Monday, March 22, 2021

House Sparrow Population in the City Shows a Mixed Pattern

Travancore Nature History Society (TNHS), the city-based NGO, striving to protect the environment and create awareness for up-keeping the rich bio-diversity of the southern Western Ghats and its penumbral regions, has been engaged in monitoring the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) population 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. It was heartening to note that there was a marginal increase in the number of sparrows in certain pockets of the city, while the number remained steady in the remaining habitats or has gone down nominally. Sparrow count was taken at all known sparrow hubs like Connemara market, Bheemapalli,  Vettucaud, Vizhinjam etc. 
Members formed six groups among themselves and took on eight well-defined routes, looking for the once-ubiquitous bird. The groups travelled upto Attingal in the north and Karamana in the south. 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, Vettucaud etc, it was not at all thriving in the northern periphery of the city, beyond Medical college area. However it was a heartening sight to see that he bird population has registered considerable increase in the southern areas. In pockets such as Vizhinjam and Beemapallly, there were sharp increase in its numbers. 
The number of House Sparrows  at Connemara market, considered to be the bastion of the bird in the city for long, continues to be steady. This year only 29 birds were counted after a few rounds of counting  during the run up to WSD. It was against the 33 birds observed in 2019 and 26 birds of 2020.  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 yesteryears, but the birds have now discarded most of them due to dilapidated condition of the nests. A couple of head-load workers continue to cast 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 is remaining almost steady for the last couple of years. 
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 House Sparrows population was dismal with just two birds in the Sabhapathy Kovil Street, while contiguous Attakulangra byepass drew a blank. While no birds could be seen in the busy Kothuval street where many wholesale grocery shops and outlets selling varied condiments are located. In previous years Chalai market was harbouring good population of these versatile birds with 53 birds in 2012 and 41 in 2013.It is a serious matter to ponder over as last year also Chalai drew a complete blank.  Putting up of new and tidy nest boxes would certainly help these birds to return to this locality. Karamana is another locality which the birds skipped continuously for the last half decade.
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 Peroorkada market, Mannanthala, Pothencode junction,  Kazhakuttam, Attingal, Sreekaryam junction, Ulloor and Kedaram Shopping complex in Kesavadasapuram which are ideal habitats for these birds to thrive. 
Four 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 could not come across a single bird. The birds had completely abandoned the beach following the Okhi typhoon striking it in October 2017.
In the Vettucaud region, the number increased to 10 birds, in place of six observed in 2020. Valiathura Sulaiman Street, a stronghold of sparrows in the city, gave a splendid count of 30 plus birds. Birds were mostly seen making use of the aerobic bin unit put up by the Corporation of Thiruvananthapuram, where they are making nests as well as taking rest. They were also 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 congregation of a score of birds were also observed in the vicinity of ration shop no A.R.D 273 with a mobile tower nearby, indicating that the availability of food and shelter is what determines the survival of the species rather than the deleterious effect of mobile towers. 
Beemapalli registered a phenomenal number of more than 100 birds. Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, Research Associate of T.N.H.S, attributed the increase to the twin reasons – availability of food particles and hospitality by the local bird-friendly population.  Another area which gave great fillip to sparrow enthusiasts is Vizhinjam. President of TNHS K.Jayakumar sighted 50 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 more than 200 individuals. 
Nedumangad area is accounting for a steady population for the last many years. Seven birds in 2019, eight birds in 2020 and also in 2021. It was observed that they were occupying nest boxes provided by nature lovers. 

Thus the bird count shows a mixed pattern. In Connemara  market, Palayam, Chalai and Vettucaud its numbers have either come down or remaining steady, while in Valiathura Suliman Street , Bheemapalli and Vizhinjam ,  good number of birds were present. Thus Thiruvananthapuram city and suburbs has a total 145  House sparrows spotted, a marginal increase as against 139 birds recorded in 2020, 120 recorded in 2019 and 63 recorded in 2018.
According to Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, 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.
According to K.B.Sanjayan, Senior Member co-ordinated the House Sparrow Survey, said the birds are on a relentless battle for survival in spite of many odds faced by them. Many members of the Society including K.Jayakumar, Director, T.N.H.S, Dr Sam Chandran, Baiju Paluvalli, Shaji Ponnu, TVS Jayakumar, Vinay,  et al actively participated in the week-long exercise.

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