Let's go bird spotting in your locality

Ambika Shaligram
Sunday, 24 May 2020

In the Lockdown 4.0, we have got used to the avian presence in our midst, chirping, mating and having a party of their own. The general impression is that the number of birds on our trees, nullahs, hillocks have increased. Is it really so?

On the day Janata Curfew (March 22) was announced in India, most people took to Facebook to write about birdcalls and how it was music to their ears. Now, into the Lockdown 4.0, we have got used to the avian presence in our midst, chirping, mating and having a party of their own. The general impression is that the number of birds on our trees, nullahs, hillocks have increased. Is it really so?

Increased visibility

Anuj Khare, an Honorary Wildlife Warden Pune and member of Maharashtra Eco Tourism Development Board, says, “People have been talking about an increase in the diversity of birds. That’s not so. They probably have lot more time now and so the visibility is more. We need scientific, statistical data and unfortunately till date, no one has worked on this.”

“Also, less pollution — air and sound — could be other reasons why we are spotting birds more easily now,” adds Sagar Patil, an avid bird watcher.

In summer season, most of the trees shed their leaves and the flowers are prominent and they have attractive colours. This attracts the pollinators. “Some common birds that you can see around include Tailorbird, Purple Sunbird, Ashy Prinia and Indian White-eye. Early morning, if you look at the top of the tree, you will see an interesting bird called Coppersmith Barbet. The birds are also more vocal now because this happens to be their courtship period, followed by the egg laying,” points out Khare.

“In summers, these birds build nests and most of them breed during this time because when the chicks are in the nest, the monsoon arrives. In monsoon, the availability of food increases. This is how the entire cycle works,” he adds.

Commonly seen species

Besides Tailorbirds (Shimpi in Marathi), we have Mynahs, and Grey Hornbill, which can be seen early morning and late evening. They make a sound called shrill. You can also spot Red-vented and Red Whiskered Bulbul and Kites. “Kites are mainly seen in areas which has garbage. In areas, where we have old banyan trees, we can hear some shrills during evening hours. These are made by Spotted Owlet. There is also a bird called Brain Fever (Papiha). It was so named by the British because its call resembles the words – Brain Fever. It is not easily seen but can be heard. In areas surrounded by hills, you can definitely hear the call – Brain Fever. They migrate from the Himalayas and this is the time they are heard even in the urban landscape,” says Khare.

Patil, who stays in Manjari on Solapur highway, says depending on the area (micro-habitat) you are staying in, you will find a few species. “If you have fields or farms around your house, you will spot Baya Weavers, Red Munia, Sparrows, Common Quail, Gray Francolin, Swallows, Bee eaters, Babblers etc. In a canal, river or pond, birds like Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Black Kite, Common Sandpiper, Wagtails, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Indian Cormorant, Little Grebe, Swamphen, etc can be seen,” he says.

If you are living in high rise buildings with not much greenery around, you can still watch a variety of birds in the skies — Swifts, Kites, predatory birds like Eagles, Buzzards, Shikra. All of those birds which migrate locally for food and return for roosting can be spotted.

“My wife spotted a Shikra bird in our locality. It was the first time we have seen it,” adds Patil.

Observing birds

The lockdown has also resulted in the growth of amateur bird watchers. Earlier, if people stepped out on the week-ends to bird hotspots in and around the city like Sinhagad, Dive Ghat, Kawadi and Bhigwan, the thrust would be on the number of species watched. “Now that we only have our balconies to step out, we are focusing on the routine of the birds, how they build their nests and so on. I have been watching a Sunbird raise her family. I managed to shoot a picture of the bird feeding her chick. The baby is put in a safe spot and the mother goes off for a few minutes to catch an insect or something. The chick, in her absence, looks around here and there. And when it realises its mother’s presence, it gets excited,” points out Patil, a telecom professional, adding, “I also spotted a big flock of sparrows in the last week of April.”

If you want to take up bird watching after lockdown is lifted, then the best spot is to sit underneath a Red Silk Cotton tree (Shyamal) in your vicinity. “You can watch at least 15-20 species visiting that tree for the nectar. You don’t need to go outside Pune to watch the birds, you can see them in urban spaces too,” adds Khare.

Micro-habitats in the city

Each area in the city attracts different feathers. Primarily, Pune has many migratory visitors from the Himalayan foothills. Why do they come to this region?

“There are two reasons,” says Khare, adding, “One, is the temperature. There are limitations to which the birds can adapt to cold climatic conditions. They are warm-blooded, so they have to travel to a comfortable zone. Secondly, availability of food becomes a problem during cold. They, therefore, travel to a place where they can get good shelter, good food and protection. So every year, they are known to travel from the Himalayan foothills to this part of the state and further down. Migration is a circular movement from breeding ground (Point A) to feeding ground (Point B) and back to breeding ground.”

Verditer Flycatcher travels all the way from the Himalayas to this part of the state. Another bird called Indian Pitta, which is from the Himalayas as well, was recorded as spotted in Kothrud last week. Khare says, “Someone called and said, ‘This is the first time that we have recorded Indian Pitta’. I told him, ‘No. This bird has been seen earlier too.’ Cuckoos also migrate during this time of season – after monsoon they will go back. We have Brain Fever and Plaintive Cuckoo in Pune. Besides, we also have records of spotting Pine Crested Cuckoo.”

The hillocks or tekdis as they are known locally, do not have too many native, fruiting trees. But further down Vetal Tekdi is a quarry and post monsoon it is filled with water. “You can spot migratory Brahmmny Ducks, which are from Ladakh. Their stay is till second or third week of March. You can also spot Greyheaded Canary Flycatcher. It too flies from the Himalayas. Then, there is Asian Paradise Flycatcher,” Khare adds.

Moving on to the lack of native trees on tekdis, Khare says, “The forest department had planted a plant called Gliricidia (Undirmari) and it was meant for developing the soil composition. The plant helps in nitrogen fixation. Unless you have a good quality soil, nothing can grow. The earlier plan was to grow Gliricidia, which will help in developing the quality of the soil and after three years, they were to cut off Gliricidia and make manure out of it. Unfortunately, the cutting didn’t happen then. Recently, the Forest Department got permission to phase out Gliricidia, hectare by hectare. Now, you can see plants like Sonsavara, Red Cotton Silk Tree and Dhaiti. They have nectared in flowers. So on hillocks, wherever there are indigenous trees, they attract birds.”

“You can spot water birds like Cormorant, wader birds like Jacanas in Pashan Lake. Near Shaniwarwada, you will see lots of crows and kites. The Taljai area has monotonous culture of Gliricidia. Outside Parvati, there are lots of crows and kites, attracted to garbage,” he adds.

The most adaptable species are crows and pigeons which you can spot in almost any part of the world, informs Patil. “In fact, pigeons have been aggressively breeding because of which we are losing the indigenous bird diversity,” adds Khare.

Certainly, more feathers would only imply that our eco-system is healthy.


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