents of Chennai.
Sadhna is a nutritionist and fitness consultant by profession who has made it her life’s mission to protect and bring back the sparrow, a much-cherished bird which once danced across the neighbourhood trees and is now a rare sight.
Born and brought up in Chennai, Sadhna recollects a time when sparrows were very much part of her everyday life.
“I have always loved being close to nature and can also say that have been fascinated by it. I grew up in Perambur, and the house I lived in was an old tiled roofed house, and that was very conducive for the sparrows as well.”
From living harmoniously with sparrows to not seeing them at all, was a gradual progression. Sadhna says she cannot remember when that happened.
A sudden realisation
“I started thinking about how my children are missing out on seeing the sparrows, and that was when it occurred to me that I should do something about it,” she says.
Sadhna speaks about how she sat down on do a quick Google search about sparrows and found that across the world, their numbers were dwindling.
She also found that in London, many corrective measures like bird baths, feeders, and nests were set-up to encourage the sparrows to return and increase their population.
Having read about the success that this got inspired her to try something similar in Chennai.
Distributing bird nests
Sadhna started out by making the nests herself.
“Having made many bird nests, I decided to go to the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Marina beach; it is a centre point that attracts people from all walks of life.”
“Armed with 50 hand-made nests I stood there distributing these to people,” she says while recalling the phase.
She goes on, “While there were some who were very enthusiastic about taking the nests, some others were sceptical. On the whole, even the process of speaking to people and trying to create awareness was well worth it. I left my number with people and urged them to call me if the sparrows started occupying the nest.”
Not wanting to stop at this, Sadhna continued to find ways to bring the sparrows back.
Sadhna says, “While radiation might be one of the reasons why we see lesser sparrows in cities, it is also a lack of food and water bodies that has driven them away. All the ponds that once existed in the city have been filled, and buildings stand in their place.”
From wooden nests to terracotta nests
Sadhna mentions how the cot involved in making wooden nests was rather high and in an attempt to find an alternate, she stumbled upon terracotta ones. Even that was not an easy task, she says.
“I had to visit many potters, and initially all of them refused to take on the job because the shape of the nest was something that would take time and was a little difficult.”
“My search ended when I met potter named Perumal, who understood perfectly what needed to be done,” she says.
Once the nests were ready, Sadhna started focussing on areas in Chennai where the population of sparrows was marginal.
“Areas such as Perambur, Tondiarpet and Old Washermanpet, Mylapore, Santhome are where I set up these nests. One can still see old, independent houses there, and the tiled roofs and open spaces are what the sparrows come back to,” she says.
Having said this, she also says that recently her mother moved from Perambur to Besant Nagar and Sadhna set up a nest in the balcony of her third-floor apartment.
“Just last week I saw a couple of sparrows that have adopted the nest. Just seeing them gives me so much happiness. I cannot even explain the joy I feel when I wake up to the chirping sounds,” she says.
Are you wondering how you can do the same? Sadhna has a few tips:
1) Make a nesting box and set it up on your balcony or veranda. The opening in the box should face south or west, and the box should be at least 10 feet above ground level.
2) The nesting box should be kept above the ground level to ensure that cats, squirrels and crows do not get near the box.
3) Scatter some grain in and around the box or place them close by in a bird feeder
4) Keep a deep dish near or within the nest and refill it with fresh water each day
5) If you live in an apartment complex, actively encourage others to do the same
Sadhna has sent her nests to various places in India—Delhi and Punjab to Kanyakumari and Mumbai.
Concluding our conversation, she says, “My only wish is that ever city implements this and finds ways by which we can save and bring back the sparrows.”
If you have any query or would like to request Sadhna to send you a nest, you can reach her at 9445249240.
Here’s hoping that we all spend this summer bringing the sparrows back!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)