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Opting for the Outdoors

The monsoon rain has come and gone and there is a nip in the early morning air … Delhi’s 17 million people who share their city with some very special residents are getting ready for the annual visit of some very special guests – birds.

According to Sheila Chhabra of Delhi bird, a group of bird lovers and bird watchers, Delhi has more than 500 species of birds, making it the number two birding capital in the world, after Kenya. There areresident birds in bright breeding plumages, singing and nesting,in spring and summer, and migrants in winter (Mobile Creches has a particularly soft corner for migrants of all species!), traversing oceans and continents. On a winter morning at the river Yamuna, Sheila says, “you can spot upwards of 70 species– Flamingos, Pelicans, Geese, Pintails, Shovellers, Teals, Pochards, Coots, Gulls, Terns …”

Friends, it’s the time of the year to opt for the outdoors, start enjoying the cooler weather and switch from passive TV watching to active bird watching. It’s an easy, affordable way – in your backyard, at your windowsill, on a nearby tree or high in the sky – to connect ourselves and our children with nature.So, here’s a bird’s eye view of what you can do and where you can go.

Nesting instinct

Shared by many mammals, including human beings, the nesting instinct – to set up a safe and secure home before the little ones arrive – is most visible among birds. Make your garden or balcony an inviting place for them: hang a bird feeder on a branch, put out some water in the hot summer months, leave a mesh bag with twigs, dried grass, old wool and string, etc. around, and wait for the birds to start visiting, to collect this building material for their nests. Trees are the natural habitat for homemaking – the nest will be ensconced amid the thicket of branches and sub-branches, hidden in the hollow of the tree or, sometimes, found hanging from the tree (e.g., the weaver bird). Ducks make their nests on the ground while sparrows and pigeons – city slickers that they are – prefer to build their nests on the ledges of buildings.

Watching like a hawk

You may have observed toddlers, often boys, keenly watching the cars that drive by. They can identify almost every car by its brand! Kids will do the same with birds given half a chance, through easy access and lots of parental enthusiasm. Of course, this is not predatory ‘watching’; it’s for fun and learning, to satisfy our curiosity and our hunger for knowledge. The common birds that form a part of our everyday life are house sparrows, crows, jungle babblers (also called the seven sisters because they hang out in groups of seven), the woodpecker and so on. In city environs, the occasional kingfisher with its flash of blue can cause much excitement.

Once bird watching becomes a part of your everyday routine your senses will automatically come alive, to the rustling of leaves, the flash of colour, a sudden movement overhead, or the precise direction the little chirping sound came from. Then the eye becomes accustomed to looking for a certain bird in a certain tree at a certain height. For instance, the green pigeons will always rest on the highest branches while the bulbul will alight on a branch within arm’s length from your balcony. Overtime your repertoire – of bird types and names, nesting and resting places, mating calls and other routines – will extend to what lies beyond your day-to-day domain. You will start discovering a whole new ecosystem in which birds survive and thrive.

Sing like a nightingale

Birdsong at dawn, the morning buzz and chirping signifying the start of a day, and the flurry of activity at sunset, before the birds settle down for some well earned rest – how different the sounds. Then we have the sweet song of the koel, the Indian Cuckoo, signaling the start of summer (read mango season), or the hooting of a peacock announcing heavy monsoon rains have a special meaning for us, in India. The calls signify changing seasons and are strongly woven into our language and music. We know these are mating calls accompanied, in the case of the peacock, by his dazzling plumage and the brazen courtship display!

Birds of one feather

As children we are fascinated by every new experience through the five senses. Add to that the sense of wonder and curiosity about how the world functions. Children explore by touching,feeling, building, arranging, demolishing and building again – just about everything. The only way we get to touch a bird is by touching fallen feathers. Pet birds are not the easiest to keep and caged birds are a complete no-no. A petting zoo is certainly a possibility but we are talking easy access here.

We would like to recommend feather hunting. It is the perfect parent-child activity for a lazy morning. It sounds simple enough but imagine the worlds it opens up for both of you: the feather will give you clues about the colour, size, type and likely name of the bird; it will make you wonder about the habitat of the bird; it may start story line in your head – did the bird shed this feather or was it lost in a fight? The possibilities are endless. Most importantly, you will be helping your child explore the outdoors while constructing memories of times spent with a parent

Twenty years hence when you are cleaning out a closet you may chance upon your son or daughter’s childhood memorabilia: it will have a ball half chewed by a pet dog who is no more, a smooth rock found on a beach when on vacation, or the first baby tooth that fell out at a school picnic in Class 1. It may also have a feather, tinged with rust and red, that you picked up on your walks together.

It’s no-brainer, a win-win situation (we love birds o we don’t want to say it’s like ‘killing two birds with one stone’. And you don't have to do much and don’t need to go far.To experience the avian wonders of nature you, just step out into any garden, park, tree-lined avenue, farmland or lake, and you will see them.All you need – if at hand – are a pair of walking shoes, binoculars, a bird guide, and a spirit of adventure!

Also See:

March of the Penguins”, a National Geographic film

"Two Blue Jays" by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey.

"Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey.

Delhi Zoo,Near Old Fort; 22,000 varieties of animals and birds; Monday closed.

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