The state bird of Delhi, House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), is a chirpy, gregarious bird closely associated with human habitation for ages and used to be very common. In Delhi NCR House Sparrows overall population declined but as observed by the ornithologists, birdwatcher groups and the environmentalists that now the sparrows are being seen at some places.
Ecologist and Conservationist, T K Roy says that the visibility of sparrows is a good sign and there is a need to understand it. He says, “Although at present, observing partially population of House Sparrows seem to be increasing in the urban areas but not thoroughly. Sparrows seem to be adopting new modern habitats for nesting & availability of food sources for survival. They can be found on alternative places like on the shop shutter tops, on inverted lamp sheds, on ventilators, on modern flyover wall holes, on metro flyover gaps (between flyover below & flyover concrete pole tops), on used hard-paper board boxes with holes kept hanging on rooftop or ceiling." Roy says that the responsibility to now protect the house sparrows falls on the community and the governing bodies.
Experts and bird watchers say that they have been witnessing the house sparrows in those places where they had gone missing a few years ago. Environmentalists and Ornithologists though not sure about the increase in the number of them yet are relieved to see them again in areas like Najafgarh, Dwarka, Gurgaon, Faridabad etc. They have also been witnessed at the various metro station across Delhi NCR.
An Ornithologist and Assistant Professor in IP University, Dwarka, Dr Sumit Dookia and his students have been observing the birds in Najafgarh Zone and Dwarka since 2010. According to him the number of sparrows has increased in the last five-six years in the area. He shares, “In Najafgarh area and Dwarka at many places in vacant land, hundreds of sparrows can be seen. These include Sector 3, 9, and 10 and at metro stations like Sector 12, 13, 14. According to the visibility, we can say that the number has increased.”
Questions about the House sparrow's visibility has been a part of discourse among Delhi environments for a long time. But experts have denied that there was any extinction of the birds in the area. A bird watcher, Pankaj Gupta says, “There is no decline in sparrow population. Recent scientific studies have found the sparrow population is stable. We need to worry about the birds which are actually declining. In our colony at Vasant Kunj, I have noticed about 40 sparrows.”
On the subject, CitySpidey reached out to eminent wildlife photographer, writer and environmentalist, Dushyant Parashar. He says that the sparrows have shown a sign of fight for survival and they are surviving. “Sparrows are surviving. In my opinion, they have managed to get over the initial shock of changing environment that reduced their numbers drastically. They seem to be adapting to the changed realities."
Dushyant emphasises, “Other than the important service they provide as 'pest controller'; the presence of sparrows in our vicinity has always been therapeutic to humans. Watching them frolic in a birdbath or listening to their chirp at dawn & dusk is one of the finest connections we can have with nature. It's a great stress buster that's such a huge need of the hour. Now there is a need to be more sensitive for the sparrows and community and authority both should work upon that.”
Talking about the apparent decline in House sparrows, he says, The modern high-rise apartment architecture is not favourable to their nesting. Apart from this, mechanised systems of harvesting and crop storage do not give them an opportunity to claim their share. Excessive use of pesticides has reduced the worm supply to feed their young microwave radiation from cellphone towers that are believed to render their eggs infertile etc. In my opinion, they, like myna, crows and many other birds are increasingly taking to the garbage dump to look for food. They'll survive, but they seem to be distancing themselves from us 'urban humans'.”
Sparrows have been a subject of concern in the community since it was declared as the state bird of the National Capital. Its decline in number earlier and now its visibility have inspired nature lovers and environmentalists to think about the subject and spread awareness.
A PhD scholar from Delhi, Shikha Choudhary did her research on sparrows and her thesis was ‘Ecology and behaviour of dwindling population of house sparrow (Passer domesticus) in eastern parts of Delhi’. She says that during her PhD, she found a good population in the areas of East Delhi and the population was more in underdeveloped areas than the developed areas. "I extensively observed their nesting pattern and behaviour of adaptation in a gradient of urbanizations. Since 2016, I have observed that the population is there and sparrows are fighting for their survival. This is satisfactory that now they are being seen nesting behind ACs or in the shutters of shops or in the cavities of under-constructed metro bridges etc. So I can say that the condition is improving as compared to past decades in Delhi," says she.
Note: On the occasion of National Endangered Species day, this story has been replugged.