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Song of the sparrows

ROHINI RAMAKRISHNAN

March 20 is World House Sparrow Day. Once commonly sighted, these little chirpy birds are fast disappearing. Have you seen a sparrow lately?


“A little bird, with plumage brown, / Beside my window flutters down,/ A moment chirps its little strain,/ Then taps upon my window-pane,/ And chirps again, and hops along,/ To call my notice to its song;” said Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem titled The Sparrow.

March 20 is World House Sparrow Day. Try to find out something about these little feathered friends and see how you can protect them.


Small, plump and cheeky, this dinky bird has firmly decided to live with humans. But recently their non-appearance in localities where they ruled the roost, is worrying. Whom are we talking about? Certainly not about a flamboyant or an exotic bird. But a rather drab brown and grey creature who has befriended us humans with its chirps and cute little ways and is so much a part of our life. As Birdman Theodore Baskaran describes them, they are one species that closely follow man, like the crow. “They are our co-tenants,” he says.

This little bird could be quite a bully and is known for taking over nests of other birds, and turfing out older “tenants”. But both the male and female take care of their young, unlike other species, for instance among peacocks only the female takes care of its chicks.

Many reasons are given for their apparent “disappearance”. The introduction of unleaded petrol is one, as the combustion of which produces compounds methyl nitrite, which is highly toxic for small insects that forms a part of a chick's diet.

Old houses had eaves and tiles that were comfortable perches to build nests on. External wirings and framed pictures too were “habitats”. But sleek modern buildings no longer have these and so we have lost these “feathered neighbours”.


As supermarkets mushroom in urban areas, the old fashioned grain shops are disappearing. It was once a common sight to see flocks of sparrows feasting on the grain in the gunny sacks displayed in front of these shops or on the spilt grain.

Urbanisation has done away with home gardens, which had worms and insects for the young sparrows. But pesticides have proved lethal for their survival. The most recent reason for their disappearance is the mobile phone towers. The waves from the tower are capable of destroying the life in the eggs. Thereby they are incapable of hatching.

Immortalised

Folk art of the tribals such as the Sauras (They are mentioned as ‘Savaras' in Ramayana and Mahabharata) has incorporated these little birds in their paintings which decorate the walls of their homes with. Paintings on religious and ceremonial themes adorn them with motifs of flowers, birds, trees and numerous geometrical shapes and designs. The minute details of the paintings also reflect the day-to-day lives of the Sauras. This art-form is mostly found in the Rayagada, Gajapati and Koraput districts of Orissa.

The Warli tribes in Maharashtra (The origin of this tribe goes back to Neolithic period between 2500 BC and 3000 BC) too depict them in their paintings. Whenever a wedding or birth ceremony takes place in the tribe, they celebrate it by adorning their houses with designs. During the harvest, paintings and designs on the walls are painted as a way of celebration.

Many folk songs too celebrate the little bird and the literary work “The Tolkâppiyam” a work on the grammar of the Tamil language, and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature has incorporated it.

In more contemporary times, Subramanya Bharathi has written a famous poem about sparrows being the symbol of freedom. The Hindi author Mahadevi Verma's Story Goraiya — makes one wish that the sparrow would return to enrich our urban lives once more.


Known by many names

The House Sparrow ( Passer domesticus) is a species of passerine bird in the sparrow family Passeridae. In India, it is popularly known as goraiya in the Hindi speaking districts. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is known as kuruvi. In Telugu it is known as the pichhuka, and in Kannada, gubbachchi. The Gujaratis call it chakli whereas the Maharashtrians call it chimani. It is known as chiri in Punjab, chaer in Jammu and Kashmir, Charai Pakhi in West Bengal, and gharachatia in Orissa. In Urdu it is called chirya while in Sindhi, it is known as jhirki.


Celebrate

The World House Sparrow Day is an international initiative by Nature Forever Society in collaboration with Bombay Natural History Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology (USA), Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) Avon Wildlife Trust (UK) and numerous other national and international organisations across the world. The World House Sparrow Day will be celebrated on March 20, 2010. Check out: www.worldhousesparrowday.org


What will the World House Sparrow Day achieve?

This event will celebrate the House Sparrows and also birds and biodiversity found around us. It will also bring together all the individuals and organisations working on the conservation of House Sparrows and urban biodiversity. The attention of government agencies and the scientific community on the whole for more conservation measures and research on the common bird species will be focused. You can celebrate this day in your school and locality.

You can write about it to :info@worldhousesparrowday.org

You can also join the World House Sparrow Day and World House Sparrow Group on Facebook to keep yourself updated.


What you can do

Sprinkle grain on the verandah/terrace of your house.

If you have even a little space around your house, try to make a home/kitchen garden.

Feed platforms might help the welcome birds back.

Clean water can be kept.

Pots with straw can be hung as nesting sites.

Lead environmentally healthy lives so that birds too can survive.

Say no to pesticides in your homes. Use organic repellents.

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