New Delhi: Sparrows are seen as a mascot for ecological conservation but birdwatchers are worried that adverse environmental factors such as shrinking habitat may be driving them into hiding.
Ecologists warn these small, highly social birds, that often nest in nooks and niches in and around human settlements, may also go the vultures' way if enough awareness is not created about them.
"Sparrows are amongst the most abundant bird species in urban areas, but we still need to conserve their habitat. Otherwise they too may go the vultures' way," Mohammed Dilawar, president of Nature Forever Society, told IANS.
"Earlier, the vultures were amongst the most abundant birds in urban areas but now, due to loss of habitat, they are almost gone. Same could happen with sparrows," he said.
"In our country, there's a gap in scientific knowledge. The statistics of species populations are often outdated. So we are launching a bird monitoring system on World Sparrow Day, March 20," Dilawar added. He however declined to describe the working of the system.
Giving the reasoning behind selecting the common sparrow as a mascot for ecological conservation, he said, "Sparrow is like an umbrella species for all the birds that dwell near human settlements. Also, it is much more recognisable than many other species. People often talk about conserving the tigers or other more glamourous species, but that is sad. All species need equal attention and conservation."
Surya Prakash, the science officer at Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU), claimed that numbers of sparrows weren't a concern. He said that people didn't know what to look for or where.
"I come across many people who claim that the sparrows are going down but would not know about the situation," Prakash told IANS.
"Most of the times, these people don't have any valid statistical data and end up creating false alarms. And then, if you want to find something, you should know where to look. You can't find a sparrow if you look for it in a mall in Gurgaon," he added.
Prakash claimed that the sparrows were not dying out but often, due to changes in their living environment, they shift their nesting sites to other locations.
Primarily grain eaters, sparrows also eat insects and scavenge upon anything in small quantities. Amongst the most recognisable wild birds, the common sparrow can often be seen on the window ledges and garden trees, twittering busily.
However, there are still some safe havens for the city dwelling birds, according to the veteran birdwatcher.
"Even here, at JNU, we have a large number of sparrows. Or in old Delhi you can find big flocks of sparrows," he said.