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Vol. 13 No. 2 - April 2007
‘Golden Jubilee Number’

Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?
By: Aqeel Farooqi*

The threat to species continues. As the inexorable juggernaut of human development rolls on, it leaves little or no elbowroom for other life forms to cling on tenaciously to the thread of survival. Whether it is the forest or urban environs, so many species are being pushed surely and steadily over the brink of extinction that one now tends to lose count. Although the larger and more well recognized endangered species have strong conservation groups supporting their struggle for existence, but for commoner species these threats are so imperceptible that conservationists get the chance of ringing the warning bells only long after the damage is done.

One victim of these imperceptible threats is Passer domesticus, the common house sparrow. As its name suggests, it is one of the bird species that have always been closely associated with us in our urban environment. A bird so ubiquitous, that it had almost become a part of our lives. More often than not, it was the sparrow which was the ‘chiya’ that parents pointed out to the bubbly infant in their arms - sometimes as the first lesson in making him aware of the wonders of his new world, or as a distraction to stop his streaming tears when he cried inconsolably in anger or in pain. As he grew up, they regaled him with stories of ‘chiriya-chidda’, in which the central characters were none other than sparrows.

Our homes always had sparrows as co-habitants. Any wooden rafter, crevice in the wall or the cup in the ceiling fan, was confidently staked by the sparrow to build its nest. Its initial forays, when it was searching for a nest-site, were strongly repulsed. But once it succeeded in laying its claim to a nesting site, we tended to let it go on unhindered. Although it turned out to be a nuisance for the house mistress because of the wispy nest material falling all over the place, it was tolerated with good humour since it contained eggs, and to demolish it was anathema to most. Later, as the hatchlings emerged, they often wriggled too vigorously in their quest for food and fell out of the nests, but were promptly replaced by us with tenderness and care. The ones that didn’t survive found teary eyes and willing little hands that laid them gently to rest in impromptu graves dug in the backyard.

But all that is now a thing of the past. Our homes are now drearily silent without the twitter and chirrup of the sparrows, which seem to have either gone into oblivion or have forsaken us in our mad race in the material world. With our beautifully constructed houses and rooms of isolation, we effectively banished the sparrow from our environs.

The older generation, for whom feeding the birds was akin to puja, has mostly passed away. The younger generation, with its hard-working couples in single unit families, has neither the time nor the inclination to bother about such mundane distractions as putting out food for the birds. Besides, thanks to the fridge and the changed culinary setup, nothing qualifies as leftovers.

And so, with no food and no place to qualify as home, the poor sparrow has all but made a quiet exit from our lives. Only a few die-hard stragglers remain, to make us more acutely aware of their plight. There may not be any research conducted, and no questions may be asked to explain this loss. After all, the sparrow does not have any NGO rooting for its survival as there are for other high-profile species.

But to those of us who grew up chasing sparrows during the hot summer afternoons, after making stealthy escapes from strictly enforced siestas, the cheerful chirrup from even one sparrow today is enough to gladden our hearts.

* The author is a government officer serving in the UP State Transport Department, based at Lucknow in India. Wildlife is his passion. He is associated with leading NGOs on several conservation issues and has served as honorary UP State Coordinator of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) established by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the UK based Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), and continues as Partner, IBCN.

E-mail - [email protected]; Website - http://www.wildlifeofindia.com/

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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