For most Delhiites, their relationship with birds begins and ends with the tandoori chicken on their plates. More is the pity as the Capital, after Nairobi, is rated as the best city in the world for its birdlife. New Delhi’s historic monuments, tree-lined avenues and the forests of the Ridge are rich in avian life. And in winter, migratory birds are a common sight around the New Delhi Zoo. A casual walk down Lodhi Gardens or Buddha Jayanti Park can throw up many different types of starlings, doves, robins, parakeets and warblers. And even an unfurled peacock, its tail fanned out in full splendour. Even a visit to the neighbouring park can bring one face to face with swifts, sparrows, mynahs, ring doves, stray parakeets and the odd hoopoe.
And then, of course, there are the birds which you don’t go out in search of, but which take your home as an extension of their own and are frequent visitors on your balcony and on that tree outside your window. Among my fondest memories of New Delhi as a student is of the sparrows which sang to us every morning on the hostel balcony. Sometimes, one would wake up to find they had flown in through an open window and were flitting lightly through the room. I once woke up to a tiny sparrow, the size of a mere heartbeat, sitting at the edge of my pillow, as if waiting for me to wake up. Of course, as soon as I stirred, it flew away.
However, New Delhi’s rapidly changing urban landscape has meant bad news for the diminutive sparrows. There aren’t that many of them left really. They are disappearing fast and sadly, no one seems to be counting. The changing architecture of the city and changing lifestyles have wreaked havoc on breeding places and food sources for the sparrow. Remember the many eaves and window sills in which you would see them nesting? They have disappeared, as have the backyards and kitchen gardens from which sparrows would find their food.
But while sparrows and other small birds such as the red-vented bulbul, the little brown dove and the Indian robin are disappearing, the changing cityscape is breeding pigeons with a vengeance—the skyline is aflutter with them, to the extent that pigeons have become an urban nuisance. The deserted roofs of high-rise buildings provide the perfect setting for pigeons to proliferate in. Pigeons have the advantage of being artificially fed and since feeding them is believed to dissolve bad karma, all around the city e.g. at Jama Masjid, Jantar Mantar, India Gate and even on individual rooftops, there are many who make a daily ritual of feeding pigeons, thereby giving them an unfair ecological advantage.
The pigeons are not alone in getting an unfair advantage courtesy the city’s changing lifestyle—the common crow, too, has much to…well, crow about. Whether on terraces, balconies, trees or electric poles, crows are the most familiar birds, and the reason is they thrive on garbage the city spits out as it bursts at its seams. Brought up as I have been, on childhood tales of the clever crow, I must confess a certain fondness for this wily, tenacious creature. But if more crows mean the death of all other types of little birds in the city, maybe it is time to clean up our act and quick.
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