A. Sukumar’s passion is bird watching. There is a teeming world out there, if you just care to step out of your homes and take a walk in the great outdoors, he says.
“Have you noticed the nesting of a common crow on your neighbourhood tree? It’s fascinating. Once the chicks are hatched, the mother crow teaches them to fly,” says A. Sukumar as he shows me around SVL Nagar in Sulur, where he lives. He has planted 40 species of trees. “Armed with books on Indian birds written by Dr. Salim Ali, Richard Grinat and Bikram Grewal I explored the world of birds. K. Ratnam from Sulur, who has authored many books in English and Tamil on birds of Tamil Nadu, took me along during his bird-watching trips and it opened up a new world to me.” Sukumar has written many books on nature in Tamil and his first book in English is called Dairy on the nesting behaviour of Indian birds. “Dr. Salim Ali often mentioned that there is very little on the nesting behaviour of birds, the role of the male and female of the species in building them, incubation and care of the young, and so on. That was the starting point for my book.” Sukumar writes under the pen name Chinna Sathan and he has brought out the book with his friend Bal Pandi, a bird watcher in Koothankulam.
The book is a compilation of the nesting characteristics and behaviour of 51 species of birds, which he recorded in Sulur (which is home to several lakes), Sathyamangalam, Rameswaram, and Koothankulam. “A bird watcher must maintain a diary. I have recorded 250 species. As Dr. Salim Ali instructs, I sketch the bird, note down information such as when, where and with whom I spotted the bird and how it behaved.”
Diary on the nesting behaviour… has over 300 photos (contributed by noted wildlife photographers) that capture the nesting behaviour in various stages, accompanied by Sukumar’s illustrations and sketches. He discusses the nesting behaviour of chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, which is unique. A brownish bird with a black belly and black bands on the chest, it is the size of a hen. “It’s a ground-nesting bird and it surveys the safety of the land before laying eggs. Its droppings resemble eggs and emit a strong odour that attracts predator birds. The sandgrouse waits and watches to see if any predator disturbs the droppings. If they do, the bird abandons the area. It feeds water to its chicks by dipping its feather in water. The chicks suck the water from its feathers.”
He has recorded the stage-by-stage process of the white-headed babbler’s nesting habits. “The blue eggs look lovely. I spotted the nest on a neem tree from my window. I recorded the nesting of crow pheasant (Sembothu) on another tree in my residential area. You just have to step out, and observe Nature, the koels and mynahs.” He has supplied 2,000 copies to the Raja Ram Mohan Roy Library Foundation in Kolkata, besides several colleges. “It serves as a guide for science students who are doing research on behaviour of birds.”
The book also discusses the little-ringed plover. “It’s a terrestrial bird that nests in waterlogged areas on the ground. When it rains, the plover bird empties the water from its nest vigorously with its beak. If the wind throws the eggs out, it moves them back to safety with its beak. The kingfisher examines the quality of the sand with its feet to check if it will withstand heavy rains and winds, before building its nest.”
Sukumar explains how birds are important to pollination. Without them we may not get healthy fruits, he says. “If there are no trees, and if insects and birds vanish, the universe is dead. Nature, when you observe minutely, teaches many lessons. Everything about birds including courtship, nest building, egg-laying, incubation, hatching, feeding, is unique. Even their bathing habits are worth noting. While some birds bathe in a beak-full of water or touch their belly to the water surface, other birds like kingfishers, sparrows and hoopoe prepare a mud bath. They preen and clean their feathers with mud or water. Crows bathe every day. Purple sunbirds and tailor birds do so while visiting flowers for honey. They take a quick shower from the morning dew on flower petals…isn’t it amazing?”
Sukumar blogs regularly on environment, birding, poetry and nature at www.sathanbird.blogspot.in “I call the blog Mazhaikuruvi, the Common swallow. They are always on the wing, even when there’s a drizzle. They come from Siberia travelling 3,200 km. It’s my favourite bird.”
Sukumar’s other book in Tamil called Imayavalam records his treks in the Himalayas, Kerdarnath, Badrinath, Rishikesh and Haridwar. As a member of the Coimbatore Trekkers Association, he has trekked the length and breadth of the Western Ghats and has been chased by elephants and wild dogs. His book Vanavalam gives all the details! Available at the Tamil Nadu Library.
His other works include Maramum Naanum, a book with tree as the hero, Saami Yaatam an anthropology work that questions the spirited dancing in front of the idols, and research works on Appar’s Thevaram.