With increasing construction activities posing a threat to sparrows, a state-wide pilot project was conducted to address the issue of the ‘vanishing birds’. The project, which had placed artificial nests in the last two years across eight locations, saw an occupancy rate of more than 80 per cent by house sparrows. As the pilot project received an encouraging response, the Maharashtra forest department has decided to place 1,000 such artificial nests across 10 locations to ensure the survival of the endangered sparrow.
“The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is associated with human life and is known not only to co-exist with humans, but also to be dependent on humans for various activities such as nesting, feeding and roosting. Considering the decline in the number of House Sparrows due to various reasons, the foremost being non-availability of appropriate nesting sites due to the changing lifestyles of people, we took up this pilot project (2014-16) to save sparrows from future extinction,” Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of Forests, Thane, who was the principal investigator, told Pune Newsline.
“There has been a significant decline in the number of sparrows. We just can’t find them in urban areas,” said Ramakant Borhade, assistance conservator of forest (research). With help from project co-investigator Dr Satish Pande, founder of Ela Foundation, which creates awareness on conservation of nature, the artificial nest boxes were set up at eight locations in Pune district. The nest boxes were made of a particular type of processed wood, wood shavings and paper mache.
The project was conducted in accordance with the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. “We wanted to monitor the occupancy of the nest boxes by house sparrows, study their breeding behaviour and colour ring the adult and nestling house sparrow to evaluate the nest site fidelity and life span,” said Pande. The occupancy rate by house sparrows was more than 80 per cent. “… The material of nest boxes were accepted by House Sparrows. We also recorded that eggs were laid and the young have fledged from the occupied nest boxes. Several sparrows were re-sighted. The artificial nests were seen to be re-used by the adults… ,” said Pande.
With the pilot project yielding results, the forest department will now place 1,000 such nests in 2017 and 2018 at 10 more sites. “The material will be eco-friendly and the nest boxes will be kept at places where there is minimal risk of predation, and there is no direct exposure to sun and rain. We will include another 500 nests to generate more data for our analysis on the breeding pattern and the acceptance of sparrows to these artificial nests,” said Limaye. This year, the nest boxes will be placed at Thane, Kalyan, Alibag, Mahad, Shriwardhan while in 2018, they will be kept at Vasai, Shahpur, Goregaon, Ulhasnagar, Ambarnath.
“With concrete walls, glass facades, lush lawns, and ornamental exotic trees with no fruits or grain farms, the poor sparrow seems doomed. We need to plant more trees as sparrows or bulbuls can make a nest only if they have a safe place… they can make a nest of dry grass or fallen leaves… Also, they require some source of water as well as food nearby, to feed the newborn,” said Borhade.
Pande said while the population of House Sparrows is diminishing, no active measures are being taken to scientifically study and conserve them. There is also no data for the species, especially about the behaviour of the parents and the nestling during the breeding period. The data from the study can provide scientific input for the conservation of the species, he added.