Even as the number sparrows in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region has dwindled over the years, residential societies in Thane have reason to cheer with increased sightings of the birds that environmentalists attribute to careful human intervention. The birds, very common two decades ago, had nearly disappeared and become harder to spot as urbanisation accelerated and the sparrows were unable to find cozy groves among highrises and glass facades.
For Trupti Desai (36), an HR professional living in Thane, the wake-up call to save the sparrows came in summer of 2017. "My three-year-old niece who had started going to pre-school was learning about sparrows just from pictures. While growing up, we were told that future generations would not know how most animals would look, but for her to not know what sparrows are was a rude awakening for me," she said.
With the help of her neighbours, she started putting ecological bird feeders in the society. "We even built box nests out of recycled wood from furniture. Finally, last year, the birds returned and have stayed," she said.
Vedant Complex in Thane, Vasant Vihar area and even Hiranandani meadows have taken steps to rejuvenate the sparrow population. "Bird feeders were made by the children of our society using plastic containers. We managed to get good grains, the way the birds like. Last year, I donated more than 250 bird nests," said Kasber Augustine, a social activist and a resident of Vedant Complex.
Sparrows have been human companions for over 10,000 years, said Mohammad Dilawar, an activist who has worked actively to increase the sparrow population for the past 15 years. "Since humans began a sedentary lifestyle, sparrows have lived around us, heavily dependent on us for all their ecological needs. In the past two decades, we have advanced rapidly, leaving almost no room for the birds to adapt and sustain," he said.
For Thane wildlife warden Pawan Sharma, the change is tangible. "The numbers have increased. Earlier, there were no sparrows in residential areas, now there are at least a couple every day on my window ledge," he said. For Vishal Kale (42), an IT professional who lives in Vasant Vihar, weekends mean bird-watching with his sons. "There have been more nests on higher branches of trees and the birdhouses people have strung from their balconies. We have even spotted sparrows near the swimming pool in afternoons," he said.
According to Sapna Zutshi, a biologist, the birds frequent areas where there is food and water. "Around three years ago, there were no sparrows, only pigeons lived in our area. Now, if you leave bread crumbs or even rice grains, sparrows eventually appear," she said.
However, human intervention should not be stopped now that one can see sparrows in some areas, Dilawar said. "We have to provide them with feed, safe shelter and healthy ecological balance continuously. Earlier, it was all part of the lifestyle, but now we have to make a conscious effort," he said.
Dilawar and his team have worked with societies in Mumbai and Pune to sustain sparrow population. "In Pune, where once there hardly was a handful of sparrows, we have managed to increase their population in residential societies. In Thane as well, we have worked with societies and the sparrows are coming back," he said.
Desai said, "We don't have to do anything around the house, unlike our parents or grandparents. We can ensure that food and water is provided for the animals. They are part of our life," she said.