Universally familiar in appearance, the widespread and once abundant house sparrow has become a mystery bird and is becoming increasingly rare all over the world. Perky and bustling, house sparrows have always been seen, mingling with finches in the fields in autumn and winter, but now weeks pass without a single one putting in an appearance.
They are vanishing from many big cities, but are still not uncommon in small towns and villages. India has seen a massive decline of sparrows in recent years. On the world map too. Once a commonplace bird in large parts of Europe, its numbers are decreasing. In the Netherlands, the House Sparrow is even considered an endangered species. Their recent decline has earned them a place on the Red List in the Netherlands. Similar precipitous drops in population have been recorded in the United Kingdom. French ornithologists have charted a steep decline in Paris and other cities. There has been an even sharper fall in the urban areas in Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Finland.
It is thought that the House sparrow originated in the Mediterranean and expanded into Europe with the growth of civilization. At the insistence of man did the sparrow make its way across the Atlantic to the United States. In 1850, green inch worms were destroying trees in New York City’s Central Park. As the house sparrow’s main diet in England consisted of the same green worms, it was thought that if sparrows were brought to New York City they would solve the worm problem in Central Park. Others thought the sparrow would eliminate crop pests.
The first introduction of the sparrow was conducted by the Brooklyn Institute in 1851. Eight pairs were originally released but none were able to survive the change in climate. More attempts were made and eventually the birds adapted to a colder climate and multiplied. The sparrow rapidly spread across the United States. The abundance of spilled grain used for feeding horses and the artificial nesting cavities provided by humans helped the sparrow along. They successfully followed humans to many parts of the world- North and South America, Southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The house sparrow is an intelligent bird that has proven to be adaptable to most situation, i.e. nest sites, food and shelter, so it has become the most abundant songbird in the world.
Sparrows are very social birds and tend to flock together through most of the year. A flock’s range covers 1.5-2 miles, but it will cover a larger territory if necessary when searching for food. The sparrow’s main diet consists of grain seeds, especially waste grain and live stock feed. If grain is not available, its diet is very broad and adaptable. It also eats weeds and insects, especially during the breeding season. The parasitic nature of the house sparrow is quite evident as they are avid seekers of garbage tossed out by humans. In spring, flowers (especially those with yellow colours) are often eaten crocuses, primroses and aconites seem to attract the house sparrow most. The birds also hunt butterflies.
House sparrows are generally attracted to buildings for roosting, nesting, and cover. They look for any man-made nook or cranny to build their nests. Other nesting sites are clothes line poles with the end caps open, lofts, kitchen garden etc. The sparrow makes its home in areas closely associated with human habitation.
The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a member of the old world sparrow family Passeridae. Some consider it to be a relative of the Weaver Finch Family. A number of geographic races have been named, and are differentiated on the basis of size and cheek colour. Cheeks are grey in the west and white in the east. The shade of the colouration, particularly of the chestnut area in the males is also considered. Birds of the western hemisphere are larger than those in the tropical South Asian populations.
In India, it is popularly known as Goraiya in the Hindi belt. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is known as Kuruvi. Telugu language has given it a name, Pichhuka, Kannadigas call it Gubbachchi, Gujaratis call it Chakli where as Maharashtrians call it Chimani. It is known as Chiri in Punjab, Chaer in Jammu and Kashmir, Charai Pakhi in West Bengal, and Gharachatia in Orissa. In Urdu language it is called Chirya while Sindhi language has termed it as Jhirki