The other day, a little sparrow, accidentally slipped into our apartment room. The pale brown feathered creature looked around and quickly found a hiding place behind my father’s bookshelf. Though the sparrow was convinced that none of us were watching, it could not escape my 10-year old’s roving eyes, as he screamed in joy, “Mamma, look there’s a sparrow hiding. We have a new pet now.”
I immediately bent down to check if the sparrow was doing fine in that cozy corner. It was confused no doubt, but not uncomfortable, i gauged. And needless to say, it wanted some peace of mind. I switched off the fan immediately and asked my son to leave the sparrow alone. After all, we all need some ‘me time’.
I remembered my childhood. We have always had birds in and around our home. We grew up seeing sparrows perched on sidewalks, in alleys, in front of restaurants, in our own garden and balcony.
Watching them jolting and flying or listening to their melodious songs and chatters, it’s all very enjoyable and relaxing. And knowing that they eat grains and worms was a bonus. We attracted sparrows, mynahs and doves [and occasionally crows] to our yard by supplying food and water for drinking and bathing and by cultivating plants that give them a place to hide and nest.
Sparrows were one of the first living creatures that wished a good morning whenever I woke up early. They would come on to the roof of our house every morning to drink fresh and pure water that overflowed from the tank. It was always a beautiful sight watching them sing, dance and play as the golden morning sun reflected and refracted in the water on the floor.
And whenever, as a child, I went to feed them with grains and if possible catch one of them, they would flee leaving me with an elusive aim of catching a sparrow at least once in a lifetime.
Sadly, house sparrows have become a rare sight in my city and most Indian cities today. These chirpy, small birds seem to have vanished from our lives. Environmentalists have given enough reasons why sparrows are disappearing from our cities. From lack of nesting sites in modern concrete buildings, to vanishing kitchen gardens and disappearance of lake and other water bodies, depriving them of shelter, food and water – the three basic things to survive – our sparrows are clearly in trouble.
Also the strong electro-magnetic radiations released from the networks of mobile phone towers interfere in the navigation system and the nervous system of birds, causing sparrows and other birds and insects to cause premature death.
As a childhood practice, I managed to somehow pick up the sparrow in hiding and in a jiffy, put it in a plastic basket where we keep fresh vegetables and turned the basket upside down, keeping a wooden plate below. The ‘cage like home’ that was constructed, was big enough for the bird to flap its wings and twirl inside. We allowed it to rest for some time. Then i gave the little one some cooked rice in a small bowl and water in another tiny bowl. I wasn’t sure though what i was doing was right. After an hour or so, it started eating the rice [thinking no one was watching it], and to our surprise, it not only finished the entire rice and water, but also pooped and took a short siesta. By now it got a nice name, from my son. He started calling it ‘Pal’.
By early evening, it started getting restless, giving us the signal that it’s ready to leave and that we must set it free. While my son felt a bit sad thinking that it will never come back to us, i explained to him, birds are free spirits and we must learn to let it go. Our small balcony garden was the best place to set it free. Initially, it was a bit jittery, but soon after it fluttered its wings and flew all over. I believe, this sparrow stays with its entire family just beside our apartment in a patio like structure. It was a great feeling to give the sparrow the freedom it deserved after a lovely fleeting time it spent with us.
Within minutes, it flew up to us, made a brief appearance sitting on the balcony railing, chirping happily and again disappeared. That must be a delightful ‘thank you for the lunch and short stay’. Thereafter the sparrow keeps chirping and jolting in and around our home every morning. It brings friends, family with it and lots of joy to us, especially to my son Kush, whose face lights up every time he sees his ‘Pal’.
I’ve always tried my best to bring up my son amidst nature, which wasn’t possible every time by the ‘virtue’ of living in a big city. The sparrow adventure that day taught us the lesson that all is not lost and we can do our bit to save sparrows from extinction.
For instance, we can cultivate the habit of loving birds and animals, by giving them little food, and keeping some water on the terrace or outside your house for them to drink. And we are doing exactly that. We have also set up a water bath to let sparrows and other birds to drink and bathe.
Something very interesting has happened in the last few weeks. We have started to wake up to the chirping of the house sparrows every morning. Sparrows fly down in the early morning hours and feed on the food and water left out for them by us. They eat cooked rice, millet and chapattis.
Declaring March 20 as World Sparrow Day was indeed a step towards saving these tiny, agile creatures. But beyond declaration, the need of the hour is to conserve sparrows as well as the urban biodiversity and create awareness on the same.
Sparrows [or any living creature for that matter] have a right to live in this planet as much as we humans do. So, before your child asks you with the question, ‘What is a sparrow?’, let’s do our bit, save sparrows, protect sparrows, or else some day in the future they will become extinct like dinosaurs.