Bringing back sparrows – Charche With Millets

Three months back we decided to start something new at Kaulige. We wanted to bring together like-minded people and explore different perspectives around conservation and sustainability at our space on Brigade Road. And that’s how ‘Charche with Millets’ was born.

On 9th March, we conducted the 3rd edition of Charche with Millets. It so happens that 20th March is “World Sparrow Day” and we thought, what better occasion that to have a talk on sparrows of Bengaluru and why we cant see them around anymore. This topic is especially close to urban birders and old-timers who have been missing the sparrows for a long time now. So we invited JN Prasad, a renowned bird watcher and one of the Chief architects of the Bangalore Nest Box program, to give a talk on “Bringing back Sparrows”.

A big audience from different backgrounds and paths of life turned up to learn about sparrows and enjoy the millet lunch later. JN Prasad started off the talk by asking the audience for their stories and their connection to sparrows. There were many varied interesting stories from the audience, which included a retired couple who grew up in rural areas to a child who loves sparrows but hasn’t seen many of them. A few of them were already doing their bit to bring back sparrows, while many were curious to know what had happened and how they can help? It was quite an interesting and enthusiastic crowd.

JN Prasad then talked about the common birds of Bangalore, their behaviour and their nesting habits. The photographs that Prasad shared, showing us the way birds around us have learnt to survive with less green spaces in the urban environment, were very enlightening.

Why have sparrows disappeared?

With Mr. Prasad We had a lively discussion about the possible reasons which have contributed to the decline of the sparrow population. Some of them are highlighted below:

  • Lack of nesting spaces – sparrows need ledges in sheltered spaces to make their nests. In olden days, they could find spaces under tiled or thatched roofs, etc but now concrete construction has ensured that there arn’t much space left for sparrows to nest.
  • Lack of appropriate food – earlier, there would be grains such as millets lying all around as feed for cattle, cleaning and husking grains, grains will fall out of jute sacks, etc. Nowadays, food comes packed in plastic packets and is no longer grown nearby. Also there would be more open spaces for bird to feed on caterpillars, the protein source needed to rear the young ones, which are also much rarer in the city.

The audience was very keen to learn what could be done now to bring back the sparrows and make their houses and surroundings more comfortable for sparrows. JN Prasad offered us some hope that all wasn’t lost yet! We could still entice sparrow populations to our neighbourhoods by providing nesting spaces in the form of nest boxes, safe from predators like rats and cats. He then did a quick demo of a DIY nest box which we can make with any carton or shoe box at home.

Along with nest boxes, Prasad said, it is necessary to provide sparrows and other birds with food and water. Millets apparently is a good feed for the sparrows, who in less urban settings, were freely pecking grains from the ground from cleaning and husking such grains. While our city birds are yet to be feeder trained, sprinkling a bit of millets on a tray will attract them slowly. Also, a shallow tray with water will attract birds who want to quench their thirst and take a quick bath.

A pro-tip: If you want to put out bird feed but dont want pigeons from getting at the feed, put a mesh on it with holes big enough for sparrows but not pigeons – around 3.5cm.

Overall it was an invaluable session for us and, we hope, the audience too. The session was followed by a sumptuous Millet lunch, organised by Kaulige Foods. Of course, even after the session, the charche continued throughout the lunch bringing out the true meaning of ‘Charche with Millets’!

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