Urban Jungle

Edwin Joseph, The Sparrow Whisperer

Text by Vineeth Mario Vincent
Bengaluru’s Sparrow Man is passionate about saving the little birds from extinction
From a mere dozen birds a decade ago, Sparrow Man Edwin Joseph now has about 200 sparrows coming to his home every day. Photo: Vineeth Mario Vincent

From a mere dozen birds a decade ago, Sparrow Man Edwin Joseph now has about 200 sparrows coming to his home every day. Photo: Vineeth Mario Vincent

Sparrows have more or less disappeared from the Indian urban landscape. Some argue that they are on the verge of extinction, and nothing can be done to save them. Not Edwin Joseph though. This retired gentleman from Bengaluru believes otherwise and has managed to attract over 200 sparrows to his abode as proof.

I had the pleasure of sharing a cup of tea with Bengaluru’s Sparrow Man at his home. The first thing that jumped out at me was the sheer number of sparrows I was surrounded by. The setting was an ordinary house, on an ordinary street, the kind of place you would normally walk past without ever guessing there’s magic inside.

Bird feeders filled with grain are an excellent way to invite birds into your balcony or garden. Photo: Nanditha Chandraprakash

Our teatime discussion revolved around Edwin’s daily routine of feeding his sparrows, cleaning their birdbaths, interacting with the children who pass by, and playing watchman to his birds. A sparrow watchman? A devilish grin emerged on his face when I asked him to explain his role as “watchman”. “I hide behind this hibiscus bush and look out for the mean bird that likes to eat my sparrows,” he said, referring to the shikra, a common bird of prey known to attack and eat smaller birds. I watched with amazement as Edwin loaded his catapult, his eyes scanning the sky like a radar, looking out for the guilty raptor.

Bird conservationists suggest urban citizens put out a bowl of water and some grain to welcome birds. Add on a birdbath as well, if space permits and the weather is hot. Photo: Nanditha Chandraprakash

Edwin recalls with nostalgia his childhood, when he sat with his grandmother and watched her offer broken grains to the visiting sparrows that kept them company while she cleaned the rice. Those warm afternoons are a hazy memory, but he’s happy to continue his grandmother’s legacy. His dedication to feeding the little birds, whose population has dwindled dramatically over the last few decades, is remarkable.

A protein treat is on its way for the little ones in the nest. Photo: Amoghavarsha

Edwin’s philosophy is simple: “Feed and protect them and they will make their home around yours.” Edwin is truly a sparrow whisperer. You only have to observe the way the birds come and interact with him to understand his special connection to them. His quiet fight for the little sparrow hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has been featured in many prominent newspapers and on local TV channels as well. However, he says, his real moment of joy came when a young girl gifted him birdhouses that she and her father had made from old coconut shells. Edwin wishes that an entire generation grows up thinking like that little girl.

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