Saturday, March 21, 2020

House Sparrow Population in the City Shows a Chequered Pattern



Travancore Nature History Society (TNHS), the city-based NGO, striving to protect the environment  and create an awareness for up-keeping the rich bio-diversity of southern Western Ghats and its penumbral regions, has been engaged in taking counts of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) seen in and around Thiruvananthapuram city, ever since March 20 has come to be observed as World Sparrow Day (WSD) in 2010. This year also, during the run up to the Day, members of the Society scouted the nook and corner of the city, noting down the numbers of the birds. A general trend observed in 2020 was a marginal to significant fall in the number of sparrows over last couple of years in known sparrow hubs like Connemara market, Chalai and Vettucaud regions. Whereas in pockets such as Sulaiman Street and Beemapallly,  there were sharp increase in its numbers.

               Members formed six groups among themselves and took on six well-defined routes, looking for the once-ubiquitous bird. The count was taken during morning hours between 6.30 to 10.30 am.  In the evening the count was taken during 3.30 to 6.30 pm. Though the bird was fighting a relentless battle to retain its foothold in traditional pockets like Connemara market, Kothuval street, etc, the bird was not at all thriving in the northern periphery of the city, beyond Medical college area.
               The number of House Sparrows  at Connemara market, considered to be the bastion of the bird in the city for long, continues to be perilous. This year, after a few rounds of count during the run up to WSD , the count stands around 26 birds only, in place of the 33 birds observed in 2019. The market in previous years adorned the covetable position of being the hub of the sparrow population in the city, with the count as high as 148 in 2012 and 101 in 2013. There are of course about a score of bird nests which were installed on the market premises by some of the nature clubs in yester years,  but the birds have now discarded most of them due to dilapidated condition of the nests. A couple of head-load workers continue casting  attention on the birds by providing grains and ‘bird bath’. Also seen on the market entrance is a plaque declaring open the ‘Sparrow Park’ on March 7, 2014 in the presence of the then Forest Minister, Worshipful Mayor and PCCF, Govt of Kerala.   But notwithstanding all these, the bird count has come down to 26 plus birds in 2020, in place of the 33 recorded in 2019.
               Till about five years back, Pazhavangadi  Maha Ganapaty temple was harbouring a small but active House Sparrow population. It was a common sight to observe the birds frolicking under the tail of the peacock or the head of the bull and lion, which were frescos embellished in the temple walls.  But these birds have since disappeared from the temple premises altogether. Now that the renovation work of the temple is over, sparrow – watchers fervently hope that they might return to their favourite abode.
               In the true metropolis of the city like Statue, Thampanoor bus and rail terminuses and other areas of M.G.Road, no birds could be spotted. In the Chalai area also, the number of House Sparrows has dwindled sharply. While no birds could be seen in the busy Power House road or the adjoining Sabhapathy Kovil street, where he wholesale grocery shops are located, the Kothuval street harbours a small population of six house sparrows. Some shop owners here hang cardboard boxes to attract birds, but the birds are not making use of them. Putting up of new and tidy nest boxes would certainly help these birds to thrive in this locality.
               Survey teams also visited Manacaud Market, Karamana Junction and Vattiyurkavu areas but were unable to spot any House Sparrow. It was a disappointed foray for other teams as well when they visited commercial areas like Perurkada market,  Mannanthala, Pothenkode junction,  Kazhakuttam, Sreekaryam junction, Ulloor and Kedaram Shopping complex in Kesavadasapuram which are ideal habitats for these birds to thrive. However, there was a chance encounter of five sparrows on the Kowdiar-Kuravankonam Road on 14 March, which as per our old survey papers, might be a new population.
               Two birds were spotted within the Medical college campus, repeating the 2019 number. In Pettah market, no birds were recorded. In the Shankumugham area the survey team chanced upon a lone bird, which is the first record of the bird  since the Okhi typhoon that lashed the beach in October 2017. In March 2017 count , five birds had come up in Shankumugham area. Following Okhi, the birds had completely abandoned the beach. The sighting of the lone bird on 12 March may be a signal that they are returning to the beach after the devastating Okhi .
               In the Vettucaud region only 6 birds could be located in place of 19 observed last year. Valiathura Sulaiman Street gave a splendid count of 35 plus birds. Birds were mostly seen perched on branches of bushes and small trees rather than on ground and electric wires. This may be due to the prevailing oppressive heat. In Sulaiman street, a strong hold of the sparrows in the region, they were seen roosting under trees and nesting under a roof of a shop hardly a few meters from a pair of mobile towers, near a ration shop, indicating that the availability of food and shelter is what determines the survival of the species rather than  the deleterious effect of mobile towers. In Beemapalli another good collection of 20 birds were recorded. Another area which gave great fillip to sparrow enthusiasts is Vizhinjam. President of TNHS K.Jayakumar sighted 10 plus sparrows at the Vizhinjam fishing Harbour with a few pairs on nesting.  Thus the coastal belt of the city has helped substantially in carrying the total count of sparrows to 139.
               Nedumangad area accounted for 8 birds this year in place of seven observed last year. It was observed that they were occupying nest boxes installed by nature lovers.
               Thus the bird count shows a chequered pattern. In Connemara  market, Palayam, Chalai and Vettucaud its numbers have come down, while in Valiathura Suliman Street , Bheemapalli and Vizhinjam ,  good number of birds were present. Thus Thiruvananthapuram city and suburbs has a total  139 House sparrows spotted, as against 120 recorded in 2019 and 63 recorded in 2018.
                According to Dr Kalesh.S, Founder Member of TNHS, the primary reason for a fall in bird count in certain pockets is due to non-availability of food materials. It may be noted that shops selling rice, wheat etc in open bags were a thing of the past. The second reason for the fall in count  is due to habitat loss by way of nesting facilities.  Crevices, air holes and wedges were rampant in traditional thatched/tiled buildings that stacked  condiments and groceries have been shunted out. These buildings have  given way for modern malls and concrete buildings. Now while sweeping the waste on day’s end, no or lesser grains are mingled in the waste. The contention that contamination from mobile towers is a potential reason for lesser birds occupies only the third place as per the conclusions arrived at by TNHS. Dr Kalesh also attributed to the oppressive heat now experienced in Kerala. Blue Rock Pigeons which has similar food habits and nesting practices also pose a threat to the diminutive House sparrows. It was observed that Rock pigeons co-nest in the holes occupied first by House Sparrows in Vettucaud area.
               As in previous years, K.B.Sanjayan, Senior Member co-ordinated the House Sparrow Survey. Many members of the Society including K.Jayakumar, Director, T.N.H.S, Dr Sam Chandran, Baiju Paluvalli, Shaji Ponnu, TVS Jayakumar, Vinay, Roopa Raj  et al actively participated in the week-long exercise. Dr Kalesh compiled the final figures in a table format and squeezed into a graph.

News on Paper
Sparrow count yields a mixed result - The Hindu

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