Today is World Sparrow Day.
Sparrows were part of my childhood. They would fearlessly land on our terrace and pick at the grain dried by my mother. Their cheeping would be a background music to all our activities.
The sparrows have disappeared from our lives. The number of common house sparrow in existence today is unknown. The changes in their natural habitats has depleted their numbers. A family of sparrows built their nest in my son’s apartment on the 13th floor. There was a sunshade above a tiny balcony that was enclosed with a steel grill. They had made a nest in a narrow space above the grill and the flat above. My granddaughter’s mornings and the milk drinking ritual was accomplished with the help of these sparrows and the parrots that would shriek and flit around.
The common house sparrow’s disappearance is a universal phenomenon. In London there was a huge hue and cry a few years ago when the population of sparrows fell drastically to about 85%. In India it is just sporadically reported and has not ruffled any feathers other than amongst the scientists and naturalists.
One reason maybe the size of these little birds. Tigers and peacocks, turtles and deer are more exotic. Sparrows are small fry after all.Their ubiquitous presence was taken for granted.
One of the reasons for their depletion seems to be the introduction of unleaded petrol. Denis Summers-Smith, expert on sparrows says that the unleaded petrol uses Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) as an anti-knocking agent which kills small insects. Adult sparrows can survive without insects in their diet but they need the Grain was easily available with women cleaning, drying and scattering grain in their terraces and backyards. Store houses and godowns had lots of grain scattered around. With apartments this habit is gone and supermarket packets of food stuffs need no drying.
The sparrow also featured in stories and poems told to kids. Today Dora and Scooby Doo and Pokemon are more familiar figures than sparrows. Today the sight of a sparrow is rare and a child may not even recognize it.