World Sparrow Day: Making nests from scrap can attract the bird to urban areas

Delhi: 21 March, 2022 (Hindustan Times)

According to experts, the link between urbanisation and changing architecture may have played a key role in making the sighting of the house sparrow rare over the last couple of decades, but the bird is still present in the vicinity of residential areas

 

While the sparrow was declared Delhi’s state bird in 2012, March 20 has been celebrated as World Sparrow Day since 2010 – to highlight the decrease in numbers of the bird worldwide.

A decade after Delhi declared the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) its state bird, its dwindling population has seen an improvement, birders say. However, while the bird is more frequently sighted in urban spaces now as compared to before, experts say the bird can be attracted in greater numbers by creating nests out of household scrap, and increasing greenery around homes.

While the sparrow was declared Delhi’s state bird in 2012, March 20 has been celebrated as World Sparrow Day since 2010 – to highlight the decrease in numbers of the bird worldwide.

According to experts, the link between urbanisation and changing architecture may have played a key role in making the sighting of the house sparrow rare over the last couple of decades, but the bird is still present in the vicinity of residential areas and can be attracted to a household by simply creating nests out of cardboard boxes, jute, tetrapacks or wood. Rakesh Khatri, an environmentalist who runs Eco Roots Foundation and is known as the “Nest Man of India”, is among those looking to bring back Delhi’s state bird to an urban surrounding. Khatri, who has already built over 36,000 nests for sparrows in the last decade, says the opening of a nest needs to be fairly small, one that will only allow the sparrow to enter, and the nest itself needs to be placed at a height of around 10 to 12 feet – away from the reach of cats and squirrels.

“We have been holding workshops across Delhi-NCR. If the nest is made well--with a small opening--and placed at a good height, sparrows will inhabit it within a matter of days. That shows plenty of sparrows are present in the vicinity of houses, but are just not able to find the right nesting space,” says Khatri, stating he installed 10 jute nests at a house in Faridabad only last week, with sparrows inhabiting three of them within 24 hours.

In Delhi, he says he has recorded a high sparrow count in residential areas such as Mayur Vihar, Ashok Nagar, Dilshad Garden, Sarojini Nagar and Dwarka, stating green spaces and adequate food near a house or a residential complex helps attract the bird.

Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist-in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP) in north Delhi, says while older houses have adequate spaces for the bird to nest, a change in the structural design of houses means rock pigeons are able to nest more easily compared to sparrows. “Sparrows require small kitchen holes or crevices to nest, but these are not available anymore. Similarly, they need grasses and foraging material in the form of insects and seeds nearby. Manicured gardens are reducing food sources for sparrows,” he says.

 Meanwhile, scientists at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park in south Delhi have created a sparrow conservatory. Officials say over 300 sparrows nest there at a time. The conservatory consists of a mixture of bamboo, bush species and grasses underneath which can provide food for the bird.

“The house sparrow is a grainivore species. During its breeding period or summer, it eats insects and feeds them to its nestlings for their protein requirements and body growth. At the biodiversity park, the bird generally feeds on wild grass species such as Apluda, Andropogon,

Panicum and weeds such as Euphorbia hirta, Chenopodium alba, Boerhavia diffusa, Achyranthes aspera,” says park scientist in-charge, M Shah Hussain, adding a green habitat next to a residential neighbourhood such as Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar was beneficial for the bird. “It likes to live close to urban houses and despite fewer sightings, is still seen around us,” he says.

Others believe reducing the use of insecticides and pesticides is also likely to attract more sparrows. “We are seeing sparrows more commonly around Delhi NCR than before. The bird will naturally come to neighbourhood parks and lawns too, if there are adequate insects there. Bushes are also ideal nesting spaces for the bird, so houses with bushes or bougainvillea generally tend to attract the bird,” says Neha Sinha from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), urging people to reduce the use of insecticides.