That joy of watching chirpy feathered friends...again!

A raucous argument in different voices took me away from the barbet to a big gathering of three different species of Mynas... The birds returned to the city after years during the lockdown calm

Even the house sparrow had become a rarity in cacophonous Delhi
Even the house sparrow had become a rarity in cacophonous Delhi

Lt General U K Sharma (Retd)

Ever since we were isolated and quarantined in our homes on the day of Janata Curfew in March last year and subsequently during the nationwide lockdown, friends, acquaintances and rank strangers I found were posting on social media how birds had made a triumphant return to our cities.

Not so long ago, I would drive out early on Sunday mornings to places like Yamuna Khader, Okhla Barrage, Najafgarh Jheel, Basai, Bhindawas etc just to be able to see some birds. With all the time available while staying locked in my third-floor apartment in a densely populated Vasant Kunj, I decided to explore the truth behind these statements.

Stepping out into my balcony on tiptoe, armed with a pair of binoculars around my neck and no utensils to clang in my hands, I was welcomed by an immediate and beautiful surprise! The once ubiquitous state bird of Delhi, House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) had not been seen in Vasant Kunj for nearly 15 years. But here was a pair right in front of my eyes! The chirpy, noisy female and the more dignified, stiff upper-lipped male sat on a Neem tree right opposite my balcony. I could hardly believe my eyes.

After such a fortuitous beginning, the monotonous kutruk- kutruk- kutruk caught my attention. I realized that it was springtime, the mating season of Asian Brown-headed Barbet (Megalaima zeylonica). A quick glance revealed the presence of the bird on a leafless branch of the Gulmohar tree.

A raucous argument in different voices took me away from the barbet to a big gathering of three different species of Mynas or Starlings- the absolute commoner Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis), the lower class darker Bank Myna (A ganginianus) and the distinctly upper crust Brahminy Starling (Sturnus pagodarum), with its stylish, swept back black crest. They were all gathered around the colony’s garbage dump which was totally cleaned of its garbage. This seemed to be the topic of the excited conversation of the surprised Mynas.

The Red-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer) have been regulars in the colony. What was different was their sheer numbers flitting from tree to tree. Normally, I would see them silently going about their job of foraging for food. Their silence hardly justified their name which, in Persian, means songster. Now they seemed to be singing operas! They seemed to be declaring our colony as belonging entirely to them. They seemed to have even invited their first cousins, the distinctly crested Red-whiskered Bulbuls (P jocosus) to the party!

The bulbuls were not the only ones making noise. The CHT pylon has always sported a pair of Black Kites (Milvus migrans) but they normally sat silently up there and observed the world going about its business. Even they were animatedly discussing the utter silence around them with hardly any humans down on the road or their beastly, noisy vehicles belching out exhaust fumes. I honestly do not remember when I had last heard their voices!

The male and female Oriental Magpie Robins (Copsychus saularis) merrily hopped from branch to branch with the male chasing the female and serenading her. And the female kept playing hard-to-get. Some things do not ever change!

The large flock of Common Pigeons (Columba livia) were seated on the OHT Cables as always and even took off collectively from time to time, but on the Gulmohar close by was a smaller covey of plump Yellow-footed Green Pigeons (Treron phoenicopterus). They sat silently and tried not to be conspicuous but they could be spotted.

And the ones that made no attempt to hide were their distant cousins, the doves. They were again regular visitors but were out in impressive numbers. The commonest were the Laughing Doves (Stigmatopelia senegalensis) and then there were Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decoacto). A pair of Spotted Doves (Stigmatopelia chinensis) made a brief appearance and then flew off.

The reverie was broken by a loud cacophony of a flight of Rose-ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri). They are regulars here but were never so loud or demonstrative. The neighbor’s Labrador looked up in alarm, and began barking furiously at them. I spotted the reason for all the commotion.

There was a solitary Plum-headed Parakeet (P cyanocephalus) who was visiting our colony. Its sudden appearance had excited the regulars. But one bird sat calmly on the tree opposite my balcony, not six feet away. It was the male Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) in his wedding suit. He proudly posed for me before flying off to look for his bride and propose to her.

After these encounters on the very first day of ‘Birding from Home’, it is almost a year but it has now become a habit to step out on to my balcony to spot birds on the trees outside.

Doubtless the numbers have declined from the initial days of lockdowns and peace around the colony, but some of these feathered friends have become regulars and never disappoint me. They may be common Delhi birds but their presence, their voices and their antics are a real pleasure to behold, apart from affording an excellent opportunity to study their habits.

(The writer is an avid bird watcher and photographer)

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