Where Have All The Sparrows Of Bengaluru Gone?

Dr. MB Krishna, a city-based ecologist, and ornithologist said that due to the building of houses and roads, all the sparrows have left Bengaluru.

One of my childhood memories is of walking on a mud trail along the perimeter of a shimmery lake to reach the stud farm where my grandfather was the resident vet. It was near Yelahanka on the outskirts of Bengaluru and all around the large lake grew tall grass, bulrushes, and wild greenery. There were so many sparrows flitting around but I would keep my eyes peeled for the blue kingfishers. Now, the lake doesn’t exist and its lakebed has apartment buildings instead of water. There are no sparrows, a sight which was taken for granted just a few decades back.

As yet another World Sparrow Day arrives, it’s no exaggeration to say that the little house sparrow aka English sparrow have practically left the city. “Every time people ask me what they can do to bring back the sparrows,” says Dr MB Krishna, a city-based ecologist and ornithologist, “I tell them that the sparrows are gone. You can’t get them back. People are still brainwashed into thinking that it is possible!”

Dr Krishna has a lot to speak about the lovable dull-looking sparrows. “When was the last time you saw a house with bare mud within its compound instead of concrete or tiles? When was the last time you saw grass growing along the roadside, which, by the way, is the last vestige of wild greenery?” These things matter, according to Dr Krishna, because the sparrows are essentially insect eaters and thrive in such habitats, as they hunt for insects.

Today, wild greenery is seen only in fields and vacant sites, both of which are fast disappearing thanks to the city’s penchant for apartment buildings. A longtime resident of Whitefield in east Bengaluru spoke of sighting two-three sparrows at a field in front of his house. “Don’t know when they will start construction here. Now we just have buildings and more buildings, pigeons and paved roads that are constantly dug up. We lost the sparrows when these things started to happen.”

Traditionally, sparrows live near human habitations and are fed millet or rice grains by the people who welcome their presence. In Bagalur Layout, in Richards Town, north-east Bengaluru, lives Edwin Joseph, 73, aka the Sparrow Man. Joseph’s house is famous for the sparrows that come there for feeding since the past 15 years. Until three years back, about 200 sparrows would feed from the feeders filled with millet, and dip their beaks into the multiple water baths placed around the compound premises. Joseph had lined the compound wall with large pots with small trees which served as thick canopy for the tiny birds and had even hung nesting boxes from his house’s ledges. Not surprisingly, his house has been a famous landmark in the neighbourhood.

Every year, around World Sparrow Day, he would be flooded with a deluge of reporters visiting his house and recording the birds. This year will be different. “There are hardly 10-15 sparrows visiting now,” he said. The reason, according to him, is a private cell-phone tower that has been installed recently. Although he has been campaigning for its removal, the sparrows have left. “Three years back, when my wife passed away, I had gone away for a while,” he said. “When I returned, the cell-phone tower was there and the sparrows weren’t. The radiation has affected the sparrows.” He still feeds the 10 odd sparrows who are now joined by bulbuls and pigeons. “At least, I get to see sparrows every day but I don’t know for how long.”

A report released by IQAir has revealed that the most polluted city in India is not Delhi but Biwadi in Rajasthan.

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