March 20 is being observed as World House Sparrow Day, to draw attention to the dwindling numbers of the once-ubiquitous House Sparrow. It is the ability of the bird to adapt to and make the most of its proximity to human beings that has perhaps been its strength and its failing today.
There have been many theories put forward for the almost worldwide decline of the House Sparrow. The most plausible one says that sparrow chicks, especially for the first few days after hatching, require insect food for their survival. When their parents are not able to find these insects to catch and bring back, disaster ensues. This results in an overall sparrow decline since there would not be any new recruits into the population.
If we look at our own cities where we see this dramatic decline in sparrow populations, it is not too difficult to hypothesise where all the problems could have occurred.
Compared to the times when our parents saw sparrows in abundance, we have altered the cityscape dramatically. Gone are the old houses with courtyards in front and backyards, yes, those quaint backyards, where broken rice would be separated from full rice, and peas would be separated from their pods. These activities gave sparrows an opportunity to pick the fallen bits and morsels. Then again, the architecture itself has changed.
No longer are sparrows able to find the tiny little nooks, crannies and holes where they used to build their nests. And for most hole nesting birds, finding a suitable hole to build a nest in is a major housing nightmare! It is a logical extension of thought to see why insects too are not able to find a home in our cities of today. There is just no greenery they can live on. And even if there are plants around, they are so heavily sprayed or coated by the chemicals we dump into the environment, or the pollution that we cause. And it is no wonder that sparrow parents cannot find insects for their chicks.