Saturday, 24 September 2011

House Sparrow: Pest or Friend?

The answer to the question partly depends upon whether the House Sparrow is native or introduced, although people all around the world are learning to appreciate the House Sparrow as another admirable species with an array of tenacious survival skills.

In the USA, the House Sparrow is often regarded as "a foreign European invader" having first been introduced in 1851 on the East Coast. Releases of breeding pairs took place throughout the 19th Century across the nation and by 1910 House Sparrows were thriving in California.

While they enjoyed popularity in the 19th Century, they are now often seen as unwanted competition with Native American birds, such as Bluebirds, who share the same diet and habitat. The House Sparrow is sometimes blamed for reducing the food supply and availability of nesting sites native birds used to enjoy.

Many accounts of the House Sparrow written for American audiences suggest ways to control and decrease their populations. Traps are often promoted as an effective control, but they run the risk of killing native birds. Organisations, such as the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology, list other ways such as not feeding or providing nest sites for them.

While they are considered pests in the USA, the House Sparrows is looked more kindly upon in their native countries such as the United Kingdom and India where their populations are currently in decline. The House Sparrow is on the endangered species red-list in the United Kingdom where it enjoys legal protection against hunting, trapping and the destruction of nests.

House Sparrows can be considered as friends when their familiar chatter reminds people of 'home'.

House Sparrows do not migrate and their daily appearances throughout the winter provide a source of entertainment and event in an otherwise dull season in residential gardens, particularly in the United Kingdom where winters can be harsh and only a few birds remain to battle through the storms.

They also draw admiration for their nesting determination and raising of up to three broods a year. Adult pairs are often seen as 'heroes' for the way they marshall the increasing flock during hectic breeding and fledgling seasons.

When they leave urban areas for weeks to a month after the fledglings can fend for themselves, they are often missed and people look forward to their return.

And when they do not return, people look for ways to entice them back. When they were nearly eliminated in China under Mao's government because they were seen as pests that destroyed food crops for people, farmers found their crops had been destroyed by the insects the House Sparrows kept under control. They were reintroduced.

If the House Sparrow does not respond to current efforts to increase native populations, the solution might be to import breeding pairs from the United States, a solution that just might make everyone happy!!


Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ('t-like-house-sparrows.htm
Introduced Summary Project, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus

Friday, 9 September 2011

Exhibiton, Delhi, India: "The Lost Sparrow"

Gallery Threshold in Dehli, is holding a five day long exhibition-workshop from 12 September, "The Lost Sparrow", to help raise public sensitivity about House Sparrows and their declining population in India.

"Our goal is to help create awareness and start a conservation movement ot save our birds which are a vital part of our eco-system," said gallery owner, Tunty Chauhan, to The Hindu newspaper on 6 September 2011.

"We are conducting an Awareness Workshop with seven schools to create a ripple effect to sensitise the public to the cause of the lost sparrow."

On offer will be a slide show by the Bombay Natural History Society and a talk by Dilawar Mohammed of Nature Forever Society, a non-governmental organisation specalising in Sparrows. There are also plans for a carpentry and pottery workshop to create and distribute bird houses. The Workshops will take place in the Gallery surrounded by paintings with Sparrow subject matter by "seasoned and contemporary" artists .

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Raising the Awareness of Young People about House Sparrow Decline

Twenty-six high school students in Ganapathy, Coimbatore, India, are involved in a project to to protect House Sparrows sponsored by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) based in Anaikatty. The project aims to bring back the species to the Ganapathy neighbourhood by creating a natural habitat for them in residential gardens with feeding cans and nestboxes.

The Times of India (1 September 2011) reports:

'"Till some years ago, I could spot many sparrows around my house. But the numbers have really dwindled. We hardly see any sparrows these days," says Fiona Desimon, a student and avid bird lover.

"The awareness programme conducted by SACON helped us understand the problem and it is really sad to know their population is dwindling by the day. By putting up feeding cans, we can help the sparrows increase in numbers," she added.

Joseph Reginald, a research scholar at SACON, said the students would be taken to various places in the city to understand sparrow behaviour and habitat.

"During our study, we found 15 places in the city with a substantial sparrow population. Of these, we selected Ganapathy Ma Naga and Walayr for our project. The students will distribute (free) nests and feeding cans to houses in these areas," Joseph said.

"The destruciton of nests and rapid urbanisaiton are the reasons for the exstinction of birds in cities," said R Kumar Moorthy, a student active in the project. "The root cause of the disappearance of these birds is massive development work which leads to the cutting of trees and mangroves. Pollution, too, compounds the problem."'

SparrowSquad writes: A similar loss of habitat in the United Kingdom is also partly responsible for the House Sparrow demise in the United Kingdom. We feel a balance has to be created by Town and City Planners that meets the needs of birds, animals and people. You can help the House Sparrow by being alert to the material changes in your neighbourhood that would deprive House Sparrows of nesting sites and food sources. In the UK, every resident of a Borough has the right to object to Planning Applications. Good luck!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Sparrow Queen: Sadhana Rajkumar, Chennai, India

The Times of India, 31 August 2011, reports:


"There's a reason why they call Sadhana Rajkumar the "sparrow queen". After all, she has made it her mission to get the little brown birds back into the city. For a whole year now, Sadhana, a diet and fitnes consultant by profression, has been making sparrow nests and handing them out to Chennaites in the hope that someday the house sparrows will come back.

" 'I was inspired by my mother', says Sadhana. 'She mentioned to me one day that she was sad that she culd no longer see sparrows in the city. That's when I started doing research on the birds and found out that thye were actually quite important ecoologically too,' she adds.

So Sadhana decided to get started on the project. She got Lakshmanan, a carpenter in Perambur, to make sparrow nestboxes out of waste wood and started handing them out to friends.

"Sadhana got so involved in the project and the response she received that she decided to continue with the project. 'Every now and then we hand the nestboxes out at Marina Beach and other places in the city. I have given away 60 so far,' says Sadhana.

"Her nesting project seems to have met with some success. Stockbroker Divya Reddy, one of the first to pick up a nestbox, says the sparrows came to the nest three days after she put it up. 'I just put in a little hay, dried grass and they started flying in.'

"Paper mart owner J Jehangir got his nestbox from Sadhana five months ago while he was on his morning walk at the Marina. 'She was just standing there handing them out, so my friends and I thought, why not get some. Ten of us picked them up and I am glad I did because the sparrows are coming.'

Sadhana keeps in touch with the people who have taken the nests to see if the sparrows are coming. 'We have found that they are coming back to areas ike Chepauk and Mylapore but not yet in other parts. Now, I'm asking people to create mud baths and put some grains along with the nests in the hope that it lure them,' says Sadhana.

Building on garden land robs House Sparrows of nesting and feeding habitats

Urban House Sparrows find nesting sites in the scrubby cover of untended open ground in cities and in residential gardens according to a new study by The British Trust for Ornithology (

The BTO concludes that "House Sparrow numbers could be hit by the building of new homes on existing urban gardens" and the development of open spaces. Garden shrubs provide places for house sparrow flocks to congregate and they are attracted by bird boxes and cavities under roof tiles for nesting.

"Garden Grabbing" (building on gardens) will contribute to the decline in House Sparrows. The BTO notes that "last year, the UK Government promised a crackdown on the practice of garden grabbing" which rose from one in 10 to a quarter of new propeties between 1997 and 2008. In response, the BTO calls for "planners to limit development on gardens where sparrows are present as part of the efforts to improve garden habitats, as well as preserving good quality green spaces and brownfield sites".

Householders can help make their gardens Sparrow Friendly by planting cottoneaster and berberis, as well as providing nestboxes with a 32mm (1.25") diameter entrance hole.

If you are concerned about Garden Grabbing and the effect it has on all urban bird and wildlife, write to your local Councillors and your MP as well as supporting the work of the BTO. Thank you!

(BTO Press Release, "Sparrows hit by Garden Grabbing", 31 August 2011.