A Field Study of The House Sparrow ( Passer Domesticus)
By: Ragoorao

Raghavendra Rao ( RagooRao) is studying ecology and wild animal behavior; He is involved in study of birds lives, comparitve study of captive zoo animals with their wild counterparts, photography and videography of nature and automobiles. He is a member of World Wide Fund, National Geographic Society and US Bird Forum. He is currently living in Mysore city. He can be contacted at ragoorao@gmail.com .

Places of study : Mysore Urban areas and the Suburbs of Mysore.
Period: From 1988 onwards.

Introduction

The house sparrow is a confirmed hanger on to man ever since human habitation started depending on agriculture. It has even been mentioned in most of our Mythologies and Folklores, along with the Common crow, Eagles and other such birds, which used to exist in close proximity to human dwellings. It was once a very common bird all over

The country whether it was a bustling urban area or a small hamlet. In South India people even considered it a Good omen if the house sparrow built a nest inside their houses under the rafters or a niche in the wall. Such was the bond between Man and Sparrow that it came to be classified as a Domestic species and hence the name Passer domesticus.

Observations

I have closely observed the Domestic sparrow ever since their number started declining in our urban area. This was the year 1998. I had found a lot of trees with close foliage and small branches in our area being filled with flocks of the birds creating a din with their constant chirping and setting up their roosting order. Once it was dark, they would all settle down peacefully until the next dawn. Come dawn and the first rays of sunlight would get them going about their daily life. A lot of birds were roosting inside homes, specially the solitary males and the juveniles. Gradually this everyday feature of the sparrow roosting in our trees and their all too familiar chirping started getting lesser and lesser. Homes were never used for their night roosting; the nests being built inside houses were also fading away over a three-year period.

The all too familiar birds, which would fill our gardens and lawns for foraging on insects, were getting rarer and rarer. Then finally by 1992 there was not a single house sparrow in our area. This period is what puzzled me. It even became a Topic during socialization. Some would ask, where did the sparrows go? While some had their own diagnosis of the problem. They were as varied as outlandish. Some attributed the Mobile phones sound waves to be the reason while others said it was the radiation from outer space.

Since I am a person who would everyday visit Plantations and farms, I had to pass through a lot of small and big villages. I noticed the sparrows in a lot of villages as though nothing had happened to them. This is from where I started the study.

In comparing the two regions- The Urban and the rural areas, the reasons for the dwindling of sparrows were getting more into focus everyday.

First: sparrows were dependent on the leftover grains thrown to them after people cleaned their grains. This habit has ceased in urban areas as everyone is getting pre-cleaned grains from the store and there was nothing to be thrown to their yards for the sparrows to feed on. This habit of still throwing leftover cleaned grains to the sparrows still continues in the rural sides and also in undeveloped localities inside cities. This shows a shortage of food grains in urban areas and still available food sources in the rural and undeveloped localities. Sparrows are still in good numbers in these rural and undeveloped areas.

Second: Sparrows were always in the habit of building nests in tiled houses under the rafters, niches in the gables, and in some houses intentional holes were made near the roofing to accommodate sparrow nests. They are found to build nests in hanging lampshades, wall clocks, behind photo frames hung on walls. Now the urban scene has changed, there are no tiled houses with rafters, only concrete structures have come up, there are absolutely no places for the sparrows to build nests. .Whereas in rural and undeveloped areas there still tiled houses with bamboo rafters, intentionally made niches in walls for nesting sparrows. This suggests to the conclusion that sparrows were deprived of nesting places in the urban developed areas, whereas they are still nesting and thriving the undeveloped localities and villages.

House sparrows are omnivorous, they live mainly on grains but they also relish insects. They bring up the young exclusively on insects. Until recent times home gardens were not in the habit of using chemical insecticides in their gardens. The lawns raised in big compounds were also the native variety of grass, which was a little tall and needed constant moving. But this kind of native grass was hardy and did not need pampering except a good spray of water. These lawns were also harboring a lot of insect life. The sparrows were foraging for insect larvae in these lawns for feeding their young. Now in urban areas all gardens are liberally sprayed with insecticides and fungicides, the native lawn grass has been replaced by the short non moving Mexican grass. This grass needs a lot of support with fertilizers and plant protection sprays. These lawns do not support any insect life in them. Whereas in the villages and undeveloped localities these pesticides are not used. Whatever little kitchen gardening they practice, still, farm yard manure is used encouraging insect life, which ultimately the sparrows feed the young with.

Conclusion

Insect food diminished to a great extent in urban areas but still plenty in rural and undeveloped localities. Apart from these major factors contributing to the decline of sparrows in urban areas there could be quite a few other factors also like; high automobile pollution with a lot of lead being released into the atmosphere which might have had a residual effect on the eggs of sparrows making them thin shelled like it has been observed in other countries in their research on other birds. Higher noise pollution might have also caused a disturbance to them.

The observations which I have made, in my opinion, can be summarized into these main factors:
  • Loss of nesting sites.
  • Loss of insect population to bring up a brood.
  • Loss of roosting shrubs.
In effect a total loss of habitat in urban areas.

The encouraging thing is one can still find the much loved house sparrow in the rural hamlets and also in the urban areas in isolated pockets where the environment is still congenial to them in their basic requirements.


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