House Sparrows Where have you gone?
House Sparrows—who can resist these chirpy, cheerful and charming birds? Sparrows are found all over the world, almost everywhere that humans live. But strangely, sparrow populations have been in decline in many parts of the world, for reasons that are still unclear, although hotly debated! In India, sparrows used to be found in great abundance in all our cities, towns and villages; but sadly not any more. Where are sparrows still found in India? Where were they found before? In which places have they declined the most? The answers to these questions are crucial if we are to discover what ails them, and how to bring them back.
And now a group of organisations have come together with a unique Citizen Sparrow Initiative, an online survey that seeks information on house sparrows from members of the public which means “You can help!” By spending five minutes documenting the presence or absence of sparrows in localities you know well, both at present and at any time in the past, you will join enthusiasts all over the country in helping sparrows. You will be asked a brief set of questions, including the precise location of areas you know (or knew) well, aspects of the habitat in these localities, sparrow presence or absence in these localities, and optional information about things like locations of nests, amount of green space, and so on. The questionnaire is very simple to fill, and there is also space for you to share your favourite sparrow stories!
The organisations partnering/ collaborating on this project are:
Aaranyak, Bird Conservation Society, Birdwatchers’ Society of Andhra Pradesh, Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning, Indian Bird Conservation Network, Kalpavriksh, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Maharashtra Pakshi Mitra, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Nature Conservation Foundation.
“The decline of the house sparrow has been noticed both by experts as well as by the general public. Although it is among the most widely-distributed birds in the world, its numbers in many places have dropped sharply in the last several decades”, a key member of Bird Conservation Society told Uday India.
To document the current population and distribution of sparrows and compare this with the situation in the past, these nature and conservation organisations across India have joined efforts with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to launch the online survey. The BNHS is one of India’s oldest and most renowned conservation organisations and has been promoting the cause of a natural India for the past 127 years through a combination of research, education, public awareness and on-ground conservation action.
Anyone with past or present information about house sparrows is encouraged to participate. An interesting aspect of this survey is that it even seeks information about the absence of sparrows. Because sparrows live side by side with people, the lack of sparrows in a place where they would normally be expected to occur is of particular interest.
Explaining why the survey involves ordinary citizens rather than experts alone, Dr Suhel Quader of the Nature Conservation Foundation says, “Almost everyone knows about house sparrows, so there is a vast store of information available with citizens all across the country. We are trying to document this store of information. In addition, we see this as a way to reach out to people from all walks of life—asking them to share their stories and their understanding about these birds.”
Dr Raju Kasambe, of the Indian Bird Conservation Network, adds “There is an urgent need to understand the status of our commonest bird, the ubiquitous house sparrow. Only a citizen science programme with mass participation can help in collecting information about it on a pan-India scale.”
Participants in the survey are asked to mark locations on a map and give simple information about their sparrow sightings from those locations, including sightings from past years and decades. With such information it is possible to compare population changes of sparrows in different places, and this is expected to point to particular threats or problems. Findings from the project are intended to feed into more detailed studies investigating causes of decline, and potential measures for the recovery of sparrow populations.
The public involvement approach has other important benefits as well, points out Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the BNHS. “We are trying to generate good information on all-India level on House Sparrow and involve citizens to make them more interested and concerned on conservation issues. The house sparrow can become an example species of the conservation problems faced by other species.”
The project will run for two months till May 31. All information collected through the project will remain in the public domain for anyone to access and use. (For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Rajesh Rao