Flight patterns in the big city
For sure, we have always had a closer relationship with birds than with any other form of life.
Intentionally or otherwise, our actions have greatly helped a birds to thrive amid the city’s myriad nooks and crannies. These feathered trailblazers have discovered a bonanza in our parks, gardens and avenues.
Ornamental, flowering and fruiting trees have come as a windfall for many birds, and some of the exotic soft-wooded trees have proven to be just perfect for nesting for birds such as the widespread coppersmith barbet. Of course, nothing compares to the birdlife in the gardens in London and other cities. Still, in choked Mumbai, the many handkerchief-sized parks and gardens play their role.
Here, most mammals have been driven away, and the bats and rodents that hold on aren’t in the same league of interest for people as birds. And observations on birdlife, believe it or not, can actually provide insights into the ecological health of the nature of our parks and gardens.
Surveying the metropolitan sprawl, my Mumbai Safari reveals remarkable variances in bird compositions in the park and avenues that are full of exotic greenery, and those that have a mix of indigenous plants amid derelict growth and shrubbery. Surveys over nearly two years revealed some 45 bird species frequenting parks and avenues that had large (often old-growth) native trees (Ficus species, mango, jamun, jackfruit, several others). But only about 15 species were observed in sites dominated by such exotics as Copper-pod, Gulmohur and numerous others. That was quite startling.
Amongst the most regular birds sighted in parks and the quieter avenues were two kinds of bulbuls and parakeets each, magpie robin, tailorbird, coppersmith barbet, common myna, pied starling, purple-rumped sunbird, white-spotted fantail, koel, golden oriole, house sparrow, and the ubiquitous house crow. Numerous others appeared in winter, while a few rarities and migrants intermittently took refuge in such sites.
In several localities, I could see adjoining parks with different levels of tree structures display distinct avifaunal trends. The Mindspace park and the Hillside park, both very close to the Inorbit mall were a classic example of contrasting flavours that was also reflected at many other sites.
This further reinforces my thinking that vegetation structure influences nature immensely, especially retaining bits and pieces of an overgrown and semi-wild feel; everything need not be manicured and spick and span. The average for the mixed tree-composition sites was around 15 bird species, even a bit more where old-growth trees existed. It dropped to less than half for exotic dominated sites. It’s time we learnt from birds even in our creation!