Requiem to House Sparrows?

April 30, 2020

'The sparrow that is twittering on the edge of my balcony is calling up to me this moment. A world of memories that reach over half my lifetime, and a world of hope that stretches farther than any flight of sparrows' - Donald G Mitchell (1822-1908), American essayist and novelist.

That the gentle lovely tiny bird was hardly remembered on World Sparrow Day, March 20, forebodes that its requiem is not far away. It is so tiny in its class that nobody took note of it. It is such a rarity now that I need to enlighten the present younger generation with little help from Wikipedia.

The house sparrow is a bird of the sparrow family found in most parts of the world. Females and young birds are coloured pale brown and grey, and males have brighter black, white, and brown markings. The house sparrow is strongly associated with human habitation and can live in urban or rural settings. It feeds mostly on the seeds of grains and weeds, but it is an opportunistic eater and commonly eats insects and many other foods.

Because of its numbers, ubiquity, and association with human settlements, the house sparrow was culturally prominent. It was extensively persecuted as an agricultural pest. It has also often been kept as a pet.

All that is past. In the rural setting, the birds that woke me up at dawn with their low-key chirping, are a rarity today due to the wide use of insecticides in farming and the progressive replacement of thatched/tiled houses by concrete slab houses. In the urban setting, high-rise buildings with closed balconies give the bird no welcome for nesting or resting. Above all, the high tension electric wires and transmission (communication) towers ring the death-knell of the gentle tiny birds.

Apart from my childhood tryst with sparrows in my village setting, I was also woken up in my Colaba (Bombay) flat with their low-key chirping. The local grosser was its source of food. When I retired to my new cottage in Bondel, Mangaluru, closed for two years pending retirement, the sparrows had made the house their own. They had laid their eggs and raised their chicks in all sorts of places, mainly the top of the ceiling fan rods. They say that sparrows pre-tell baby cradles. In our case, we were hopelessly past the reproductive age. They must have correctly read the situation and left us alone. Yet, they come back to build their nests outside the windows closed to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Some good Samaritans are trying to host sparrows by providing them with artificial habitats and keeping for them food and drink. Let us salute them and wish them luck.



By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Sun, May 03 2020

    Thank you dear Maya for your narration about birds at your window. Please continue feeding them.
    Congratulations on your first writing on a website. Please continue. Love and good luck. – Pappa John.

  • Maya Monteiro, Mumbai

    Sun, May 03 2020

    This is a very nice article. We often get sparrows at the windows of in our flat in Mumbai. We keep two bird feeders with millet for them, which attract both sparrows and parrots. There is a family of sparrows which wakes us each morning with their chirping.

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Sat, May 02 2020

    Thanks Prakash for responding. I think happily we are all on the same page.

  • Prakash, Mangalore

    Sat, May 02 2020

    I believe cell phone transmission towers have gained a bad rap perhaps just because they exist and are ever present in our consciousness. Sparrows are fairly common in my neighborhood in Kuwait despite the oppressive weather and despite full strength cellular coverage from myriad providers. I do believe it is the chemicals used in the growing of and processing of food grains that may have resulted in their decline in India. The common sparrow is also insectivorous especially during breeding and that could be a vector for it to ingest insecticides too and result in nestling mortality.
    It took a team of international scientists to discover that the great decline of vultures in parts of India was due to the use of a pharmaceutical drug which was widely used to treat cattle but which was fatal to vultures when they ingested it via dead cattle. Such could also be the cause for the decline of the common crow, or is it now referred to the uncommon crow. As is the case globally with honey bees. Mans influence is far reaching and tragic for many.
    There was a believable theory I have heard about the fact that there is also reduced spillage of grain around grocery stalls , owing to the predominant use of plastic packaging. Grocer shops that would traditionally have a fair amount of grain spilled around, would not have little to none further resulting in the reduction of a stable food supply for these beautiful creatures to consistently bring up their young

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Sat, May 02 2020

    Thank you Mangalorian for your intro-line which I value very much.
    The rest of your observations are true to life and I have experience them when I visit my roots over the years. One aspect I wish to point out is that fish, crabs, etc. is that their habitats disappeared over the decades. Earlier the streams were deep and their banks were marked by stone embankments, giving fish, crabs and even snakes crevices to hide or go to sleep. Because of deforestation and consequent land-slips, the mudslides reduced the width and depth of streams and the stone crevices disappeared under the mud. This resulted in the disappearance of habitat for fish and other species – leaving them no place to live, hide and procreate.
    This is not a prognosis widely recognized and there is not going to be any corrective action too soon.

  • Mangalurian, Mangaluru

    Sat, May 02 2020

    Yet another great article, Mr Monteiro. Thank you.

    You mention that the house sparrows have become a rarity due to the "insecticides in farming and the progressive replacement of thatched/tiled houses by concrete slab houses."

    I grew up in the countryside as well, but did not see any of them around the place. But they were there in good numbers near the shops a little distance away. I always wondered why they did not live near the rice fields.

    But insecticides/pesticides have caused havoc to quite a bit of the natural fauna in our region, especially to the fish in the streams/ponds and the birds of all types. There used to be plenty of mudfish/catfish/mussels/turtles/crabs etc in the streams and ponds, but not in great numbers anymore.

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Fri, May 01 2020

    Thanks Gabriel for your boni comments in the context of readers' preoccupation with lock-down - a new reality never foreseen. Since I have received many calls on sparrows, my next subject is house lizards. If readers have anything to say on the subject, Pl email:

  • Gabriel Vaz, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Fri, May 01 2020

    Very good nostalgia. For some time, I too was wondering what happened to these small chirping birds, sparrows? They were never seen. But now, after the lockdown was imposed, or perhaps more correctly, towards the end, I have been observing a few sparrows on our building terrace. May be the clear environment minus the pollution must have given a new lease of life to these tiny birds!

    In fact, some time back, my wife hanged a nest of hay for the sparrows to make their home in her balcony garden. But unfortunately, none of them appeared. And now, I am seeing them almost everyday morning when I go to the terrace for my morning walk as going out, especially in the park, has been disallowed and I am not interested in endangering the lives of my loved ones and others. But thanks Mr John Monteiro I am happy to read about the sparrows! Keep up the good work!

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