Missing the chorus chirping

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Missing the chorus chirping

Wednesday, 22 March 2023 | Rajdeep Pathak

Missing the chorus chirping

It is far better to hear the chirping, rather than the numb silence. The sparrows have disappeared so quietly that no one noticed them go

A little bird, with plumage brown,

Beside my window flutters down,

A moment chirps its little strain,

Ten taps upon my window–pane,

And chirps again, and hops along,

To call my notice to its song;

But I work on, nor heed its lay,

Till, in neglect, it flies away.

In my childhood, I remember the above lines from the first African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). Giving these spunky naughty birds broken rice grains to feed on, watching them wait impatiently for their food. This was as grandma and mother would clean grain in the open veranda – the sparrows were a part of our lives back in the hills. Ever since this friendly companion of ours is missing from the metropolitan cities, the poem seems to hold more relevance as the poet observes that this “Bird of peace and hope and love” has left us, since, “We in traffic’s rush and din/Too deep engaged to let them in/With deadened heart and sense plod on/Nor know our loss till they are gone”.

The sparrows have disappeared so quietly that no one has noticed them go. Either that or in the din of city life, people have been too busy to even notice their choral chirping, let alone miss their presence. The house sparrow (Passer domesticus) is no longer what it used to be – our ‘common’ friend. According to scientists, sparrows thrived around human beings and where grain was abundant. Lack of nesting sites in modern concrete buildings, disappearing kitchen gardens and a general apathy of humans towards this small but attractive bird have deprived them of their general habitat.

We remembered this ‘common’ household member on “World Sparrow Day” on March 20 – a result of a vigorous campaign by scientist-conservationist Mohammad Dilawar, founder of "Natura Forever”. But we also need to be serious as this little bird is gradually edging towards extinction and is listed in the Red List of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), United Kingdom.

There is a sharp decline in many places in India such as Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc. However, a ray of hope has emerged with the “State of India’s Birds 2000” report, which suggests that the population of House Sparrows has been fairly stable for the past 25 years. The report is based on 10 million observations contributed by over 15,500 birdwatchers since 2000, to an online portal called eBird. It suggests that the population of House Sparrows has been fairly stable for the past 25 years.

The history of the house sparrow is also fascinating. It was the ancient Romans who introduced the house sparrow to Europe from North Africa and Eurasia. Scientific studies also point to the astonishing fact that wherever there is a human population, sparrows follow them there. Fossil evidence from a cave in Bethlehem dating back 4,00,000 years suggests that the house sparrow shared its space with early humans. Conservationists attribute the decline in the population of house sparrows to the unfriendly architecture of our homes. This is because of chemical fertilisers in our crops, noise pollution that disturbs the acoustic environment and noxious exhaust fumes from vehicles. A report further attributed the depleting population of sparrows to the increased use of packed food, insecticides in farming, and changing lifestyles. This resulted in inadequate food supplies for the birds. They also feel that unlike pigeons that can make nests on ledges, sparrows need cavities to build their nests. Since the newly constructed defective architectural matchbox style buildings don’t have cavities, sparrows are left homeless.

Ornithologists suggest that people should provide some places in their homes for shelter, where sparrows can easily make their own nests and lay their eggs.

(The writer is programme executive, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti)

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