Of Sparrows And Cellular Towers: Just Naming Them Delhi”s State Bird Will Not Help Sparrows Survive

Posted on August 22, 2013 in Environment

By Pranjal Begwani:

Delhi – once home to multitudes of the Passer domesticus, which a layman would identify as the House Sparrow, presents a contrast of sorts today. So much so, that catching a glimpse of a sparrow in Delhi’s parks and colonies, would be akin to a ‘rare sighting’ for a birdwatcher. Over the past few days, I spotted Blue Rock Pigeons and House Crows, (which as a matter of fact, do not require much of an effort), Common Mynahs and even a white-breasted kingfisher, but the elusive sparrow…sigh! It remained elusive.

In an attempt to create awareness about its decline, which has taken place at an alarming rate, the declaration of the sparrow as Delhi’s state bird was a step in the right direction. But was this initiative enough? If the Delhi government thought that simply making a declaration was enough to bring back the numbers, they couldn’t be more mistaken. Treating a public notification as a means and end for a species’ conservation doesn’t bode well for the future of the sparrow, in India’s national capital. And this definitely doesn’t account for the bird’s condition in other Indian towns and cities, where it may be worse off for want of even minimal awareness-generating political initiatives such as these.


The reasons for the abatement of the innocuous, unassuming and chirpy little creature we call the sparrow, are multiple. Their decline can be attributed to more obvious causes such as uncontrolled environmental pollution, to reasons such as radiation emanating from cellular tower, unfriendly, indifferent human residents and glass, metal and concrete houses with few alcoves or spaces for sparrows to nest. Apart from pollution, the other most important reason is cellular tower radiation. This cause is as important as it is controversial, topical and hotly debated.

In recent times, radiation from cellular towers has been reported to be the cause of human cancers. Policemen posted near such towers complain that it is impossible in such postings, to stand for more than a few hours at a stretch. I stood in complete exposure to a cellular tower for less than half hour, and developed an acute headache. And others, usually with some vested interests in the telecom sector, discount any such effects of towers and attribute these to other causes. If humans seem to be so acutely affected by this radiation, so would most other animals and birds in urban habitats, which in all obviousness would include the sparrow. This cause is widely accepted while talking about sparrow numbers and their consequential decline, although there is no direct evidence to prove the same.

On a recent visit to a small town in Rajasthan with little more than 50,000 inhabitants, at least twenty such cellular towers were observed in the vicinity. Most were located at close proximity to each other. It was observed that in areas adjacent to these towers, the sparrow count was zilch while in distant areas it was fairly easy to spot sparrows. It would be nothing short of outrageous to call this a mere coincidence. Any rational minded being would understand the seriousness of the issue at hand.

cellular towerAtleast 4 towers, amidst human habitations, are visible in this single frame. For the keen eye, there are another two in the background. 

Birds have often been called the thermometers of the environment. When their frantic calls, shrill shrieks and soulful songs can be heard, one knows that the environment is still safe and fair, while in a contrasting situation it is evident that things have started to go wrong in the surrounding environs. The sparrow is a micro-example of the same. Its near disappearance from our city-scapes, notwithstanding token awareness measures, tells us that somewhere something is going wrong, whether it is rampant pollution or the proliferation of telephone towers.

Pollution can be controlled. Polluting industries can be clamped down upon, and fuel subsidies can definitely be reduced (though expecting a populist government to ‘eliminate’ them would be as ambitious as expecting sparrows to produce more progeny simply because they are now the Delhi state bird). Cellular towers cannot yet be eliminated but their numbers too can be reduced, with telecom companies operating on a sharing basis rather than via individual towers.

Humans have often been called selfish creatures. So even if we don’t strive to protect our sparrow friends, we can at least concern ourselves with safeguarding our own future. Even in going through with the latter, we would make sure that the sparrow is not relegated to nostalgia. If birds are endangered, in the long run humans are too. After all, the root causes are the same.

So let’s hear that chirp again!

Photo Credit: joeldinda via Compfight cc