Somebody who builds earthy homes for us is also trying to give its home back to old Bangalore's forgotten resident, the house sparrow.

Bangalore's homes stopped being sparrow-friendly some 20 years ago, according to Dr Harish Narayan, dentist-turned Chief of Social Engineering at ZED Foundation. Then, most families lived in homes with open yards where grains were regularly picked.

The little silver-brown birds flitted around, gobbling the stray seed. They chirped in your day-break from the roofs or trees outside.

Gone are the spaces, the fruit trees and with them the sparrows. Now you don't see these birds until you travel 40-50 km away from the city.

The foundation, which is the non-business face of green homes builder, BCIL-ZED Habitats, is trying to reverse the bird's flight and “bring sparrows back to Bangalore.” Under its “Gubbi Goodu” (sparrow's nest) campaign, ZED Foundation distributed 14,000 bird boxes to people across Bangalore and South India.

Come March 20, the bird will also be the focus of an international conference in Bangalore hosted by ZED and the Zoo Authority of Karnataka. That day is also the World House Sparrow Day.

“Along with keeping these boxes in your home, simply scatter some grains. The birds also need a bowl of water regularly. You cannot cajole a sparrow back overnight, it may take six to 12 months. But once they are sure of the security of food and shelter, they stay back,” he says.

According to Dr Harish, “From 650 sparrows per sq. km in 1990, they are now a mere 25 per sq km. We found various reasons for that." Lack of insects to feed their young is one. The mobile towers, higher and denser concrete structures; traffic and pollution are the others.

But the biggest factor that drove away the sparrow, he says, has been the lack of nesting spaces. Unlike the old homes, the new high-rise architecture of a newly prospering city took away their spaces. While Bangalore burgeoned to affluence, the little sparrow stood no chance to live there.

Since Gubbi Goodu rolled out, some 800 families have called back to say the birds are arriving.

Surprisingly, one can find them now at the new international airport building and its surroundings at Devanahalli, 40 km from the city centre.

All of ZED's residential projects are invitations to the sparrow; they are built with cozy nooks, ledges and crevices, and with fruit trees grown. ZED is requesting the civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, to plant fruiting trees where sparrows and other birds can nest and thrive.

Gubbi Goodu insists we need the sparrow to keep our ecosystem in balance, check the rodents, insects and pests; clean up the waste and pollinate plants. More importantly, it shows us how wrong we have been with the way we live, with no room or thought for other smaller creatures.

madhu@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 8, 2012)
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