Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Citizen Sparrow: The Story So Far

The Bombay Natural History Society has launched ‘Citizen Sparrow', an online survey to study the decline in the population of house sparrows
“They are feeling my house to make a nest…”

“They are like family; they lived with us in our house…in the walls and old roofs…”

“They would build nests in our fans…and in every nook and cranny of the house. They would hop around eating crumbs and drinking water, even bathing in the dog's bowls…”

“They enjoy Basmati rice much more than the cheaper variety!”

It's stories such as these that make ‘Citizen Sparrow' so interesting. Launched by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), ‘Citizen Sparrow' is an online survey aimed at “documenting the presence or absence of sparrows” in India. Sparrows seem to have suddenly disappeared from our lives. Where have they gone? Conservation experts from across the country have come together to find out.

According to Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS, questions in Parliament about the fall in the population of sparrows triggered the survey. “The Ministry of Environment and Forests wrote to me asking me to prepare a report. I made one and the government replied that they would like BNHS to study sparrows. Initially, the question of mobile towers affecting sparrows came up and we did a literature survey to find out more. But we found that there were contradictory reports. There was no concrete evidence that mobile towers caused the decline. That led us to this project.” The subject being vast and since sparrows were found all over the country, the scientists decided to involve people in the project. “At the end of two months, we will analyse the results,” explains Rahmani.

So why are there fewer sparrows now when compared to the past? “There are multiple reasons for the decline. The major cause being pesticides,” says Rahmani. “They have killed a lot of soft-bodied insects. Young house sparrows feed on such insects — they are almost gone now. I can hardly see earthworms in the soil these days. It's because of all the chemicals we have brought in.”

In cities, sparrows lack nesting sites, he says. “The young ones are not healthy since the food they eat is harmful. They just die.” Rahmani wants to involve people in conservation. He says they will feel good about doing something for the environment. “We need a lot of data from the people for this project,” he says.

At the time of writing this article, ‘Citizen Sparrow' had about 4500 contributions. But, says Rahmani, this won't do. “We need more. In conservation, there is never enough.”

The Citizen Sparrow initiative was launched on April 1. It will close on May 31.

How does it work?

Spend a few minutes on the ‘Citizen Sparrow' website in order to do your bit for the bird. After registering at http://www.citizensparrow.in/ participants are asked to fill out a form with details on the frequency and number of sparrows observed in their locality during a certain time period. There is space to share interesting observations, anecdotes, and stories with fellow participants. (You can click on the ‘stories' tab in the website to read these.) One can also report on sparrow activity for various localities by filling out separate forms.

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