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Samaritan’s refuge to winged pals under bridge

- Fruit-seller builds nest from discarded cartons for house sparrows, makes 1,000 new friends

Patna, Nov. 25: Pushed to the brink of extinction in urban surroundings, house sparrows have found a saviour in an unlikely person and, that too, at an unlikely place.

Septuagenarian fruit-seller Mohammad Haneef has made nests for sparrows from 11 discarded fruit cartons, laid them with straw and hooked them to iron rods in the market beneath Chiraiyatand bridge. Haneef’s bond with the birds began two years ago when he built a nest and bought four house sparrows for Rs 400. Since then, the numbers have been increasing, taking the sparrow population to 1,000-plus at present.

But how did Haneef get the idea of building nests for house sparrows? On his visit to Mecca and Medina in 2010, Haneef saw 4,000 house sparrows at a time, something he had never seen, and fell in love with them. “Some would sit on my shoulders, some on my head. I just loved the way the chirping birds acted familiar with me. The incident pulled the strings of my heart. Back home, I missed them,” said Haneef, adding that he read a news article on the fast disappearing house sparrows in Patna.

The two incidents prompted him to take a step towards their conservation. “After reading the newspaper article, I told my elder son to buy some sparrows for me to keep. As I spend the whole day at my fruit stall, I thought it prudent to build the nests nearby,”said an elated Haneef.

On the birds’ interpersonal skills, Haneef said: “They know how to make new friends. Over two years, the four sparrows made more than a thousand new friends. I will build more nests. Sparrows are fast disappearing from the state capital, mainly because of destruction of their habitat.”

Supporting the extinction theory, Arvind Mishra, a Bhagalpur-based ornithologist and the state co-ordinator of Indian Bird Conservation Network, said: “Loss of natural habitat is one of the main reasons behind the fast disappearance of house sparrows. Sparrows make nests in houses and in crevices of walls. But modern homes lack ventilators and people use air-conditioners.”

Surprisingly, the introduction of unleaded petrol is also said to be a reason for the decline of house sparrows. The combustion of the fuel produces compounds like methyl nitrate which are toxic for small insects on which a young sparrow feeds.

Sources said Britain’s Royal Society of Protection of Birds has included house sparrows on the Red List on the basis of research findings in different parts of the world, including India. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has also declared house sparrows as an endangered species.

The birds, which are believed to have originated in the Middle East, spread along with agriculture to Eurasia and Africa. With the progress in shipping, they made their way across the oceans to the United States.