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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Where have all those sparrows gone?

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Just some years back, House Sparrows were the most common birds among all the terrestrial bird-species in India. But the chirpy sounds made by these small birds are rarely heard today. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) included sparrows in the Red Data List of threatened species in the year 2002 along with other animals like Snow Leopard, Tiger, and Red Panda.

About 15 to 20 years back, sparrows were regarded as dominant bird species. Farmers used to accuse them for eating away grains from their crop plants like paddy and wheat. They were loud, noisy, naughty and even disturbing at some times. They formed a par of our lives as we had to protect our grains drying in the sun. They used to move through our open kitchens and verandahs without any fear. Every little corner or crevice of our house or thatch roof could be adorned with not so well shaped grassy- wooly nests of sparrows. Most often we used to see sparrows fighting fiercely among themselves over minor things and falling down wing to wing on the ground to attract a cruel cat or a dog, but cleverly flying up and chasing away the enemy. Every morning and evening used to be full of the chirping sounds of these birds. But now a single sparrow is hard to be seen or heard in many parts of our country. Where have all those sparrows gone?

Image 1

The reducing or vanishing trend in population of sparrows is being experienced now the world over. The population of sparrows has fallen by over 90% in Britain during the last 15 years. About 2 lakh sparrows have disappeared from Paris within a decade and more than 60% of sparrows have already disappeared from the land of Jharkhand state. In Uttar Pradesh, Warblers are fast replacing most of the house sparrows. The population of sparrows in the recent past has been reduced gradually across their home ranges. A survey by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) New Delhi reveals that Andhra Pradesh has lost 80% of its sparrow population. What are possible causes for the decline of the number of sparrows from different Indian states and outside the country?

Modern styles of house –building, predation by different animals, depletion of food resources, large scale use of pesticides in agriculture and horticulture, pollutions, and electro smog etc have been considered as major causes of depletion of population of sparrows. Changes in the styles of building construction are other serious causes of reduction in the population of these birds. Modern day tiled houses have no holes or crevices. This condition leads to serious problems before nesting by these birds. Under such types of conditions our birds are forced to construct nests in vulnerable positions which ultimately lead to serious hazards and destructions. Forced nesting of birds makes them vulnerable to predator animals like crows and cats.

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Changing life-styles of human beings have replaced the vegetable gardens by ornamental plants that do not support insects that are liked by birds for their food. Grains, seeds of grasses and insects are major parts of food items of sparrows. They preferably eat insects found on crop plants. But now, grains and insects both remain contaminated with poisonous pesticides and growth of seed producing grasses is hampered by the system of mono-agriculture.

Eating insecticide-contaminated insects or insects with thin coating of insecticides on their bodies causes thinning of egg-shells of birds. Such eggs do not produce young ones. On the other hand, eating pesticide laced seeds kills most of the birds. Some researchers are of the opinion that some strange diseases may be the potential cause behind reduction in the population of sparrows, but the fact has not been proved by now.
In urban localities fumes and gases released through the automobile exhausts cause serious atmospheric pollution that produces serious threats against the lives of small birds. High pitched sounds of crackers that are used during victorious hours after cricket matches and political events and during different festivals like Deepawali etc cause heart attacks and nervous failure in small birds like sparrows. Such types of sounds can directly kill most of the insects that form proteinaceous food for these birds.

Mobile Communication Base Stations are causing serious electro-magnetic radiations. It has been reported by scientists that pulsating waves of 900 MHz for analog and 1800MHz for the digital transmission damages nervous systems of small birds, bees and even of human beings. These radiations have been proved to affect reproduction, circulatory systems, and central nervous systems of birds and to cause Micro-wave Syndrome.

Since our sparrows form an important link of the natural systems, contain valuable gene-pool, add beauty to our surroundings, and have rights to live like we have … they must be protected. Hence it is our sacred duty to extend our best efforts to protection of our natural environment, and hence to protection of our sparrows and all the other living beings. How can we contribute to the protection of sparrows? We can try to organise a programme to generate awareness about the protection of sparrows- Frame a project, organise a lecture session, prepare and distribute handouts, organise a poster exhibition on the theme of importance of sparrows in eco-system; construct feeding-posts, bird-baths and even artificial nests in some corners of your back yards or in your school if there is sufficient place. 

Key Words : sparrow, IUCN, Red Data List, electromagnetic radiation, mobile communication

Photo credit : Image 1- commonswikepedia.org, Image 2: Flyingwritingsuperhero.blogspot.in

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