by Tharangini Bala
With over 80 per cent decline in sparrow population across cities in India, North America, Great Britain, Netherlands and even Australia, the work of wildlife conservationist Santosh Martin and Sunaina Martin, in reviving the Sparrow population in Ballarii district, Karnataka, India, comes as a blessing.
International sparrow day is observed with lot of dedication every year on March 20th but not everyone seems to have the time or energy to actually do something for the rapidly disappearing population of the most common neighbors to humanity in cities.
Taking up the revival work in 2015, Santosh says now the sparrow population has stabilized and is slowly growing in Ballari cantonment area and Cowl bazaar. Other areas where nest boxes have been installed there are fewer breeding individuals and so need extra care to increase their population.
It was not an easy journey with availability and cost of nest boxes being the most difficult challenge. The next one being identification of areas with at least a few breeding populations in the city.
“We found a couple of places where there were 6-8 individuals (which was great for a start). Also the availability of plants and bushes nearby for the availability of insects and caterpillars for the young ones was crucial for the chick’s growth. (Juveniles feed only on soft insects and caterpillars and not on food grains). Convincing people to fix nest boxes in their houses is perhaps another challenge as the birds make the place messy and are generally noisy in the mornings and evenings. Most don’t like to pay for the boxes and would reluctantly oblige only if the boxes were given free of cost, ” adds Santosh.
In the absence of sparrows, other urban wildlife like Pigeons, Mynas, Crows and even Squirrels are thriving in cities. Even if they are revived, survival chances for sparrows in this scenario are a major challenge. Pigeons and Mynas pose a bigger threat in terms of real estate for nesting spaces. The competition from crows and squirrels is lesser since they nest on trees. “Sparrows can certainly survive as they have plenty of food and water for the chicks and adults even in an urban setup, provided we give them space to breed,” informs Santosh.
Coming to the IT city of Bengaluru, it has lost all but about 10 to 15 per cent of its sparrow population. Lack of breeding space is a major constraint and people’s movement is needed to bring back these birds. “Houses with small population of Sparrows have to be identified and the owners have to be convinced to install nest boxes. This is the only hope though it is very artificial. Companies should be requested to fund for the purchase of boxes as part of CSR since asking individual house owners to buy and install is not so easy.”
Sparrows and humans have an association that dates back to over 10000 years. It is imperative that the sparrows get all the help possible to make their comeback.