Bhavin Shah promotes new homes for sparrows and other birds. He tells Subha J Rao that with a little effort we could tempt birds back into our urban lives

Bhavin Shah grew up watching his father Ashok set out water for the birds every single day. It was a family tradition. He watched sparrows, crows and other birds swoop down on the terrace of his decades-old house to quench their thirst. Once in a while, they even flew inside. “The fans would immediately be switched off so that they did not get hurt,” he recalls. Little wonder, Bhavin grew up with a deep love for sparrows and became their saviour years later.

By day, Bhavin is a dealer of FMCG goods. He sells everything from noodles, beverages and biscuits to oats, grains and cement. But, early mornings and late evenings are reserved for birds and family.

Trekking introduced Bhavin to birdwatching. SACON in Anaikatti became a regular haunt. He found a friend there in Joseph Reginald. Soon, Bhavin heard about the Pune-based Nature Forever Society that was working at ways to make life easier for sparrows.

When Bhavin headed the environment chapter of Young Indians (YI), Coimbatore, the organisation tied up with SACON. Along with Joseph Reginald and YI’s Manoj Rajagopal, he set up wooden nest boxes for sparrows inside residential colonies and industries. The ‘Save the Sparrow’ campaign won him the Nature Forever Society’s Sparrow Awards. Bhavin, 31, was named a ‘sparrow hero’ in the individual category.

“Our timing was right and things fell into place. We launched the campaign in Cheran Maanagar and Walayar, and placed about 170 nest boxes on trees, on the walls of houses… Many trees were being cut in Cheran Maanagar and the sparrows had no place to go. They adapted well, and nested in about 80 per cent of the boxes,” says Bhavin. Bhavin believes that artificial nest boxes are the way to go to nurture birds in an urban setting.

Maintaining the box (available in many shapes and models to suit different birds) is not hard work, says Bhavin. “Leave it undisturbed, place a bowl of water and a bird feeder near it and the birds will automatically come.”

Bhavin wants to make the city more bird friendly. “One of our presentations is to builders. We want to suggest that they can, inside gated communities, replace concrete fences with hedges of jasmine or marudhaani, both of which attract birds. Birds roost even in shrubs. It provides them great security,” he says. Another idea is to try and get people to do away with glass facades. “If there’s a tree nearby, it reflects enticingly on the glass. The poor birds crash into the solid surface thinking there is a tree there and are grievously injured, or even fall dead,” he explains.

He also stresses the importance of chemical-free home gardening and the need to raise native trees. “Chemicals in a garden keep away worms and pests, but also the birds that feed on them. Also, avoid planting exotic species; they do nothing for anyone,” he says. Bhavin says that if nothing else, people can at least let a creeper run along a wall. “It will be a food source for birds.”

Bhavin sources the nest boxes and feeders from the Nature Forever Society, and distributes them at cost price. He encourages people to buy boxes made of recycled wood.

“A brand new box will defeat the very purpose,” he says. “Also avoid making boxes using cardboard. They might look sturdy and the birds might accept it, but one rain is all it takes for the bottom to give way.”

In the past, people lived in harmony with Nature. Birds had a place in the everyday lives of humans. But it is not very difficult to get back, says Bhavin. “In the exterior wall of any house, remove just a brick or two in every side. It won’t kill aesthetics; it will also nourish a family of sparrows or pigeons, who will roost there.”

Bhavin appeals to people to leave some grains and water for the birds, every day. “We changed their world. It is up to us to help them live comfortably. And it does not take too much time.”

The birds do seem to like their new homes and feeders. A person from Mettupalayam recently sent Bhavin a video. Beyond the constant flapping of wings, you spot many birds waiting for their turn before making a dash for the grains in a feeder. “How happy the birds look. How happy this gentleman is. And, how wonderful to wake up to birdsong.”

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Protecting parakeets

Bhavin and his friends Joseph Reginald, Vinny Peter, Balakumar, Vivek and Ashokan are also part of a group called Animal Rescuers. They rescue and rehabilitate parakeets, a much abused species. “In the wild they can live for 80 years. Here, they die before they turn 20. People cut their feathers, clip their beaks and put them through untold miseries, only because they look attractive,” he says. The group also plans to tag rescued birds with radio collars to track their progress in the wild. They do step in when other birds are in crisis. “Recently, when old trees where cut along Thadagam Road and Vadavalli Road, we saved about 26 nests that had fallen to the ground. We fed the crow and koel chicks using ink fillers and then released them into the wild.”