ECO TALK Why has the once common sparrow disappeared of late? Students in Madurai went looking for reasons. S.S. KAVITHA
In south India, it was considered a good omen if a sparrow built a nest inside the house. Such was the bond between man and bird that the sparrow was classified as a domestic species; hence the name passer domesticus. Once found almost everywhere, since its breeding habitat is mostly associated with human modified environments, of late it has become very difficult to spot this chirpy little bird.
According to a survey by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the number of sparrows in Andhra Pradesh has dropped by 80 per cent while in other states like Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan the number of sparrows has dropped by 20 per cent. The survey also revealed a 70-80 per cent overall drop of the bird in costal areas.
Noticing this vanishing act, B. Prasanna Aarthi, S. Bargavi, K. Krishna, R. Madhu Sweta, and K. Nagarajan, who call themselves trendzsetters, decided to focus on the population of the passer domesticus in and around Madurai.
As an initiative of Teens for Planet Earth under the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), New York, they registered their project Chittukuruvi. Under the guidance of B.A. Daniel from Zoo Outreach and Jeanine Silversmith of WCS, the team began their questioning from the heart of Madurai and gradually moved to a radius of 20 km around the city.
Their survey showed that the bird was fast disappearing both in the urban and rural areas. Though the exact reason for the decline couldn’t be pinpointed, the survey showed that increasing industrialisation, changing patterns of construction, decreasing green cover and large-scale use of insecticides had a role to play. These tiny birds built nests in crevices and holes, which modern buildings tend to avoid.
Another major factor was the way in which food is packed. Earlier, sparrows would peck at the grain in the backyard of homes and also most food was packed in paper bags.
Grain spills outside godowns and homes brought the sparrows in large numbers. Now with backyards being non-existent and grains being cleaned and packed in plastic packaging, there are no spills. The loss of home gardens, trees and insect life has also affected these tiny birds since the young sparrows are reared on insects.
Another crucial reason that the team found was that the base stations for mobiles could play a role in the disappearance of the house sparrow. These base stations cause electro-smog or increased electromagnetic contamination. They produce pulsating waves of 900 MHZ for analog and 1800 MHZ for digital transmission which could affect the reproductive, circulatory and central nervous system of the birds.
The house sparrow is a casualty of changing human lifestyles, says the team in conclusion. The team was awarded the bronze medal by WCS. It is to be noted that more than 100 teams from all over the world participated in the initiative.
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