Spare a thought for the sparrow

Spare a thought for the sparrow

About five or six years ago, I was in Mumbai for a short stay and was located in Goregaon/Malad region which was less urbanised at that time compared to other parts of the City. In the adjacent compound, I saw a flock of sparrows nesting on a tree.

It was a rare thing to see in such a big city. It’s the same scenario in Bangalore as well. Apart from a few old areas like Basavanagudi and Malleswaram, there are not many localities in the City where you can spot a sparrow.

Sparrows were an intrinsic part of our lives till a few decades ago. Every year, March 20 is celebrated as World Sparrow Day, an initiative that will hopefully bring the tiny birds back in our midst.

They are small birds belonging to the passerine family. These birds are primarily seed eaters and also feed on small insects. Some of them scavenge for food around human habitations. The difference between various species of sparrows is not much. There are many varieties including chestnut sparrows (passer eminibey) and parrot billed sparrow (passer gongonensis). Similar to other seed-eating birds such as finches, sparrows too have vestigial dorsal outer primary feather and extra bone in the tongue. This bone helps stiffen the bird’s tongue while it holds the seed.

Distribution and habitat

Sparrows are found in Europe, Africa and Asia. In America and Australia and other parts, settlers introduced sparrows which naturalised very easily, particularly in urban areas. These birds thrive in habitats which include grasslands, deserts and scrublands. Snow finches and ground sparrows are all species of high altitude. Few like Eurasian tree sparrows inhabit open woodland. The aberrant cinnamon ibon species lives in the forests of the Philippines.

Sparrows are social birds and breed in colonies. The great sparrow is one variety which is an exception. It breeds in solitary pairs and remains in small family groups during the non-breeding season. Most sparrows form large roost aggregation during the non-breeding season. Sites are chosen for cover and include trees, thick bushes and residential buildings. Assemblages are quite large and about 10,000 house sparrows were counted in one roost in Egypt.

Social birds

For human beings, sparrows are the most familiar variety of birds. They are known to thrive in agrarian ecosystems. In farming societies, sparrows are highly useful, as they keep pests and insects away. The Eurasian tree sparrow thrives in human habitations only. About 17 of the 26 sparrow species nest and feed around buildings. It is important that we conserve this crucial bio-indicator. Everyone of us should contribute to bringing this bird back into our homes and gardens.

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