Monday, April 2, 2012

Save Birds Save nature

Online dash to save the vanishing sparrow

Saswati Mukherjee TNN 

Source: Times of IndiaIf you have been missing the once-familiar chirping of sparrows around your house, here’s your chance to contribute to finding out why this common bird seems to have disappeared from cities across India. 
A two-month-long online survey called Citizen Sparrow was launched on Sunday, inviting responses from people on questions such as when they last sighted the bird and details about the area they live in. The survey can be taken at 
“It is an elementary step to gather information. We are encouraging people to report their experience, be it a drastic drop in sparrow count or a sudden spurt. These inputs will give us valuable leads to compile pan-India data,” said Suhel Quader, evolutionary ecologist at the National Centre for Biological Sciences. 
The environment ministry-funded survey is being undertaken by the Bombay Natural History Society, with the help of 10 partner organizations such as the Indian Bird Conservation Network and Nature Conservation Foundation. The disappearance of the house sparrow — so widespread till recently that the Chinese Communist Party declared it a pest in 1958 and asked people to exterminate it — remains a great modern mystery worldwide. In the UK, sparrows are estimated to have declined from over 12 million to 6 million since the mid-70s. 
While in Europe the decline has been documented and studied, there has beenno major study in India so far. BNHS seeks to change that with its current initiative.
“The survey would give us the first baseline data about distribution of sparrows in the country. This would form the basis for futher research,” said Karthik K, project coordinator. 
The objective of involving ordinary citizens rather than experts comes with a purpose. “Almost everyone knows about sparrows. It is an attempt to reach out to people, asking them to share their stories and their understanding of these birds,” said Quader. 
Participants in the survey would be asked to mark locations on a map and give information about their sparrow sightings, including sightings from the last year and even earlier. Such information will enable a comparison of sparrows in different places, and this is expected to point to particular threats or problems. The findings are intended to feed detailed studies investigating causes of decline and potential measures for the recovery of sparrow populations. 
Asad Rahmani, director, BNHS, said, “The sparrow is an indicator of a trend. A number of other birds have also declined sharply in the past few decades. We hope the survey would provide more clues about why these birds are disappearing.” 
Possible reasons for decline in sparrow numbers in cities 
Pesticides kill soft-bodied insects which sparrow chicks feed on. Pesticide in grains, food for adult birds, may also be contributing to decline.
Modern housing leaves no space for birds to nest Manicured lawns do not allow grass to seed. Seeds attract insects.
General decline in insect habitats like gardens 
Radiation from mobile towers could be affecting birds, although studies aren’t conclusive