WHERE HAVE ALL THE SPARROWS GONE?
The threat to
species continues. As the inexorable juggernaut of human development
rolls on, it leaves little or no elbowroom for other life forms to cling
on tenaciously to the thread of survival. Whether it is the forest or
urban environs, so many species are being pushed surely and steadily
over the brink of extinction that one now tends to lose count. Although
the larger and more well recognized endangered species have strong
conservation groups supporting their struggle for existence, but for
commoner species these threats are so imperceptible that
conservationists get the chance of ringing the warning bells only long
after the damage is done.
One victim of these
imperceptible threats is Passer domesticus, the common house
sparrow. As its name suggests, it is one of the bird species that have
always been closely associated with us in our urban environment. A bird
so ubiquitous, that it had almost become a part of our lives. More often
than not, it was the sparrow which was the ‘chiya’ that parents pointed
out to the bubbly infant in their arms - sometimes as the first lesson
in making him aware of the wonders of his new world, or as a distraction
to stop his streaming tears when he cried inconsolably in anger or in
pain. As he grew up, they regaled him with stories of ‘chiriya-chidda’,
in which the central characters were none other than sparrows.
Our homes always had
sparrows as co-habitants. Any wooden rafter, crevice in the wall or the
cup in the ceiling fan, was confidently staked by the sparrow to build
its nest. Its initial forays, when it was searching for a nest-site,
were strongly repulsed. But once it succeeded in laying its claim to a
nesting site, we tended to let it go on unhindered. Although it turned
out to be a nuisance for the house mistress because of the wispy nest
material falling all over the place, it was tolerated with good humour
since it contained eggs, and to demolish it was anathema to most. Later,
as the hatchlings emerged, they often wriggled too vigorously in their
quest for food and fell out of the nests, but were promptly replaced by
us with tenderness and care. The ones that didn’t survive found teary
eyes and willing little hands that laid them gently to rest in impromptu
graves dug in the backyard.
But all that is now
a thing of the past. Our homes are now drearily silent without the
twitter and chirrup of the sparrows, which seem to have either gone into
oblivion or have forsaken us in our mad race in the material world. With
our beautifully constructed houses and rooms of isolation, we
effectively banished the sparrow from our environs. The older
generation, for whom feeding the birds was akin to puja, has mostly
passed away. The younger generation, with its hard-working couples in
single unit families, has neither the time nor the inclination to bother
about such mundane distractions as putting out food for the birds.
Besides, thanks to the fridge and the changed culinary setup, nothing
qualifies as leftovers.
And so, with no
food and no place to qualify as home, the poor sparrow has all but made
a quiet exit from our lives. Only a few die-hard stragglers remain, to
make us more acutely aware of their plight. There may not be any
research conducted, and no questions may be asked to explain this loss.
After all, the sparrow does not have any NGO rooting for its survival as
there are for other high-profile species.
But to those of us
who grew up chasing sparrows during the hot summer afternoons, after
making stealthy escapes from strictly enforced siestas, the cheerful
chirrup from even one sparrow today is enough to gladden our hearts.