Building homes for a rapidly dwindling species from Mumbai is 32-year-old Pramod Manes passion. The Dharavi resident wants to give sparrows their share of space in the metropolis. Once one of the most commonly seen birds in the city,house sparrows are fast vanishing.
Sparrows have held Manes fancy since childhood. For Mane,it was a rather unusual reality check that spurred him to become a sparrow enthusiast. A graduate from Ramnarain Ruia College,Mane recalls that in 2005,a twig fell on him from a nest on a tree. He expected it to be the nest of a sparrow but it turned out to be a crows. He tried to find some sparrow nests and realised they had almost vanished. Mane then set out to research about sparrows.
A census of sparrows was conducted during the British rule. After that,there has been no sparrow census. When I started reading about them in 2005,a book published by the Bombay National History Society stated that sparrow count had gone down by 70 per cent in the city, Mane said.
He then floated Sparrows Shelter,an NGO. Wooden birdhouses are available with Sparrows Shelter. He and 45 volunteers encourage people to install birdhouses that allow sparrows to nest. They even organised events to mark World Sparrow Day recently. Earlier,traditional architecture allowed sparrows to make nests in spaces like holes,roofs and crevices of old houses. But modern architecture that introduced box-style flats has no such provisions, Mane said. He feels increase in mobile towers,deptetion of trees and green zones and shortage of food and water are also factors that led to sparrows moving away from the city. Religious beliefs encourage feeding of a particular species of birds and hence birds like crows and pigeons have outnumbered small birds. These birds dominantly occupy feeding and nesting sites, he said.
After experimenting with other material,he found deodar wood was most suited for birdhouses. Birdhouses designed by Sparrows Shelter are priced between Rs 350 and Rs 2,000. Volunteers from the NGO visit homes to install the birdhouses. The NGO has so far installed 7,000-8,000 birdhouses across Mumbai. This has helped in bringing at least one lakh sparrows back, Mane says. To install a birhouse,one has to just dial 32993325.
We get calls from people complaining that sparrows do no visit the birdhouse. We tell people to change the spot but not remove the birdhouse. Sooner or later,the birds do come, Mane says.
Sparrows Shelter has found patrons in celebrities like actors Vidya Balan,Raveena Tandon,Sonali Kulkarni and Dino Morea.