Where are the sparrows?
House Sparrows. Photo: M.R. Kiran

March 20 was World Sparrow Day. Like it has been doing since 2010, this year too members of the Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS), a city-based non-governmental organisation that is involved in biodiversity conservation and education, scouted the city on the day to make a count of house sparrows.

Members of TNHS organised themselves into seven groups and went along seven well-defined routes looking for the once-ubiquitous bird, the numbers of which are on a decline the world over. The count was taken between 7 a.m. and 11.30 a.m.

The final tally of the sparrow count presented a chequered pattern, say the members. “Although the bird is seen to be fighting a relentless battle to retain its traditional strongholds in pockets such as Chalai and Connemara market in Palayam and a few other places such as Attakulangara, we drew a blank in other areas where these birds were expected to be seen at least sparsely. The number of birds in their traditional forts was also not showing an upward trend as was expected,” says Kalesh S., a bird and butterfly enthusiast and one of the key members of the TNHS.

Although there is a decline noted in the numbers at Connemara market, the group says that is not a major cause for worry, as the house sparrow population is more or less on a healthy footing in the market. “The real saviours of the birds in the market are a handful of head-load workers, who are doing a commendable work of up-keeping and renovating the bird nests, during their spare time. They have even put up discarded plastic jars and broken pots, which the birds have accepted for nesting,” say K.B. Sanjayan and M.R. Kiran, members of the group who visited the market on March 3, as part of their periodical follow-up to assess the status of House Sparrows. “The foursome of the head-load workers R. Moniyan, S. Jayan, H. Ashokan and Murukan always look out for the sparrows and keep themselves updated about the status of the birds. This time too they pointed out the nests which have fledglings and also nests which have been rendered empty consequent to the leaving of a litter,” say the duo. TNHS members also noted a number of sparrow families with chicks rummaging in the front yard of the market. They found that the Golden Showers and Indian Cherries that were planted when the vehicle parking area was commissioned, were a source of supplementary food for the birds in addition to the grains and food waste available in the market.

In light of the survey, Dr. Kalesh, says that the society now plans to install as many as 20 nests at Attakulangara and Chalai. “We also plan to conduct an awareness programme among the local populace to function as saviours of the birds. Putting bird nests alone will not bring the desired dividends. The bird nests should be maintained regularly and the bird activity monitored periodically.”

In the second phase of the programme bird nests will be installed at other potential areas such as Peroorkada market, Paruthippara, Kedaram complex at Kesavadasapuram , Pattom, Vellayambalam, Sasthamangalam, Vazhuthacaud, Thirumala, Thampanoor, Shanghumughom, Pettah market, Medical College area, Sreekariyam and also in Kazhakuttam and Nedumangad. For the successful implementation of the same, TNHS requires volunteers from the local and student community. Contact: 9447044498 / 9446558994 or 9447761495.

Apart from Kalesh, Sanjayan and Kiran, members TNHS who participated in the house sparrow count are K. Jayakumar, K. Baiju, M. Ramesh, H. Charan, S. Ajithkumar, and A. Jithu

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In Chalai market, the survey team counted as many as 41 birds, though the count in 2012 was 53.

In Attakulangara, 30 birds we located, in place of the 52 birds seen last year.

At Connemara Market – known to be the stronghold of house sparrows in the city – the number stood at 101 sparrows. This is less than the TNHS count of 148 birds in 2012

North eastern parts of the city comprising Sreekariyam, Ulloor, Kesavadasapuram, Paruthippara and Peroorkada were marked by the complete absence of these birds. A repeat survey is planned to confirm its total absence and also to zero in on the causes for its absence.

At Karamana three pairs were spotted. Other areas in the city that figured in the count with negligible population of the bird were Shanghumughom, Valiathura, Vettukad, Pettah, Medical College campus and Kazhakuttam.

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