The weaver birds are back. Nobody is happier about it than the people in Nariandy, a village tucked away in the remote corner of Ezhupunna panchayat, where a collective effort by people early this year saw about 150 acres of Pokkali field come under sowing after 25 years.
“This is a throwback to my younger days when hundreds of weaver bird nests dangled from coconut fronds, swinging in the wind. In those days, school children journeyed to our village to see the nests, some of them even wanting to raid them,” said an ecstatic P. J. Francis, who guided us to a few coconut trees that had about a dozen nests at various stages of completion.
“The birds are back here after nearly 25 years,” said Francis Kulathungal, general convenor of the Pokkali Samrakshana Samara Samthi, which wrested the paddy fields collective from a lobby bent on using it solely for shrimp farming throughout the year.
The traditional practice has been to use the fields in two cycles — one for paddy and the other for fish or shrimp culture. It took nearly two years of struggle by a group of Pokkali enthusiasts to revive rice cultivation.
Return of paddy
The return of paddy after such a long gap to the Puthenkari fields, spread over 165 acres, had prompted the birds to return, said Mr. Kulathungal, who pointed out that the birds had just begun to home in on coconut trees lining the northern border of the paddy fields. The northern end of the fields is suited to nesting because they are not disturbed by the movement of motor vehicles.
Mani Chellappan of Kerala Agricultural University, who is part of ICAR’s All India Network Project on Agricultural Ornithology, said the Puthenkari fields were now playing host to the streaked weaver birds.
They nest close to water bodies, especially along lakes and feed on seeds and insects. They are not an endangered or threatened species but had gone away after the collapse of Pokkali cultivation.
Dr. Chellappan said the weaver bird population had been reduced a little over the years because of the shrinkage in paddy cultivation and destruction of their habitat. Weaver birds, which are among 180 species of rice-related birds in the country, are frequently spotted in various parts of the State.
He said the All India Network Project on Agricultural Ornithology involved itself in ecological management of problem birds and conservation of beneficial ones.
Less than 30 per cent of the birds linked to rice cultivation posed the threat of serious crop damage, he added.
Though weaver birds feed on paddy it is only for a brief period in a year. Their breeding period was marked by the birds looking for insects to augment protein intake for the baby birds, said Dr. Chellappan.
The weaver birds get their name from the sophisticated nests they build from strands of leaves. They nest in large numbers in colonies on chosen trees.