With a large number of trees being cut in and around the Okhla Bird Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in neighbouring Noida during the previous Mayawati regime in Uttar Pradesh, including some for the making of a stone park, wildlife authorities in the region are now increasingly relying on installing wooden boxes on the remaining trees for artificial nesting and breeding of resident bird species.

The first such experiment by the authorities, started in October-November 2011, is now showing signs of success. It was done at as per a management plan recommended by the Wildlife Institute of India and on the advice of conservationists.

“As part of the initiative over 50 artificial wooden boxes were put on the trees to encourage the birds to use them as nests. While some smaller birds like mynas, prinias and even spotted owlet were using these nests earlier, for the first time now an Indian grey hornbill (scientific name: Ocyceros birostris), which is called dhanmar, dhanel, chalotra and dhanesh has made one such wooden box its home in the bird sanctuary,” said ecologist and conservations T. K. Roy, who has been associated with the project since its inception.

“Two pairs of Indian grey hornbill surveyed two different artificial wooden boxes in the month of April and chose both for nesting. But unfortunately the mouth of one wooden box was not big enough for them to enter and so only one pair finally nested in one of these triangular boxes,” he said, while explaining how the birds initially tested the new environment.

This box, he said, is now home to a female hornbill which has settled herself and blocked the entrance for undisturbed breeding and laid eggs. “She now takes her beak out of the hole and only allows the male hornbill to feed her. Once the chicks are hatched the female will come out from the box,” he noted.

Mr. Roy said the Indian grey hornbill is a resident arboreal bird in the Indian sub-continent. It is brownish-grey and can easily be identified with its long, black and white curved bill surmounted by a peculiar black casque.

The bird is commonly seen in pairs or small groups in lightly wooded open forests and old ficus, banyan or pipal trees.

Having a loud and cackling call, the bird is known to mainly eat fruit and also large insects, lizards and mice.

During its breeding period from March to June, this bird nests in natural tree-hollows. “Finding the triangular boxes with circular hollows on the trees, one such bird made it its home after surveying the area over a couple of times,” Mr. Roy said.

“The event is important because due to the destruction of their natural habitat it was being feared that these bigger birds might not return to the sanctuary at all. But now they have rediscovered home, albeit in a different sense,” he quipped.

For Mr. Roy, who is also coordinator of Asian Waterbird Census, the spotting of both migratory and resident birds in the area is always a matter of great joy. And it is more so in this case because as he puts it: “The taking of the Indian grey hornbill to the artificial nests is important as these birds are now rarely seen in Okhla sanctuary and their numbers have been declining due to reduction in natural nesting sites.”

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