Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nature's Best Architect and Teacher

Female House Sparrow. Photo by Dave Kinneer.
Red Vented Bulbul!!! by joshi1982.
Spotted Dove - Streptopelia chinensis

A Bird’s Nest
My husband coming in from work said,  “Look what I have found—
A perfect little bird’s nest!  It was lying on the ground.”
I held it in my hand and said, with serious contemplation,
“Just think—the birds have been building nests ever since Creation.”
Somehow they knew the place to live was high up in a tree.
Instinctively they realized that’s where their home should be.
They’d look for where some branches came together in conjunction,
And there their future nest would wedge for daily life to function.
Material for their home must be light-weight, so why not straws?
Not heavy, carried in the beak, they’d serve a worthy cause.
To find them they would have to search, but work is part of living.
They’d trust their Maker every day for strength He would be giving.
When straws were found, the bird would choose and clamp one in his bill
Then fly it to the tree-notch.  He would make these trips until
At last he had a little home with perfect insulation,
And perfect for his own dimensions—marvelous creation!
In time birds start their family–what ingenuity,
For God intended birdlife to have continuity.
The parents bring the little ones their daily food supply,
And when their wings are stronger, then they too begin to fly.
The marvel of a bird nest!  In my hand was the construction—
Circular and perfect.  Where do birds get their instructions?
Their precious God-given instincts have preserved generations,
And in our hearts is praise for all God’s wonderful creations.
The Scriptures tell us Christ was the Creator of all things,
And that includes the birds—yes, the little ones with wings.
This contemplation blessed my heart–how much, I cannot tell.
We know that God who cares for birds will care for us as well.

Claire Hess ~

When i arrived at my sister's place to baby sit for her younger daughter i was in for a big surprise. Her beautiful well kept and artistically done up with personal effects home also has a beautiful lawn and a garden of sorts which is a motley of house plants , fragrant trees and fruit trees. And three of such trees had something that delighted me and promised me quiet hours of entertainment while my little niece was away at school.
On my arrival the smart Forest Officer husband of my sister proudly declared while showing me around that there were not three but seven of such delights all around the house. And that these were not only restricted  to the garden and exteriors but also in the toilet and in the garage.

So what is it about nests that delights even an oldie like me? Kids are known for their intense fascination  for nests but then how come when i am no longer a kid i am still amazed and more rapturous about birds building their nests much to the chagrin of the domestic cleaners who have to clean what they call as mess created by the birds? i guess then because it is their job to grumble for they have to work TO DO and it is my job to admire and dwell in the amazing artistry of birds or rather at their perseverance through which the birds build their homes. Maybe if i was an ignoramus i would be the same because i feel ignorance also makes one less sensitive to nature’s marvels or else how could a worker in the fields not be amazed by the weaver bird’s hanging nests, an artistry par excellence, hanging and swaying on the acacia bush nearby? Or is it the plenitude of it?
Is it that they are bored with their work and the sights to be admiring nature’s architecture? It could be any of these or none. As of me i become my ten or else year old self at the sight of nests.

It has always made me happy to find a sparrow or a  bulbul building a nest  around any place in the house. It gives me something exciting to look forward to. It not only fascinates me but also entertains me to see the bird flitting about very near to me. Alert and suspicious of  humans yet complacent at times but on guard of eventualities nevertheless.
That arduous job of bringing each single twig/hay/dry grass in it’s tiny beak and going about in it’s construction to make a soft cup like depression where her tiny body should fit snuggly as she incubates her eggs.
All that enormous patience amidst all that chatter as they go about their home building which in every way makes me want to know their language in a way that i can converse with them and add to some more innovative ideas. But human innovation is fruitless in front of birds who deal with their basic needs and that's all. Surely they are not as greedy and as desirous of comforts as we humans are. And human wants and desires are insatiable. Whereas birds and animals are so self satisfied and they take only what is needed and nothing more.And though i don't know much i know one thing for sure. They are not plunderers and exploitative like us humans. This concept of reduce,reuse and recycle can best be seen in these creatures of the universe, when  what a shame we have just woken up to it.
Sometimes i get this strong urge to help them out by picking up the twigs myself and carrying it over but  then  i control my urges lest i scare them away completely.

Thus i was promised of much entertainment by these birds as i started from the garage where amongst the roller shutters i found the first nest made with hay and that of house sparrows.
Nesting is practically all the year round and about the nests from Salim Ali The Birdman the nest is, " A collection of straw, rubbish and feathers in a hole in the ceiling, niche in a wall, inverted lamp shade, and every conceivable site within or without an occupied building."

i was joyous to know that i shall be having my fill of house sparrows here because in Chennai where i live they are kind of extinct. Noise, pollution and destruction of their habitat has not only driven the sparrow away from Chennai but most cities of our country. Thankfully
they still exist chirping in their chwee chwee here.
The next one was simply superb and complete in it most delicate cup like structure with three mottled eggs and this was cleverly hidden amongst the tiny leaves of the popscical shaped  hedge forming an entrance to the lawn. This beautiful round nest was made of smooth twigs and i saw the mother too as beautiful as her nest perched close by on the electrical pole wires outside the campus eyeing her nest and in between preening her feathers. The Red Vented tiny Bulbul is indeed a very stylish bird and i found her as sophisticated as her nest . Nesting season is chiefly between February and May, varying with local conditions.The nest is." A cup of rootlets plastered outside with cobwebs, in a bush or a tree,1 to 10 m (3 to30ft) up. Eggs-2-3 pinkish white, profusely blotched with purplish brown or claret."  These eggs i could see as Salim Ali has explained in his book and though i could not gather the plastered cobwebs because of my poor vision from where i tried to peer, i knew now that the smooth cup was not dried twigs but rootlets. Wow! what diversity in choice of home building materials!.

But what kept me fully occupied the entire day when i was alone either doing nothing or perhaps reading my latest by Yann Martel was the busy nest building by this twosome known as the White Throated Munia.
 On one look and you might pass it for a humming bird kind because it is just too tiny and as balancing in it’s flight although not entirely as the humming bird. Only a close perusal with the help of  binoculars revealed the small sparrow like silver beak which told me of it’s true identity. i guess then  that it is not surprising that it is known as the Silver bill. The male and female Silver bill make one feel romantic with their togetherness and their concern for each other. i know what love birds are but till i was watching them from my balcony i was unable to address them as Munia or Silver bill and called them my love birds instead. Strange but watching them made me think of my husband whom i have left home alone and wondered if after all these years my absence from our nest is making him any bit lonesome.
For these love birds too the nesting season is throughout the year, varying locally and the nest is,"A large globular structure of coarse grasses, lined with softer flowering grass". In cotton growing districts, cotton wool flinched from neighbouring fields is largely employed. Old Baya nests are also habitually utilised for laying eggs in. Eggs- 4-6 ,pure white. Both sexes share domestic duties. Disused nests serve as family dormitories."
Unutilised Baya ( weaver bird) nests mind you.There is no encroachment or trespassing here.
Oh ! is that an avian trait ! i didn't know that. And we call ourselves the most advanced of the species when we are so mean and self centered about this human concept called SHARING and REUSING.
The wide breezy balcony provided me the appropriate distance and view to watch these made for each other couple as they got busy building their nest in the forked branch of the Aracaria tree. The cook of the house, Ashu informed me that since my stay is short i will not be able to view the fully made nest as the round structure of the nest will be all covered with just a tiny hole to allow the passage of these birds. And unlike the bulbul’s eggs i will not be able to view their litter of a dozen or less eggs even with the help of the binoculars as the eggs will be safely tucked deep inside. But as he went on to make comparison and quell my inquisitiveness he explained that the passage is made slanting in such a way that even when it rains the nest and the eggs will not get drenched and will remain safe and dry. He then educated me that though the nest is not intricately woven like a weaver bird’s nest and not hanging from the branches yet in many respects it is no less than that of a weaver bird’s safe haven. All this information from the cook not only deepened my affection for the cook but also proved my earstwhile thoughts about daily workers wrong.
i realised that even those who see all this on regular basis may actually have a lot more interest in these beauties and their constructive activities than unfortunate souls like me who have just woken up to this new education and now ravenous about this enthusiastic trail to such an extent that i want to get hold of good set of binoculars and just set out birdwatching as much as i can.
Thus the forest officer was saved of my torrent of never ending questions about my love birds or the Spotted Dove who had the nest all ready for laying eggs in the wonderfully topiared Shami tree (Prosopis spicigera) which for known religious reasons was planted on the right side of the building gate when the house was still under construction.
The Shami tree which is a sacred tree and worshipped by Hindus is planted in most houses here in this part of North India towards the right side of the entrance of any house as it is considered auspicious to view the tree before leaving the house and equally as auspicious to have a sight of it when entering the house.
And from this tree emanated the familiar Kruk kruk koo of the spotted dove.Before i could strain to look up into the bushy boughs with tiny but not pin like leaves i saw the pretty bird nodding it’s head and walking on the cemented ledge of the gate. It’s partner whose tail and head part was only visible, sat snugly kruk kruk kooing on her nest. Perhaps calling on to her male and asking him to stop playing truant in his domestic duties.
i found the kruk kruk koo quite entertaining although some feel that the call of this bird sounds mournful sometimes. But i guess it all depends on our moods. If we are in the best of spirits then even a dirge may not be able to make us gloomy. Maybe i could be wrong on this part but i guess when i am sad or gloomy i find the entire nature so and i feel it must be the same for everybody.
Now the nesting of this bird is undefined and it can be practically all the year round. But the nest is, "The customary flimsy dove structure of ' two crossed sticks' low down in a tree or bush; also under eaves and on cornices and beams, etc., in verandas of inhabited bungalows. Eggs-2, white.Both sexes share in all the domestic duties."
The nest of this spotted dove was hard for me to shoot with my cyber shot because of it's placement and the height so i let it be but when i peered i found hay strips and twines hanging from it too.In fact the entire nest looked like it was made with fine twine or fibres of some kind, greyish in colour.

On the fragrant well blossomed Champak tree which had the white buds and blossoms of the exotic and perfumed flowers i happened to see the common crows nest too which was undoubtedly a  round structure made entirely of twigs.

Above the toilet geyser as my forest officer had said i found another house sparrow's nest complete with family as the fledgelings chirped constantly asking to be fed and the mother flitted about sitting on the window grills with food in her tiny beak. i could not tell how many babies there were inside and once again Ashu provided the needful, telling me with disappointment that there were 4 babies of which two tumbled down the nest and while one drowned in the bucket of water the other baby was pounced upon by their pet Pomeranian, Buddy. i was sad the whole day to know this but once again the nature loving cook told me to brush my sadness away.
He said,''Mausi (Aunty)  they are so used to all this and they breed constantly so don't you feel sad. God has made them this way that they get over the loss just too quickly to mourn over it like us humans.''
Well he said that but i still could not control my melancholy as i was thinking of my empty nest.When my baby has flown away and is studying abroad so that one day when he is sufficiently strong financially and mentally he can build his own nest too. That is our life cycle which in every way is similar to the avians excepting that we sometimes slow down in our day to day goings because we miss our fledgelings just too much. And worse still we are so stubborn about letting go.Maybe my stay here had another purpose too.
Watching these birds i must stop missing my son so much and stop worrying about his well being. And that i should only think in terms of his flight and wish well that his flies well and builds his cosy snuggly nest with chirpy fleglings to provide him with a well deserved symphony after a hard day's work.

The Empty Nest

There in a high branch of a proud old tree, 
Lay a nest of babies which no one could see.
Beside the nest, stood Mother, with loving heart,
And Father looking on, guarding as from the start.

The babies were young and filled with delight, 
The ways of the world were beyond their sight. 
They were wanting to try their wings of gold, 
And enter the new world, ever so bold.

Their parents were hesitant, all so knowing, 
Their babies had not finished growing. 
But knowing they needed that freedom, 
Were willing to let the babies leave them.

The first little bird, so eager his wings, 
Thoughts of the new world, losing his strings, 
He jumped on the side of the nest so fast, 
And flew into the air, was free at last.

The next little bird, so timid, so shy, 
He wanted to go but not a goodbye, 
He timidly went to the side of the nest, 
And flew to the next branch, then passed his test.

The last little bird, the last of the three, 
Looked round at her parents, then forward to see, 
The new world was opened for her to reach, 
By trying her wings, trying what they did teach.

The wind got under the wings of the last, 
And she flew through the air, into the world so vast, 
Leaving the only home that she had known, 
To go into world, the breaking of dawn.

The parents looked on as all of the three, 
Found love and happiness and family. 
They were proud of the choices that were made, 
But their love for their babies never did fade.

The empty nest will always be there,
But visited with love and care,
The empty nest will be a guiding light, 
A home for hope and stars so bright.

~Donna O'Braint~ 

My sister's beautiful home gave me all... love, affection, good food and plenty of entertainment as i could watch the natural beauties from all corners of her house including the toilet or the kitchen.And when i failed in my lack of knowledge there was Ashu and the so many nature books in a well stacked library of my smart Forest Officer.Could i have any better vacation than this? Although my sister calls it babysitting.

Image courtesy: Niece's cyber shot pics of Red Vented Bulbul's eggs and nest, House Sparrow's nest , White Throated Munia's ( Silver bill) nest in the Aracaria tree.
                     : Rest from the internet on Flickr and elsewhere.


  1. your enriching blog on birds made me wish if i were a bird...after you left,the birds came looking for ya and i assured u will be back soon...

  2. i saw a silverbill on the mango tree...but i couldn't take a photograph b'coz :
    a)mom scolded me & asked me to carry on with my studies
    b)it flew away
    i miss you....come to babysit again
    happy homecoming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. When I was a child, in Karnataka State, we would see these nesting birds in large numbers. Now that I'm in the gulf we seldom see any nests except that of pigeons. Coincidently we just saw two eggs hatched in a nest opposite our bedroom window yesterday. I love the way the birds engineer their nests. It is definitely a wonder how they learn the technique without being ever taught.
    Thanks for putting up the wonderful photos and lots of information. Very good post Shivani. You are a true nature lover, keep these posts coming.

  4. @Gauri yeah baby the birds will be there and they are telling you to stop missing me and enjoy their company instead.Yeah and the birds shall see me soon along with you laughing like at madcap just at anything :)

  5. @ Yajnaseni sweetie pie when ur first term exams are over go on a wild shooting spree and first click a pic of that crow's nest on the champak tree.Once ur pic arrives i shall fit it in my blog where it belongs.And babes it's just a few more days and ur exams are going to be over so get busy clicking and sending me ur shots.:)

  6. @ Tandarin thank you for being so kind and going through my blogs.Yeah since i'm on to this phase now where everything in nature is just making me go bonkers i hope my blogs should not make you yawn with boredom.Thanks again and since the vacation was in a place where the power supply was erratic i have been truant so far as ur blogs are concerned but will read them one by one now that i am back home and so much curious about what you have said till now.Don't want to miss anything from ur side. :)

  7. Nice post, Shivani. I had been busy and not visiting blogs the last week or so. Very refreshing to see your post series continuing on the natural world. Very informational. Please keep it up!

  8. @Anirban thank you and don't fret i understand and i was myself off compu and everything for quite sometime but now that i am back i shall hear more of u and others as always.

  9. A very refreshing read yet again, as usual informative and nature loving :).

  10. @Aakaash thank you beta and while i spoke of fledgelings you were always on my mind...of course u know all this and i needn't say but stil...:)

  11. Wow Shivani. Kudos to you for a wonderful post with poetry and nature all spun in one thread. You know I spent a lot of time of my childhood in North East India and we used to have all kinds of birds in our garden. As a kid I never appreciated what Nature gave us then. Your post reminded me of how Ma used to watch them and sing Tagore's songs. It made no sense to me at all. Today as I read your post, the serenity from your sister's home came across and brought back some long forgotten memories. Beautiful.

  12. Had been busy ever since the World Cup.
    I like your posts on Nature. I grew up in a small suburb, surrounded by a lot of greenery and plenty of small animals and birds (you may read it here:
    The more I read your posts, the more I appreciate the fact that you paint wonderful pictures with the smooth flow of simple words. Great job.

  13. @LEB Thanks a lot for sharing the same.As a kid we are too frivolous to notice anything but now is the time.Trust me when the goings get too routine nature gazing is a welcome change.Rejuvenates as well as refreshes and suddenly it's yesterday once more.
    Wish i could hear ur Ma sing.Wow! u r fortunate u got a Ma who would sing Tagore songs while u were too young to appreciate it.But u can really enjoy those memories and get enriched NOW.Because some memories r meant to be just that...Rich and Refreshing.:)

  14. @Raja thank you...and i will definiely visit ur snowyevening blog.BTW while u were busy with predictions do u remember mine where right in the beginning when the world cup started i said that Spain was my fav.i am happy and wanted to share it with u.
    It's bad without the World Cup but nevertheless now i will get those posts from u which make me laugh at sad realities.Look forward to ur informed opinions.:)

  15. Ok, you get one point for the correct prediction. That takes you to the nineteenth position in the nineteen-person competition :-P

  16. @Indrajit hahaha!! but it was not a prediction...i had Spain as my fav and yeah secretly i wished that's all...if i could predict i would've been famous by now like Paul the octopus.
    But i am glad i got a position at least in ur list :)

  17. Thanks for the comment on my other blog :-)
    I love your blog 'coz I love reading about not-so-fantastic things/incidents from Nature or from small towns or villages. Your blog inspires me to write again in that 'other' blog :-)

    ~ Raja Indrajit

  18. @Raja Thanks again but i simply felt what u wrote very close to my own memories.But u have a style and u write like writers do whereas i write how i speak and like i said i listen more my own thoughts reverberating in thoughts of others like you.Skilfull...humorous...simply lovely.

  19. .........but then how come when i am no longer a kid i am still amazed and more rapturous about birds building their nests......
    That explains it all. Its not necessary to be a child to enjoy the things that "children" enjoy. One of the reasons why I enjoy watching cartoons even today. My wife says that there is special smile on my face when I am observing birds. As for learning their language (as you mentioned) I could decipher some of their "talking" by observing their body language and pitch of their chatter. Like some one commented, I am turning into a Dr Doolittle.

    Another folly of us human you said...And worse still we are so stubborn about letting go.... we still cling on to our kids which is harmful both for the kids and the parents. We should realise that they have to stumble and fall to learn the right way to carry on.
    And once they are married, just leave them alone. I feel sad for those parents (and kids) when its just "advice advice and more advice"
    Oops sorry I am turning this into a blog post than a comment post.

  20. @Haddock hahaha... no need to apologise. Actually comments in which a lot is shared is far more satisfying than even those one liners or two words that applaud you.
    Once again this Sunday morn i feel happy to have this kind of tete e tete with someone like you.
    Thank you and have a very peaceful and lovely Sunday. :)

  21. Hey I remember reading all this (and have commented in Sept)
    Like that shot of the Red Vented Bulbul (good DOF)
    and of course the common sparrow which is not very common now a days.