A 24/7 restaurant for sparrows

 thehindu.com  10/12/2019 10:09:53 

The house is weather-beaten. Its faade is unremarkable. But it draws admiring glances.

Its unoccupied. But it still remains one of the most-visited residences in Triplicane.

Welcome to Number 14, South Mada Street, Triplicane, where house sparrows party all day long.

Clambering up the wall, a jasminum auriculatum (jasmine) climber has grown taller than a vitex negundo (noochi) tree that stands just a couple of paces away. The jasmine-climber is aflutter with house sparrows. However, without a moments notice, the chirrups can shift to the ante-chamber. And it does. For, there is a greater attraction in there  a sumptuous 24/7 meal, sponsored by 62-year-old M.A. Narasimhan.

M.A. Narasimhan

Narasimhan allows me to have a look-in. As he lives at another house just a whistling distance away, the tread of human feet at Number 14 is rare.

We have left this house unoccupied for a couple of years now. Earlier, my mother was living here, explains Narasimhan. For around ten years, sparrows have been tenants at Number 14. Narasimhan does everything he could to see that the birds keep extending their stay.

The effort requires him to stretch himself a bit, and he does it without as much as a chirrup of protest. Some of the costs of conservation: The floor of the ante-chamber is matted with rice-husks, necessitating regular clean-ups. And, of course, there is the daily chore of replenishing the bowls of generosity. He feeds the birds with unmilled rice, making at least four visits every day to see if they are feeding fine.

House sparrows feed on rice places in a wooden tray at a house on South Mada Street in Triplicane. Photo: Prince Frederick

The sparrows consume at least one kilogramme of rice every day. The birds dehusk the unmilled rice. Over the course of a day, at least 100 sparrows would visit the house, explains Narasimhan. South Mada Street and the other streets near Sri Parthasarathyswamy Temple support house sparrows. During visits on two successive days, this writer checked out a few spaces on South Mada Street, East Tank Square Street and North Tank Square Street where these birds seem to be at home.

The sparrow-friendly features include a couple of mimusops elengi (mahilam) trees  one found on the premises of the Sri Parthasarathyswamy Temple and the other on East Tank Square Street  that are said to serve as congregating as well as roosting spaces for sparrows.

Its evident the locality has a good number of residents who relish feeding sparrows. There are also a few who take the trouble of installing nest-boxes, which includes Narasimhans brother M.A. Parthasarathy who lives at Number 6, South Mada Street.

This house has never ceased to have a pair of house sparrows building a nest, says Narasimhan about Number 6.

Amidst all of these sparrow-friendly spaces, House Number 14 still stands out for the huge number of sparrows it draws.

Narasimhan explains, They dont nest here. Nor have I provided nest-boxes to encourage them to do so. They head here for the food that is made available at all times.

The table Narasimhan lays out for them is elaborate. An antiques collector, Narasimhan has three wooden pillars parked in the ante-chamber, and he places a rice-filled stainless-steel bowl on one of them, which has been slightly modified for the purpose.

Besides, there are many wooden trays with rice that beckon sparrows, and the set includes a specially-prepared wide tray that resembles a rack on a shelf.

It is clearly an irresistible offer, and the house sparrows accept it with a chirrup of gratitude every day.

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