A plump barbet has been dashing in and out of a perfect round hole it made on the tree outside my room. For over a month now, it would perch almost vertically on the tree, knocking away at the wood. Now that the site of the nest is ready, it’s time for the furnishings. It darts here and there and brings in fluffy stuff. Some of it fell and we thought we’d help it by placing the fluff and other odd bits on the hedge below the nest. But our friend seems to be wary of discount sales.
The urban jungle is edging out most birds. With a little help from us, they may stay on in safe havens in our cities. But why am I writing about birds in a column on gardening? Well, nature is inclusive and its various facets are interdependent. Besides, what’s a garden without birds?
Now that’s a neat home
Our winged friends need to love the space you provide for them. And it need not always be a tree. Sparrows nest in crevices of homes while mynahs are happy to find spaces even in drain embankments. Several small birds prefer the shrubbery, so planting bushes and letting them grow a little wild instead of pruning them too severely would be welcome. The current trend of landscaping shrubs is not a good idea for the birds that nest in them.
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Often, the height of the nest matters. We placed a terracotta hut in the fork of a tree but no one, not even the squirrel, thought it good enough. In hindsight, I fear it was too close to the ground and to us for the comfort of the wannabe parents.
Birds also require privacy. It’s tempting to follow them when you see one nesting, but the bird will panic and leave unless you give it due respect and space.
Food for thought
With greenery disappearing, it’s becoming more difficult for birds to find food. We can step in and provide some alternatives to them. Grain eaters such as doves and pigeons feast on bajra (maize) and corn. If you’re feeding sparrows, broken rice and corn are great. Sparrows are seed eaters but you can also give them tiny bits of chapati made without oil or salt, or boiled rice that has no salt. Bulbuls will bless you with frequent visits if you offer them fruit. Place the food at the same spot at the same time, so that they learn to trust you.
Plant a bird-friendly garden
• Plant your garden with care. One fruit tree such as mulberry or jamun can host dozens of birds.
• Fruit trees can be grown with reasonable success on balconies and terraces.
• Nectar-producing flowers such as silk cotton top avian popularity charts.
• If you have a lawn, perhaps you could keep the farthest corner for birds. Let the grass grow tall there and sow some wild grass seeds to boot.
• Provide birds with shade on your balcony. Broad-leafed creepers such as the gourd family are good options.
It was an SMS that made me sit up and take notice . Mohammed Dilawar, the Sparrow Man of India, wrote: “Many birds die in summer without water. Try to save them. Please put water pots for thirsty birds at balconies and windows. – A Nature India Initiative.” Dilawar, the only ornithologist voted by Time magazine as one of its “Heroes of the Environment” (2008) has special sparrow nest boxes and feeders. Want to know more? Go to www.dilawarmohammed.googlepages.com or call 09420001820.
You can begin with placing food and water in terracotta containers. This keeps the water cool even in summer. However, these need to be cleaned out regularly. Sparrows and some other birds love a dust bath, so a wide dish of sand and dry soil can bring in more avian visitors. And magpie robins, mynahs and bulbuls just love a dip in the late afternoon.
All these are simple, doable tips that birds appreciate. Let’s make sure the birds stay around. Remember the canary in the mines?
The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org