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25 September 2007

Feathered friends

I have never understood the term bird- brained. The creatures of the feathered variety are intelligent, amusing, resourceful, and far from what I understand bird brain normally means- a stupid creature?

My interest actually started with nests- and not birds per se. Nests always emerged during clean-up routines in childhood. The fascinating bony nests with twigs, feathers, paper, thread, even wire that crows made in nooks and cranies of the building, softer ones made of finer twigs and grass etc of sparrows tucked into a loft and as a child, one of the nicest memories is asking if the cow- herd in the maidan opposite our house, would scout and get a “Baya" bird nest for me. My parents would warn, look for only take abandoned ones or fallen down ones. When he did get a couple of them, the beautiful woven bottle shaped nest of the weaver bird occupied pride of place in the balcony among the rose bushes lovingly tended by my mom.

Then my memories and experiences go back to the when I was in class 5 or six, when I had pet crows. Yes, the black winged creatures that dot the Bombay skyline. They are bold, have a keen gaze and are raucous, communal creatures and I feel it is ages I have not seen a bunch of crows cawing wildly circling the sky when one of them dies. Anyway, there were about three to five of them who would perch on out on the balcony at lunch time, when we'd get back from school.

Though they started by pecking at the food I would leave for them carefully balanced on the ledge, they eventually they graduated to eating out of my hands, and I mean it quite literally. It was a huge adventure, as my mother would be away supervising or making site visits to our new house under construction we were unsupervised and free. This meant, rotis, bread, rice, dahi and anything else we did not want to eat would find its way on the ledge. But to come back to the intelligence part, never once did the crows peck so hard as to injure my hand. I would marvel later about how they'd know exactly how much pressure to peck at food.

Of course my mom found out soon enough, but being the person she was she just ensured more food was available, scolded a bit and ended by giving in with, “ If you get hurt you will learn not to do it.” Crows are not friendly domestic creatures, but on the days she was at home she discovered her fears were baseless. Soon enough it was time to shift to a new house and I was in tears at leaving my "crows". My weeping had my parents at their wits end and I remember how my Dad, said, Look I am leaving my visiting card here ok. They will know where we have gone and visit our new house. I seriously cannot remember if I was just too naive to have believed it or decided that life meant moving on. So move we did, and “my” crows never did visit our new house and for some reason I never did make any new feathered friends there, even though there were some crows, many parrots and a few sparrows. Speaking of sparrows, if you have observed as I have how a sparrow catches a worm and hits it against a stone till it is dead, you'll note that its small size and fluffy looks is deceptive and hides a savage nature. Hence, any shows based on birds that I sometimes catch on Natgeo or Discovery do not surprise me when they depict how birds remember, behave and live. Why bird brained?

I have revived feeding the birds on my window ledge. And it amazes others who watch but not me, how they never fail to visit at their fixed times. They do not like junk food (cream biscuits) and share any food among themselves, a crow, some sparrows, and a pair of mynas. I can identify “my birds”. Once there was a raven like crow- all black no grey who visited to inspect the food and who I shooed away with a few harsh words that I think hurt him to the quick, he hasn’t been around since. A couple of pigeons who I shoo away too and I do not feed grains, so they do not patronise the ledge.

Beyond in the green cover of the trees, there are more exotic varieties of feathered creatures who I can identify, but not name as I am not any bird watching expert, but I have seen eagles in the distance, ravens, parrots, cuckoos and even a white owl. As I type this, I am musing if I should keep some chillies maybe and pieces of fruit to woo the parrots who feed on what the green cover provides them or let the balance of nature remain for a few days more for as long as it lasts. I muse how nice if there were a few peacocks too.

If Leeds castle in England can have peacocks why can't we have peacocks in Mumbai?

Isn't it our national bird?

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