GUWAHATI, March 20 – The highly animated house sparrow used to be one of the common birds in India and in many other countries in the world. This bird, which would fill homes and gardens for foraging on insects and kitchen scraps or build nests on the roofs and cavities of houses, but in recent days there has been a rapid decline in sparrow population in many parts of the world, including India, experts say. World Sparrow Day is celebrated annually on March 20 to raise awareness across the globe about the decline of the house sparrow and its impact on our environment. A number of hypotheses have been put forward as possible causes of decline of house sparrows in urban and suburban areas. These include ‘changing architecture of human habitation’ that has deprived house sparrows of nesting sites, loss of green cover, and excessive use of pesticides. A lack of traditional granaries, grocery shops and storehouses that enabled gleaning of grains by birds, air pollution and electromagnetic radiation are some other factors.
In Assam, house sparrow is still common in many urban and rural areas. From people’s perception it appears that there is a decreasing trend in the population of house sparrow in the last few decades. Modern cities and towns are no longer suited to the sparrow.
Buildings in urban areas are not attractive to the sparrow as these provide little nesting possibilities. Finding food in and around nesting sites is a critical problem in urban spaces where topsoil is covered with debris, concrete and pavement.
According to Firoz Ahmed of the NGO Aaranyak, in earlier days sparrows were dependent on the extra grains available for them after people had cleaned their grains. This habit has ceased in urban areas as everyone prefers to buy pre-cleaned grains from stores and shopping malls and there is nothing for the sparrows to feed on..
Aaranyak believes, this is the time of a sensitive city dweller to come forward and to take some small and easy steps that could help sparrows to feed on and get their nesting places. There are few simple measures one can try to bring back sparrows into their houses – “encouraging local shrubs and herbs rather than exotic plants in a garden and avenues to grow, letting few places of bare ground to be used for dust bath and by adopting a nest box,” are among such steps.
In Guwahati city the urban habitat is changing at a rapid pace. In such a backdrop, Anukul Nath, a research scholar of Assam University, Silchar under the department of Ecology & Environmental Science has taken an initiative under the supervision Dr Hilloljyoti Singha of the university, and Dr Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar of Aaranyak to assess the sparrow population in Guwahati city and to put nest boxes to understand the response of the house sparrow.
The project is supported by the Aaranyak Small Grants for Nature Conservation in North-east India in association with the Rufford Small Grants Foundation. Nath is also looking for nests of sparrows and their requirements besides monitoring the population periodically. Later in his study, he plans to investigate the effect of electromagnetic radiation on the breeding of sparrows.