Sparrows bask under early morning fog near Yamuna riverside, in New Delhi in this file photo. (Raj K Raj/HT Archive)
Sparrows bask under early morning fog near Yamuna riverside, in New Delhi in this file photo. (Raj K Raj/HT Archive)

Number of house sparrows rising in Delhi, say birders

Nearly a decade after the humble house sparrow was adopted as the state bird of Delhi, to replenish the dwindling population of a bird that once was as ubiquitous as the rock pigeons are these days in the national capital, there has been a slight improvement in numbers, bird experts said
By Soumya Pillai, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 20, 2021 05:59 AM IST

Nearly a decade after the humble house sparrow was adopted as the state bird of Delhi, to replenish the dwindling population of a bird that once was as ubiquitous as the rock pigeons are these days in the national capital, there has been a slight improvement in numbers, bird experts said.

However, in the absence of a count to ascertain how healthy their population is, experts caution that Delhi still has a long way to go before sparrows become the often seen neighbourhood visitor of yore.

Surya Prakash, a zoologist at the School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said compared to the sparrow’s fast depleting count around the year 2012, when numbers had fell by about 60-70% (only an estimate), its numbers are now “improving”, if one goes by sightings, and that’s good news as Delhi gets ready to mark yet another World Sparrow Day on Saturday (March 20).

“The count of sparrows is looking good. Over the past few years, there has not been a drastic drop in their numbers. Around 2012, we had met then chief minister Sheila Dikshit to raise the issue as their numbers had gone down by 60-70%. Since then, people started becoming more aware of the sparrow’s disappearance and that awareness has helped,” Prakash said.

In 2012, while dubbing the sparrow the state bird, the Delhi government had also launched a campaign called “Rise of Sparrows” to conserve the house sparrow, among other birds.

Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in-charge at Yamuna Biodiversity Park, said efforts made to restore the population of house sparrow has yielded results.

“In the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, we have made a conservatory for sparrows, providing nesting facilities; and last year, we spotted nearly 80 sparrows in the Yamuna Biodiversity Park in a single day, so the situation currently is promising. DDA biodiversity parks have not only provided nesting spaces for sparrows, but have also created natural ecological niches, which enable a large population of Delhi’s state bird,” Khudsar said.

Experts said fossil evidence suggest that house sparrows have been human dependent for a long time and are usually found around human habitations. However, large-scale urbanisation led to their numbers reducing gradually. Multistoried buildings with glass panels for windows, concreted parking spaces and lack of ventilation spots for nesting have led to sparrows disappearing.

Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society, said rampant urbanisation resulted in fewer nesting spaces. The reduction in green spaces over the years also hampered their population.

“Sparrow chicks need soft-bodied insects, because they require a diet rich in protein. So, when we eat into green spaces, we are also reducing the population of insects, which essentially breaks the food chain. But Delhi is headed in the right direction -- people are creating nesting boxes outside their houses, which is bringing these birds back,” Rahmani said.

But birders believe that the city has a long way to go.

Birder and author Nikhil Devasar said, “There has been no improvement at the count of sparrows within city limits. Trees are being cut to make way for builder flats and old houses are making way for buildings; this is no habitat for sparrows.”

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