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Where have all the sparrows gone?

Not very long ago, pushing open your window would invite chirping sparrows to your windowsill. Today, however, sighting a sparrow is becoming increasingly rare.

india Updated: May 30, 2007 11:22 IST

Not very long ago, pushing open your window early in the morning would invite chirping sparrows to your windowsill, pecking around for a grain. Today, however, sighting a sparrow is becoming increasingly rare.

"I remember there was a time when the courtyard in my house used to be filled with sparrows, especially in the mornings. But now that's no longer the case. By sheer observation one can say that the number of sparrows has come down," said Ravi Aggarwal of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.

Agreed Samita Sharma, a teacher who stays close to the lush green ridge area in north Delhi. "I see a lot less number of sparrows than I used to earlier. The ridge is a haven for the birds but I don't know where the sparrows are gone," she said.

The dwindling number of sparrows in urban areas, as a phenomenon, is not new. In Europe, when the numbers of sparrows went down drastically a few years back, almost as much as by 85 percent, it rang quite a few alarm bells.

But here, although the matter has been reported, nothing concrete has been done to tackle what seems to be a sparrow crisis. The main point of concern is that there is no data or study on the population of sparrows in India.

"There is no study which has been done on the population of the sparrows, so one can never be sure if their population has changed and by how much. But by sheer observation one can say that it has," Nikhil Devasar of Delhi Bird Group, an interactive group of bird lovers, told IANS.

Agreed wildlife scientist Shankar Raman, who is based in Kerala. "There is no reliable information on sparrow populations. No one is actually counting and keeping a record of the sparrows. There is no scientific monitoring."

One of the reasons cited for the disappearing number of sparrows is unleaded fuel, which is believed to be eco-friendly. The by-products of this fuel kill small insects, which the young sparrows feed on.

While the older sparrows can survive without the insects, the younger ones need them for survival.

"Another very important reason for the disappearing number of sparrows from the urban areas is the change in the architecture of the houses. Earlier, these birds used to build their nests beneath the tiled or thatched roofs the houses used to generally have.

"But now, with changing architecture and steel roofs, these birds have lost their nesting space," said Devasar. Also, the birds were used to pecking at the grain in the backyard of the houses where people clean the paddy or wheat.

With changing lifestyle, that has changed as well.

Vanishing green cover is yet another reason for the disappearing birds. "Fruiting, flowering and nesting are all related. With the disappearing number of trees, the birds have also started fleeing. Not only sparrows, it's difficult to spot hornbills, green pigeons and purple sunbirds as well," said Aggarwal.

There is, however, a silver lining to this cloud.

According to Devasar, disappearing doesn't necessarily mean dead. "Most of these birds, sparrows included, have migrated to the outskirts of the city and nearby villages where they can nest and feed more easily than in the urban areas.

"We are obsessed with the bigger and the beautiful varieties of birds, most of which are rare. In midst of it all, we took the sparrows for granted, which we shouldn't have," he added.

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