Make some chirpy friends this summer with a bowl of water
My simple act of keeping water has invited more than 20 bird species to my doorstep. It may be counted as a ‘good deed’, but the joy and beauty the birds have given me, far outweighs any act of kindness on my part.opinion Updated: Jun 20, 2018 10:34 IST
Summer is not my season. The intense heat saps my energy, makes me irritable, does no good for my migraine—all of which is made worse with the dust storms that has me wheezing like an asthmatic patient.
The only thing that keeps me going is the intense avian activity that goes on around my ground floor apartment in a gated colony in one dusty, barren corner of Gurugram.
When I shifted to Gurugram nine years ago, one of the first things I did was place in my verandah and the common garden it extends into, an assortment of earthen water bowls of different sizes and shapes, including a large, shallow one, for the birds to dunk in for a bath.
It took some time for the birds to arrive. Initially, it was just the pigeons who dominated. Slowly, I could spot other birds muscling their way in — Red-vented Bulbuls were the first to arrive, then the sparrows. Soon word had spread about this new go-to place among the avian world (“Clean, cool water 24x7! Safe too, though keep a look out for that cat who comes by occasionally,” I could almost hear them tell each other as they chirped and tittered and chatted around the bowls).
The number of sparrows has increased exponentially, and I have soft spot for the similarly-sized munia with its silver beak. One fine day, the India Silver Bill couple — frequent visitors themselves — brought their brood of three, and the family had a party in the ‘swimming pool’. Mynas are regular visitors, as is the dove. The most voluble of the lot is the jungle babbler.
These palm-sized, mousy-coloured birds with their yellow beaks and white eyes seem not to be satisfied with the stuff on offer; keeping up an urgent, loud chatter that appears to be an angry litany of complaints: Why is the water less? Too warm? And so on, before they fly off, muttering away a little further to dig in for worms and indulge in mud baths.
A tip: Keep some fine dust in a flattish bowl—birds, especially sparrows love it. They dig in with their feet, flap up a storm, tossing the dust into their wings like we would do with powder.
They shake it off, then pick and preen away. It’s a wellness thing — think mud therapy from Kerala to Jordan — as dust smothers skin and feather parasites.
I have never seen the koel but it sings me a beautiful, haunting song, as though returning favour for a cool refreshing drink. I love to hang around this busy water junction; silent, still and hidden behind a curtain so as not to disturb, as I would in a forest by a waterhole, waiting and watching for birds and animals to drop by.
The regulars keep me company. Sometimes there are unexpected visitors like the occasional rufous-tree pie, which I have seen in the wilder surrounds of Ranthambhore stealing bits from a tiger kill.
Once a cautious peahen daintily made her way to the bowl. One morning, I was greeted by a frenzy of calls and realised there was a predator on the prowl.
It was a shikra, a small but efficient raptor, patiently perched on the bottle brush tree that had the birds in a flutter.
Keep water in your garden, balcony, terrace, community gardens and common open areas. Also keep bigger bowls for other animals such as cows and dogs, who die of thirst in scorching summers.
Remember to change the water daily, and keep the bowl clean.
My simple act of keeping water has invited more than 20 bird species to my doorstep. It may be counted as a ‘good deed’, but the joy and beauty the birds have given me, far outweighs any act of kindness on my part.
This is the first of the three pieces where I will talk about how I have invited the wild into my garden, and why it is important to do so.
(Though she lives in Gurugram, the writer is at home in the forests she is committed to protect. Her book, The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis was released in June 2017)
First Published: Jun 20, 2018 10:34 IST