The Chirp Is Almost Gone

A common sight of nature is going to become a rare occurrence. When was the last time you saw the common house sparrow perched on your window sill, chirping? Maybe months,maybe years.It is a truism that scarcity and survival don’t go hand in hand.Our house sparrow seems to have learnt it the hard way. Rapid changes in our environment brought about by frantic human activity has kick started a domino effect.Various species of fauna have started to vanish,one following the other.The effect is quite emblematic of the symbiotic way of life on earth.

I still remember my grandmother feeding grains to the sparrows in the morning.The excited chirps on the verandah would be my reminder to wake up and get ready for school.The chirp is gone and the common house sparrow is not so common anymore.With the risk of sounding overtly pessimistic, I may state that we are on the verge of losing another species of fauna,which could not have been possible without human intervention.

Many of our “not-so-exotic’ birds are in grave danger.Passenger pegion pigeon,for example,has fallen prey to mindless hunting.They are now officially extinct.The white backed vulture,has been found missing,amidst various theories floating around to explain their ‘sudden’ disappearance.Sarus cranes of Bharatpur Reserve seem to be next in the line for their tryst with the doomsday ruin.Quite similarly,the common house sparrow is facing a threat,brought about by many of our own iniquitous methods.

What we are witnessing is not a localized phenomenon.The crisis is global.The decline in the sparrow population in Britain has set the alarm bells ringing for the ornithologists.The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) recorded a near 60% decline in the sparrow population in rural areas.The urban areas have seen a decline upto 95% in the same parameters.These turn of events have marked the bird’s entry in the UK’s Red List of endangered species.The British concern for the dwindling population of house sparrows doesn’t seem misplaced.Buckingham Palace,revered for its rich flora and fauna,has no more sparrows left in its vicinity.Various states in India,like Kerala and Punjab have recorded depressing statistics on the sparrow population.The decline varies from 50% to as much as 80% in various parts of our country.The road for the bird,surely leads to perdition.

The impending disaster calls for deep introspection into the probable causes.It throws up some inconvenient truths.It seems that the rapid human advent has brought about the downfall of the house sparrow.It all started when the pace of industrialization picked up pace in 1920’s.The destruction of heronries(wetland bird areas),loss of shrub vegetation coupled with reduction in potential breeding sites has accelerated the rate of decline in the sparrow population.Another reason cited,is scarcity of insects and grains which feed the young ones of the sparrows.Mindless use of pesticides in agriculture has created a ripple effect. No insects. No food. No sparrows. The presence of anti knocking agents in petrol such as TEL(tetraethyl lead) and N4TBE(methl tertiary butyl ether) is known to cause deadly poisoning in birds.With greater area under farmland being given up for building industrial areas and real estate,humans can be squarely blamed for depriving the sparrow of their food.The sparrow,being a spunky and social creature,depended on the grains provided by people on their morning jogs,or in their verandahs.All that has stopped,quite abruptly,adding up to the woes of the sparrow.Environmental degradation has brought about a decrease in their reproductive efficiency,due to egg sheath infection.

The all-devouring nature of humans has taken a toll on many a species,which have either vanished or fighting a lost battle for their survival.Many programmes have been started in India to protect our avifauna,like the Common Bird Conservation Programme,which looks a step in right direction.The Endangered Species Conservation Programme,which has been entrusted with the responsibility of finding out the factors affecting the population of our endangered birds.The programme aims to collect data relating to the habitat changes in the worst affected areas.Based upon the data from such areas,an action plan would be prepared to reverse the alarming trend of disappearance of sparrows.It also aims to include various other common bird species in India’s rural and urban areas,facing such a threat.

The friendliness of the sparrow is a fabled talk.The chirp does signify that “all is WELL” in our surroundings.Can we allow our mean methods to eat into the huge bounty of flora and fauna that Mother Nature has gifted us with?Of course,not.As William Catwright put it.” Tell me not of joy: there’s none Now my little sparrow’s gone; He, just as you, Would toy and woo, He would chirp and flatter me, He would hang the wing awhile, Till at length he saw me smile, Lord! how sullen he would be!”.Its time we move towards a much more environment-sensitive methods of advancement,or like the common house sparrow,we would also have to face our Judgement Day.

Manas Ranjan Kar

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