An entire village in Orissa plays host to a special group of guests who arrive for four months every year: birds! Residents consider them auspicious and take pains to protect them.
All 2,000 residents of Gop village in Kendrapada district, some 150 km from Bhubaneswar, in eastern India have been protecting the birds that fly in to nest from July to October. This has been going on for five years.
"Earlier, their eggs would be stolen and children would stone the birds for fun. Even locals ate some of them. Now the villagers are protecting them, seeing them as assets," Mahendra Dash, a farmer, told IANS.
"We are protecting them because we have realised that the birds add colour to our hectic lives and make our village a rare place in the state.
"Every year we form a bird protection committee. It takes care of the birds," he said.
"If anybody knowingly or unknowingly kills a bird or damages the nests or eggs, we summon him and impose a fine on him," said another villager, Premanada Pradhan.
Officials are full of praise for the villagers.
"About 5,000 birds have landed on the three banyan trees in the village near the national highway for nesting this season," said divisional forest officer Ajaya Kumar Jena. "They started their nesting activities in the last week of July.
"I recently visited the village. I was happy to see the care the villagers are taking to protect the birds.
"Watching these birds make and mend nests, collect green branches for building and repairing the nests, lay, incubate, hatch eggs, feed fledglings, guard them from predators, cover them with outspread wings to protect them from scorching sunrays and heavy downpour is a sight to behold," Jena added.
According to him, thousands of egrets, herons, storks, cormorants, darters, spoonbills and ibises are now breeding on the trees in the village and nearby areas.
Not an inch of space is available on the trees. "Any fresh bird trying to nest has to wait," one villager said.
At the same time, the entire nesting area, and even a road nearby, is covered with droppings of the birds.