Birds Adaptation in the Urban Environment
By: Ajay Gadikar
In the struggle to survive in their natural habitat which is decreasing at a higher rate, birds of Urban Indore are trying to adapt with human settlements. Some of the bird species which are finding fewer trees and shrinking wet lands in city have
started making concrete houses as their homes. Some , not getting natural material for making their nests, have started using materials like plastic threads, electric wires and papers as nesting materials.
Today the main threat posed to birds comes from humans and his destructive tendencies and his manipulation of the environment. The life of birds has changed enormously since humans encroached upon their habitats and began to use and spoil it. Today,
near my home, I can easily spot 100 pigeons, 5-6 Mynas, 1-2 sparrows and that's all about it, whereas 5-6 years back I used to see at least 20 species of birds in the same area.
Very few birds have adapted to the urban lifestyle and many have perished from our life. The House sparrow is a perfect example of it. Once commonest of all, its absence should be treated as a dangerous sign of how humans are fast degrading the environment.
According to a study by Juan Diego Ibáñez-Álamo, researcher at the University of Granada and Anders Pape Møller from Paris-Sud University in France done in 2012, birds adapt to their habitat and develop new survival instincts just like humans. Ibáñez-Álamo
and Møller experimented with a number of birds belonging to 15 different species from both rural and urban settings and recorded their varied reactions to dangers faced by predators. Cat was found out to be the main predator of city birds. This report was
published in the Animal Behaviour journal.
Adaptation is the key today, even for birds for survival. Birds like Common Mynas, Purple sun birds, Blue rock Pigeons, have been known for their existence along with human settlement from quit a long time in urban areas. However, some recent observations
suggest that birds like Indian eagle owl, Indian grey hornbill, Red wattled lapwing, and White breasted king fisher that are found in Indore have also started adapting and started living near human settlements with the changed conditions.
The Indian Eagle Baby Owl in its nest
I had photographed Indian Eagle owls nesting
in a school building at the fringes of the city. The creature is
known for building nests in thickets found on barren land. While the open land has considerably reduced in the city, the few chunks that are left are not safe for living and breeding due to human and animals’ intervention.
Similarly birds like peahens that usually laid eggs on grounds have started laying eggs on roof tops. During recent years the stray dog menace has increased many fold around the cities so the bird finds it suitable to lay eggs on the roof top of houses.
The Red wattled Lapwing has also been seen laying eggs on the roof-tops- an adaptation to survive in cities. Generally they lay their eggs on barren land, however with lesser open areas and with increased movement of humans and animals on barren land, the
possibility of damage has increased and they have found roof tops as an alternative for laying eggs. Eggs of red wattled lapwing are of muddy colour and cannot be spotted easily. The bird is known for making shriek sounds to keep enemies away from the eggs.
A male indian Grey Hornbill feeding its chicks. The nest is in a crevice on the wall.
During my study of Indian grey hornbills nesting behaviour
, I saw them now using holes/crevices found in the
buildings as their nest. Last year in an unusual nesting behaviour, I noticed that an Indian grey hornbill pair has made nest in a hole (cavity) on the 2nd floor of a multi storied building. Indian grey hornbill are common hornbill species found in the Indian
sub-continent and traditionally make nests in hollow cavities found in tree trunks.
It was nice to see the remarkable adaptability shown by the hornbill pair, I watched their breeding behaviour for the complete three months and understood that even in the absence of suitable cavity, they have intelligently chosen a place which was
innovative and safe and were able to successfully raise their offsprings.
The white breasted kingfisher entering inside the nest
Recently I also noticed another remarkable nest site adaptation by a pair of white breasted kingfishers in a densely populated area. Generally, all of the Kingfisher species are known to live near water bodies or rivers, but the white- throated kingfisher
is adapting to live with city life. This white breasted kingfisher bird pair has chosen to make their nest in a hole left in the wall of a building. It seems to be an attempt to adapt with the urban lifestyle which is getting crowded by buildings at every
possible nook and corner of the city.
A purple sun bird nest made using waste paper
With natural nesting materials getting rare, building a nest has also become a tough task for birds. Birds like crow and purple sun birds have started using artificial materials like threads, electric wires and papers for building their nests. With the
change in the habitat, not only the nesting but the eating habits of birds have also changed accordingly. I have seen that white breasted kingfisher, that used to live near the water bodies and ate fishes has adapted to city life and started eating rats,
lizards and insects found in the city. The Indian grey horn bill was seen feeding chapattis to his chicks.
All these changes show that these birds are struggling but trying to adapt and survive in the urban environment. If they do not adapt with the changing conditions, they would disappear like the house sparrows from our cities.
(Text and photographs by Ajay Gadikar. Ajay Gadikar is an Ornithologist from Indore.)