Birds of the city: More amiable than citizens!

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Red-vented Bulbul inspects a switch-box. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Hundreds of species of birds learnt to live peaceably with one another and with us in our villages, towns and cities

An elegant Magpie Robin flew out of a hole in a dead tree standing at the portico of our neighbor. We took a pause from our morning walk and stood there to see if the bird cared to return to the hole before our curiosity waned. It did indeed, many times, to gratify its mate in the nest-hole, and the onlookers down below.

From its glossy blue-black feathers we could tell that the handsome bird was a male Magpie Robin. It came back again and again with a mouthful of food and fed the female incubating in the nest. The couple seemed to be quite used to seeing people under the tree and was not at all troubled by us staring at them.

Equally tolerant of our ogling were a pair of Great Tit making nests in a BTCL pole in our neighborhood. Those diligent little birds took turns to bring nesting materials and dive into the pole through a little hole on its side. Being made of steel the pole did not experience the pang of childbirth when the bird emerged from the hole. But we did as we watched; the hole appeared no bigger than the body of the tit, and was a tight fit.

It is a little challenging for both Magpie Robin and Great Tit to nest in holes since they cannot make any hole. They use natural cavities in trees or occupy the abandoned holes made by the powerful wood-cutters like the woodpeckers and the barbets. Woodpeckers and barbets usually breed in early spring and generously vacate their nest-holes for the homeless robins, mynas, tits etc.

The nesting Magpie Robins were lucky to find a ready-made hole in the dead tree thanks to the woodpecker that crafted it. Thanks also to our neighbors for not removing the stump of the dead tree from their porch. The Great Tits, however, need not be thankful to the humans since they did not craft the pole for tits. The hole on the pole would be bigger if they did.

Early morning was the rush-hour for all our neighborhood birds; and there was no lockdown in their world. The screaming parakeets, mynas, bulbuls and drongos were shuttling between our buildings, poles and the trees in between. We saw a curious Red-vented Bulbul inspect a switch-box attached to a lamp-post nearby. Bulbuls, unlike the tits, rarely make nests on man-made objects. We could not measure the purpose of bulbul's close scrutiny of the corroded box.

We found the ubiquitous sparrows picking up scraps from our street. A daring female sparrow flew into a hanging net and perched on a rung to observe us keenly. Birds are generally afraid of nets and do not fly into one knowingly. While we were thrilled to see the sparrow use a net as her viewing platform, we had no idea how she got over her natural loathing of nets.

We are obliged to copy these lines from William Wordsworth to point to our experiences and feelings of that amazing morning:

The birds around me hopped and played,

Their thoughts I cannot measure:

But the least motion which they made

It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

Many species of birds managed to make their living in the areas completely dominated and overtaken by people when the wilderness was banished from human neighborhoods. Eventually some of those species like House Crow, House Sparrow and House Swift etc. became unable to live away from human neighborhoods. Besides those few species most other birds like Magpie Robin, Great Tit, Red-vented Bulbul and Black Drongo etc. remained capable of living in cities and wilderness equally well.

We wondered how so many diverse species of birds lived agreeably in the overcrowded areas like Banani and other residential areas of the City! Those birds are clearly competing for a fairly inadequate supply of food and accommodation. They do not seem to fight too aggressively over the resources essential for their survival in our neighborhood. Even a fierce bird like the Black Drongo did not attack and drive away the meek Magpie Robin while both descended on a single worm in the grass.

Hundreds of species of birds learnt to live peaceably with one another and with us in our villages, towns and cities. Could we confidently say as much about ourselves! From our track record we do not get a high grade in our talent for living harmoniously with other species or even among individuals of our own species.

The recent disappearance of our two companion human-species, the Neanderthal and the Denisovan, points an accusing finger at us. There is no proof that we did them in. But we do not have much to say in our defense against that accusation. We had always harmed those who were different from us ever so slightly. Sadly it is not something of our past; even today we remain ever ready to hurt other humans who are unlike us in the slightest way.

American President Thomas Jefferson loved the Northern Mockingbird and wrote: "Learn all the children to venerate it (mockingbird) as a superior being in the form of a bird." Like Jefferson many of us would name a bird if asked to mention our most favorite creatures. But, if the birds were to make a list of their favorite animals the name Homo sapiens would probably not be high up in the list.

We need not affirm that some bird is superior to us. But clearly the birds of our city are far more accommodating and amiable than we the citizens are. We have much to learn from our birds and may have to go a long way to be somewhat like them.

Enam Ul Haque is the current Chairman of WildTeam.

From The Business Standard

  • Magpie Robin
  • More amiable than citizens!
  • Birds of the city
  • Birds

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