HOUSE SPARROW– DECLINING POPULATION -Kalpana Palkhiwala



Universally familiar in appearance, the widespread and once abundant house sparrow has become a mystery bird and is becoming increasingly rare all over the world. Perky and bustling, house sparrows have always been seen, mingling with finches in the fields in autumn and winter, but now weeks pass without a single one putting in an appearance.

They are vanishing from many big cities, but are still not uncommon in small towns and villages. India has seen a massive decline of sparrows in recent years. On the world map too. Once a commonplace bird in large parts of Europe, its numbers are decreasing. In the Netherlands, the House Sparrow is even considered an endangered species. Their recent decline has earned them a place on the Red List in the Netherlands. Similar precipitous drops in population have been recorded in the United Kingdom. French ornithologists have charted a steep decline in Paris and other cities. There has been an even sharper fall in the urban areas in Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Finland.

History

It is thought that the House sparrow originated in the Mediterranean and expanded into Europe with the growth of civilization. At the insistence of man did the sparrow make its way across the Atlantic to the United States. In 1850, green inch worms were destroying trees in New York City’s Central Park. As the house sparrow’s main diet in England consisted of the same green worms, it was thought that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the sparrow would eliminate crop pests.

The first introduction of the sparrow was conducted by the Brooklyn Institute in 1851. Eight pairs were originally released but none were able to survive the change in climate. More attempts were made and eventually the birds adapted to a colder climate and multiplied. The sparrow rapidly spread across the United States. The abundance of spilled grain used for feeding horses and the artificial nesting cavities provided by humans helped the sparrow along. They successfully followed humans to many parts of the world- North and South America, Southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Food

The house sparrow is an intelligent bird that has proven to be adaptable to most situation, i.e. nest sites, food and shelter, so it has become the most abundant songbird in the world.

Sparrows are very social birds and tend to flock together through most of the year. A flock’s range covers 1.5-2 miles, but it will cover a larger territory if necessary when searching for food. The sparrow’s main diet consists of grain seeds, especially waste grain and live stock feed. If grain is not available, its diet is very broad and adaptable. It also eats weeds and insects, especially during the breeding season. The parasitic nature of the house sparrow is quite evident as they are avid seekers of garbage tossed out by humans. In spring, flowers (especially those with yellow colours) are often eaten crocuses, primroses and aconites seem to attract the house sparrow most. The birds also hunt butterflies.

Housing

House sparrows are generally attracted to buildings for roosting, nesting, and cover. They look for any man-made nook or cranny to build their nests. Other nesting sites are clothes line poles with the end caps open, lofts, kitchen garden etc. The sparrow makes its home in areas closely associated with human habitation.

Taxonomy

The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a member of the old world sparrow family Passeridae. Some consider it to be a relative of the Weaver Finch Family. A number of geographic races have been named, and are differentiated on the basis of size and cheek colour. Cheeks are grey in the west and white in the east. The shade of the colouration, particularly of the chestnut area in the males is also considered. Birds of the western hemisphere are larger than those in the tropical South Asian populations.

In India, it is popularly known as Goraiya in the Hindi belt. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is known as Kuruvi. Telugu language has given it a name, Pichhuka, Kannadigas call it Gubbachchi, Gujaratis call it Chakli where as Maharashtrians call it Chimani. It is known as Chiri in Punjab, Chaer in Jammu and Kashmir, Charai Pakhi in West Bengal, and Gharachatia in Orissa. In Urdu language it is called Chirya while Sindhi language has termed it as Jhirki.

Features

This 14 to 16 cm long bird has a wing span of 19-25 cms. It is a small, stocky song bird that weighs 26 to 32 grams. The male sparrow has a grey crown, cheeks and underparts, and is black at the throat, upper breast and between the bill and eyes. The bill in summer is blue–black and the legs are brown. In winter the plumage is dulled by pale edgings, and the bill is yellowish brown. The female has no black coloring on the head or throat, or a grey crown her upper part is streaked with brown. The juveniles are deeper brown, and the white is replaced by buff the beak is dull yellow. The House Sparrow is often confused with the smaller and more slender Tree Sparrow, which, however, has a chestnut and not grey crown, two distinct wing bars and a black patch on each cheek

The sparrow’s most common call is a short and incessant, slightly metallic cheep, chirrup. It also has a double call note- phillip wherein originated the now obsolete name of “phillip sparrow”. While the young are in their nests, the older birds utter a long churr. At least three broods are reared in the season.

Reproduction

The nesting sites are varied – in holes in buildings or rocks, in ivy or creepers, on houses or riverbanks, on sea-cliffs or in bushes in bays and inlets. When built in holes or ivy, the nest is an untidy litter of straw and rubbish, abundantly filled with feathers. Large well- constructed domed nests are often built when the bird nests in trees or shrubs, especially in rural areas.

The House Sparrow is quite aggressive in usurping the nesting sites of other birds, often forcibly evicting the previous occupants, and sometimes even building a new nest directly on top of another active nests with live nestlings. Eggs are variable in size and shape as well as markings. Eggs are incubated by the female. The sparrow has the shortest incubation period of all the birds, 10 -12 days, and a female can lay 25 eggs each summer. The reproductive success increases with age and this is mainly by changes in timing, with older birds breeding earlier in the season.

Causes of Decline

There are various causes for dramatic decrease in their population, one of the more surprising being the introduction of unleaded petrol, the combustion of which produces compounds such as methyl nitrite, a compound which is highly toxic for small insects, which forms a major part of a young sparrow’s diet. Other being areas of free growing weeds, or reduction in number of badly maintained buildings, which are important nesting opportunities for sparrows. Ornithologists and wildlife experts speculate that the population crash could also be linked to a variety of factors like the lack of nesting sites in modern concrete buildings, disappearing kitchen gardens, increased use of pesticides in farmlands and the non- availability of food sources.

K.S. Gopi Sunder of the Indian Cranes and Wetlands Working Group says: “Although there is no concrete evidence or study to substantiate the phenomenon, the population of house sparrows has definitely declined over the past few years”. He attributes this to a number of reasons. The widespread use of chemical pesticides in farmlands has resulted in the killings of insects on which these birds depend. “Seed-eating birds like sparrows have to depend on soft- bodied insects to feed their young ones,” he said. The other possibility could be increased predation by crows and cats, while crows have grown in number as a result of garbage accumulation in the city.

According to Dr. V. S Vijayan of the Coimbatore-based Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, though the avian species can still be spotted over two-thirds of the world’s land surface, “ironically, there has been a rapid decline in the population of these once abundant birds”. Changing lifestyles and architectural evolution have wreaked havoc on the bird’s habitat and food sources. Modern buildings are devoid of eaves and crannies, and coupled with disappearing home gardens, are playing a part in the disappearing act.

Today one misses the sight of sparrows hopping from branch to branch in the bushes outside one’s house and their chirping. One is taken back to well known Hindi Writer Mahadevi Verma’s Story ‘Goraiya’ – eating grains from her hands, jumping on her shoulders and playing hide and seek. Today one wishes that the Goriya does not remain confined in the pages of Mahadevi Verma’s story but comes back to our cities as ever before.

 

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23 Comments

  1. Lipika Ray says:

    Yes, the population is declining. But even now it is not too late. I live in Kolkata, in a multistoried building. I meet a group of 12 to 15 house sparrows every morning. If you can spare less than a fistfull of rice grain early morning and can keep a small earthen potfull of water they will come to greet you. We, the lesser mortals , cannot stop the use of unleaded petrol but can definitely do our bit to make the sparrows happy.

  2. R C GURU says:

    please let me know the lifespan of a housesparrow.

  3. Sagar Anerao says:

    First of all I Thank Kalpana Palkhiwala for the above information on sparrows. I thought sparrows only fed on grains, but u have given me valuable info. According to me the main culprit for declining population in india would be our forest dept or people related in planting trees. Everywhere u can see foreign trees which grow faster but dont give enough shade. The Govt should give strees on planting indian trees wherever its possible as these birds have adapted to indian climate.The Govt is incapable as it will not do anything to protect them,maybe each one of us should atleast plant an indian tree in the backyard.If that is not possible then atleast we can keep a tray of grains and water on our rooftops or in balconies.Nothing is Impossible.

  4. S D TIWARI says:

    SPARROWS ARE FOLLOWING THE PARROTS WHICH ARE CONFINED TO CAGES .IN MY OPINION INCECTICIDES ARE HAZARDOUS TO HUMANS TOO ,BUT HUMANS CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT THEM .UNTIL AND UNLESS AWARENESS PROGRAMMES AGAINST INSECTICIDES ARE LAUNCHED BY GOVT & NGO’S AS THEY HAVE BEEN AGAINST CORRUPTION,THERE’S NO WAY OUT .UNDOUBTEDLY MAN WILL ALSO FOLLOW THE SPARROWS BUT ……………………………NOBODY CARES !

  5. shyamaomprasad says:

    of late we have satrted a movement for conservation of house sparrow in our town with the help of dist.administration. we have also developed an artificial nest made of teracotta. we need your hearty copeation, can you.

  6. tanvi says:

    hi.. i live in gujarat & to save sparrow i have made bird houses out of waste shoe boxes, potter houses available in market, put some rice grains & vessel of water.. Avoid cats movement around… i was so happy so see birds greet with their chirping every morning wen i go to office… nice feeling.. <3

  7. vigeesh says:

    i am bsc zoologly student .i love house sparrows but the population house sparrow is dicreasing because of lack food material and lack of nesting site by industralisation and new developement world in making cites with high advanced methodology.

  8. i live in Nagpur.i think sparrows are decreasing because of climatic changes & mobile radiation.

  9. shyama om prasad says:

    since last january i alongwith a team with the help of district administration are trying for conservation of house sparrow,and we need your kind cooperation and active guidance ,can u?

  10. suresh.s.poojari says:

    i am staying in andheri .please tell me how i build nest for sparrow

  11. shagun says:

    this information is so true! still am connected with a variety of birds around me,i live in gurgaon but still i have a bunch of trees n i have four big gardens with all those flowers n some small holes made by me for birds n dey cm! i use d leaf wala katori for dere food in which dey eat happly, wateris kept in a mitti ka bartan>>n can mostly see peacocks arn in rainy season n many birds rite nw…but still dey r less for me! cause i want dem evry where! am jst 15,, n i want to save the animals in danger so u ppl can do alot frm me… i thnk we shld make groups on FB or other sites to creat awareness ,talk to ppl about it n evrday search for new ways to help the animals…

  12. Manticore says:

    I wish we could send you all the house sparrows we have in America. Here all they are is pests, they kill native bluebirds and take nesting space from other cavity nesters. They’re adorable, handsome birds, but they just do too much harm here. I’d much rather see them back in their native ranges.

  13. Shenoy says:

    Hi, I live in Bangalore, and like house sparrow, but now a days v r seeing very rarely in bangalore. I need to know how we can attract these small birds to come and to nest in and arround of our house. I can keep the carton box to nest them and try to attract them. But still need your help….pls

  14. Shenoy says:

    yes, now a days in city becoming more n more apartments and changing it’s looks were by these small birds are vanishing…
    Pls help…

  15. Kalpana Palkhiwala says:

    This is in response to Mr R C Guru’s query on life span of sparrow on March 12, 2011-

    In the wild sparrows usually live from one to three years, sometimes 5 years. In captivity they usually live 12 to 14 years. There was a report about one pet sparrow which lived to 15 years of age. The longest reported age of a wild sparrow is 23 years.

  16. Kalpana Palkhiwala says:

    This is in response to Mr Shenoy from Bangalore-

    Best way to attract this bird is give them option to be around you- your habitat. Invite them to visit your house,balcony, garden,kitchen garden etc.Hang discarded earthen pots, card boxes, special earthen pots with openings on two sides (poptters make them on request) etc in your garden, balcony (which is not closed) and put little water and grains.They smell it and will be a regular visitor at your place.

    My cousin has started this campaign in Gujarat after reading my feature and it is a great suceess.

  17. The most conspicuous reason for the house sparrow and tree sparrow population dwindling in modern day India is radiation from mobile phone towers. Assam Agricultural University found out that house sparrows survive more from tower radiation than tree sparrows in Guwahati. It only proves that house sparrows living in more protected environments than tree sparrows are less affected than tree sparrows that live in the open. They all are being eliminated en mass and is becoming a nearly extinct species anyway. Excessive use of pesticides by man and his constructing houses with practically no nesting places for birds nowadays only add to worsening of the situation. It is accepted knowledge that radiation and vibration from mobile phone handsets and mobile phone towers is not tonic to animal body and birds but a hazardous necessary evil, for the time being. It is inconceivable that authorities believe radiations from Mobile Phone Towers do not affect human and avian health and well-being. Even if we are sitting inside a rocky cave surrounded on all sides by dense forest or are lying hidden inside a rocky pit in the deep and unfathomable bowels of the Earth, our mobile phones still would have range and we can still send messages and receive messages, which means the atmosphere around us and our surrounding air is saturated with radiations and unperceivable vibrations. It is known all over the world, even to tiny school children, that our little mobile handsets are much harmful to human body than the large television sets. Who will deny that saturated presence of unnatural radiations is harmful to human body? At times, authorities including the union minister for communication will issue press releases, assuring that every step is taken to prevent excessive radiation from mobile phone towers. But what steps are they taking or can they take, apart from dismantling towers and resorting to other costlier communication technologies? At times they will say that some kind of directives has been issued to limit radiation to harmless levels. What harmless levels, undefined and ambiguous? Are these directives being kept and observed by the tele-communication department? And the sound pollution caused by these omnipresent mobile phone towers! Almost all of them have diesel generators attached to them to substitute electrical power when electricity fails, which almost always does. Never seen or heard about a costly noise-proof generator attached to a mobile phone tower in India. Noise-proof generators are must for all mobile phone towers, but except just a few here and there, almost all of those towers use diesel generators. No lawyer has ever approached a court nor has a judicial court ever issued an order prohibiting the use of diesel generators. So now, all over India, we have freely-functioning mobile phone towers, transmitting as much communication and radiation as they can, and affecting the health and life our children, pregnant women, ailing old men, avian beings and livestock. Occasionally, a few research organizations, funded by government which in its turn is funded by BSNL, Airtel, Tata and Reliance, would conduct some divertive studies and declare that they have found beyond doubt that mobile phone towers causing hazardous radiation on humans and birds is a baseless allegation.

  18. Sidharth says:

    They are decreasing because of Mobile RADIATION

  19. chandrashekhar says:

    I would like to buy some readymade house sparrow nests / houses. Let me know the source if any one knows

  20. b.muralidharan says:

    please let me know , any person to contact in chennai for i want to suporrt the cause of sparrow conversation, i live in a colony of 140 independant villas in manapakkam, where i have grown lots of trees some of them fruit trees especially for birds and invited lots of birds in to the colony in the last 7 years , but i feels if i can bring in sparrows it will make good sense to add to the birds survival. regards Muralidharan mob 9444001924.

  21. mohsin says:

    I would like to buy some readymade house sparrow nests / houses. Let me know the source if any one knows nd giv me the address in surat (gujarat)

  22. I chase that people that kill the bird I hate people so much………………………

  23. rodi says:

    the house sparrow is invasive they harm birds native to the americas so bird watchers are trying to eliminate it.

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