Wednesday, July 15, 2009


My childhood was spent in various Railway Colonies of North India. My father’s job with Northern Railways involved getting transferred every few years. So we travelled from one place to another living in huge Bungalows (A legacy of Colonial days). Most of these were high ceilinged structures with lots of trees and unkempt gardens around. Insects, small animals and birds roamed around freely. Presence of frogs, toads, rats, mongoose, wildcats, hare or jackals and an occasional snake were taken as a normal occurrence. But one of my most vivid memories is the presence of birds. From the humble house sparrow to the regal peacock, there were all kinds of birds. In winters all kind of migratory birds flew in to roost in the tall trees. Egrets, cranes, storks and geese would fly in by the dozen, build untidy nest and raise their families. The noise they made and a peculiar acrid smell that was present everywhere is still fresh in my mind. In addition to the seasonal guests there were the regular residents. The ugly but stately vultures usually nested in the tallest of the trees. I understand that the population of vultures has dwindled alarmingly over the last decade and their colonies have become a rare site nowadays. But we did get to see more than our fair share of them. Peacocks made their nests on the ground among the thick bushes and searching them out to look at the large spotted eggs was a game for us. As a matter of principle, we never stole the eggs or caused any damage. Occasional exceptions to this rule were when we removed baby parrots from their nests and kept them as pets. I remember the unusual nests of the grey hornbills. The female bird would find a cavity in a tree trunk and make a nest of mud and guano imprisoning herself in it in the process. A small hole in this mud wall would enable her to peek out and accept whatever food her partner brought. The most interesting nests were of baya or the weaver birds. Usually clumped together on small trees the inverted bottle shaped nests would fall off after being abandoned after a years use and we used to carry them home much to the annoyance of my mother. The bright yellow male bayas were much better looking than the dowdy females. The feeding of birds provided hours of entertainment. I remember a bright colored Coucal (also called the crow pheasant) chasing down and eventually gobbling up a garden lizard. Immediately after monsoon showers, various birds would gather around the small holes from which swarms of winged termites emerged thus setting themselves up for a royal banquet. Egrets, mynahs, crows and even peacocks would gorge themselves silly on the bounty. The insects outnumbered the birds by far and the survivors would crowd round tube lights on the wall providing another feast for the geckos (wall lizards). With the rapid urbanization and dwindling of trees one would imagine that birds would vanish from cities forever but it is not so. Even now I come across birds everyday and see how they have adapted themselves to changing conditions. Will write more about them the next time.


  1. Never knew that you were a keen 'bird' watcher..atleast not of the type you described here.

  2. Don't worry.More "bird" posts are on the way.