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news 06 Mar 12

Sparrows Vanish From Streets of Belgrade

The symbol of the Serbian capital is becoming a scarce sight as populations of sparrows plummet for unknown reasons.

Bojana Barlovac

House sparrows that used to awaken Belgraders every morning with their characteristic squabbling are becoming less and less seen today. Magpies and crows have jumped in instead, flocking to feed from Belgraders' hands.

"In competition with other birds, sparrows are slowly losing the battle, because they are weaker and slower to reach food," Vojislav Vasic, ornithologist and former director of the Natural History Museum of Serbia, said.

The Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia has not conducted exact research into the causes of the disappearance of sparrows in Belgrade owing to financial difficulties, they said.

But ornithologists estimate that the population has dropped from around 5,000 to only a few thousand.

Vasic said the main problem for the sparrow is that is very dependent on man. "Man is mainly responsible for survival of this species," he said. "Maybe the solution is in placing feeders on terraces or in parks," Vasic suggested.

Vasic said he had a few feeders on his own balcony and enjoyed their chirping every morning.

He believes research into the causes of the decline of sparrows should be carried out and that the city of Belgrade should launch a joint protection action with Gradsko Zelenilo, the city firm in charge of parks and trees in Belgrade.

A legend linked to this small bird says that during the Ottoman siege of Belgrade in the 15th century a sparrow was found shot in the heart with two arrows. Since then, it has been said that Belgrade is as indestructible as the sparrow.

The bird was chosen as the symbol of Belgrade because it is small but capable of soaring to great heights, and thus stands for the Belgrade spirit.

Belgrade is not the only city facing a decline in sparrow populations. Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Finland are facing the same problem.

Research in Prague has shown the number of sparrows has declined there by 60 per cent in the last 20 years.

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