THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The name house sparrow seems to be a misnomer for the little bird that we mostly find flitting about in markets. In fact its Malayalam name ‘Angadi Kuruvi’ better describes the characteristics of the bird. There was time when the bird with its grey crown and greyish white under parts with buff flanks would hop around the grain store.
These birds were not overtly friendly but had their own way of making their presence felt in the market. Some of the shop keepers believed that the birds would bring luck. So they were more than willing to leave their winged friends all alone.
The birds feed on the pests found in the cereal bags which used to be sold in the open markets. This was some time ago. The markets have undergone drastic changes. There are no more open stores. The shops now are air conditioned and the food items come in neatly packed plastic covers.
A survey conducted by various organisations found that the population of sparrows have fallen drastically. Chalai, Attakulangara, Valiyathura, Connemara market, Vallakadavu, Bheema Palli, Vellayambalam, Sasthamangalam, Peroorkada and Mannanthala are some of the locations identified for survey.
The survey done by Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS) found that Connemara market in Palayam has only a handful of sparrows. In 2012, they cited 148 birds. But the recent survey found only 35 birds.
An annual survey by WWF-India has revealed a steep drop in the population of house sparrows in the district.
This year the headcount in 15 sites revealed a total of 398 birds only, against last year’s 411 in ten sites. The original ten sites had only 227 birds - a 45 per cent drop in sparrow population, compared to last year.
Vallakkadavu-Beemapally region, Sulaiman Street-Poonthura and Valiyathura-Shangumugham revealed huge drop in the number of birds this year. The World Market at Anayara appears to be the most unfriendly place for sparrows as not even a single bird was spotted here in 2016 and 2017. This year, the survey also covered Neyyatinkara, Vellarada, Poovar and Nedumangad. As many as 171 house sparrows were spotted in these five locations.
Bird watchers found out that loss of habitat and inadequate availability of food are the reasons leading these small birds to extinction.
Anish Mohan Thampi, an avid bird watcher and an employee of C-DAC, spent his weekend with the WWF-India doing the survey. This was his maiden participation in the survey. He rode his bike to Vallakadavu area where he expected a lot of birds. “I could not find a single one even in the morning. It looks like the birds have moved from the area,” he said. He later rode to Priyadarshini Nagar. Here he found that the scene was better much. I found 17 birds there, he said.
Journalist C Rahim is one of the pioneers of House Sparrow conservation in the city. According to him the current state is saddening because the city markets were once a major habitat of sparrows. “House sparrow is an urban bird and it is closely associated with the urban eco system,” said Rahim. He co-founded the Writers and Nature Lovers Forum which has taken up many conservation efforts since 2011. Nests for the house sparrows was one of the efforts by the Forum.
Along with the Social Forestry Department, the Forum made 100 nests in Connemara market. The model was replicated in other districts with the help of the Social Forestry Department. But it looks like the birds have moved away from our shopping experience.