A little girl, sobbing copiously, landed at my doorstep a few days ago. In her hand was nestled a tiny sparrow, which appeared to be completely still. She thought it was dead. I gently took the bird, tucked it in soft cloth and placed it in a quiet, cool place. Using a cotton ball as a dropper, I nudged some water mixed with a little honey inside its beak. I did so slowly, over time, giving the bird periods of rest. I am no vet, and this was bookish knowledge, with some advice from friends. It worked. Much to our delight, the sparrow took wing the next day.
I believe it was dehydrated. Although birds are well adapted to withstand harsh environments, survival is increasingly difficult with the destruction of green cover, pollution and the spread of concrete jungles. Summers are getting more intense, lasting longer, and there are only a few, if any at all, natural sources of water.
Here is how you can help birds and animals this, and every, summer.
Place earthen water bowls in your garden, verandah and neighbourhood parks. Distribute them to family and friends and encourage them to do the same. A friend of mine (bless her soul!) keeps a few in her car, spreading the good word (and deed), using them to quench the thirst of dogs and other animals she might meet.
I have kept earthen bowls of varying depths to accommodate the diversity of life that drops by around our home — sparrows, mynas, robins, crows, pigeons, silver bills, sunbirds, bulbuls white-eyes, the occasional treepies and peafowls, among others. A recent and exciting event has been the arrival of a grey hornbill (more about this amazing bird later) this summer. Langurs have dropped by, very rarely, to the watering hole too. I also have a flattish bowl of sand for the birds to bathe in. Dust smothers skin and leads to feather parasites.
Change the water every day, keep the bowls clean. Drop in biggish stones or keep twigs as perches for bees and other insects. My favourites are the dragonflies and the damselflies with their glittery, glassy wings, hovering over the water like little drones.
Don’t disturb the area, and keep the water at a higher level, to make it difficult for predators like cats to access it. Keep the water preferably in shade. In fact, why not plant the kind of trees and shrubs that birds and bees prefer? If you have the space, go for fruit trees like jamun, mango, shahtoot. We have a guava tree, which gets heavy with fruit twice in a year in our tiny garden. If space is an issue, opt for champa, hibiscus, curry leaves — all low-maintenance plants with nectar that birds seem to favour. Grow creepers, as these provide cover and shade to birds. I have a gorgeous Rangoon creeper that bursts into vivid red flowers and raat ki rani that gives out a sweet fragrance.
Most importantly, keep your patch free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. They are poison, not just for birds, but for us as well.
Summer is also the nesting season for birds. For the past few summers I have had purple sunbirds, bulbuls and sparrows make their home and raise their young around my home. As I wrote in an earlier column, I have fashioned bird boxes out of earthen pots, besides buying a few made from coconut husk, as these provide cool interiors. I am happy to say all real estate is currently occupied, though my heart breaks to see plastic and polythene being used as nesting material. Keep out dry grass and bits of soft cloth. Don’t discard dog hair; add it to the building material. I learnt this years ago from a cheeky squirrel who would actually jump on my sleeping canine and tug at his hair. Furious at this affront, Snoopi would lunge at the squirrel, who was too swift for my dog.
I loathe summers. However, it is birds and other myriad creatures, bees and bats included, that make these scorching, hellish months bearable, bringing me indescribable joy and hope for nature.
(Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. She is the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)
May 21, 2019 12:29 IST
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