July 01, 2010
Just outside my apartment window off Santhome High Road in Chennai, are a row of trees reaching up to the 3rd floor. The trees host a variety of birds – many I’m seeing for the first time, and with the Internet, able to identify.
For as long as I remember, there have been crows and squirrels in plenty, with a fair share of the Common Sparrow thrown in. But in recent times, the common sparrows have dwindled in number, and are rare to find. But many other birds have become frequent visitors
– largely due to the upcoming Adyar Eco Park that’s just a stone throw away from here.
A small group of Coppersmith Barbets are one of the most frequent and my favourite visitors. The first time I set my eyes on one of them, I was captivated by their beauty. Only as big as the sparrow, with glossy greenish wings and plumes of
red and yellow on the crown and chest – they are truly a piece of art! And their call is so unique a “tuk…tuk…tuk…” that resembles a coppersmith banging on the metal – and hence their name. And once you hear that sound – it’s almost impossible not to recognize
where it comes from. Creatures of habit, they seem to be, and make themselves present on the same branches everyday at morning before the sun gets too harsh, and in the evening at dusk. The other day, I spotted a curious little fellow just outside my wind
– craning his neck to listen to my daughter practicing on the Piano!
And then there are the Black Drongos, who think they own the air space! The fiercest fighters of the bird world, their aerial sorties while chasing the crows are just as thrilling as the ones we see at air shows. And that brings me to the subject
of the crows who seem to be sharing India’s predicament – a population explosion. With a surge in number comes food scarcity, as the crows these days are never content with scavenging – and so they fly in and out of balconies, helping themselves to food straight
from the kitchen, rummaging in other nests, eating eggs, feeding on fledglings and generally creating a ruckus.
But the crows are not really as smart as they seem. They are frequently outwitted by the
Asian Koel that often usurps its nest and even fools the crow into raising its young. When the crow is away, the Koel pushes out the crow’s eggs from its nest and lays its own. And then the gullible crow sits on the eggs, hatches it and rears
the young – though the fledgling looks and sounds so very different from its own young. I guess this is what that Victorian idiom “penny-wise, pound-foolish” actually means!
And just outside my balcony is this industrious little squirrel, busy building her nest – for about a week now. From dawn till dusk, she runs up and down the tree, collecting building material that includes tiny twigs, fiber, coir, cotton, foam and even sheets
of plastic! Her nest looks cozy now, and I’m looking forward to seeing her little ones soon.
There are many other birds too – mynahs prowling the ground on their dainty feet and tailor birds looking for leaves to stitch up. And even as I’m blogging, there is this tiny brown fellow with a grayish chest and belly preening on one of the branches. His
mate is here too, flitting among the leaves. They are so tiny, smaller than even the tailor bird – I just can't wait to google them out… now!