Sivarakottai village buzzed with activity as bird-watchers documented over 30 varieties of birds during The Great Backyard Bird Counting Week

In the great backyard of Sivarakottai village better known for its malli poo and millets, there was a buzz of activity as environmentalists and bird watchers undertook a bird documentation and photography initiative.The event was conducted as part of The Great Backyard Bird Counting Week (February 14 to 19). Sivarakottai lies off the Thirumangalam-Virudhunagar Highway.

Around 200 villages spread over the southern fringes of Madurai district and Virudhunagar, fall in the black alluvial soil belt and encompass the Gundar ecosystem. Two rivers Therkaru and Varattaru originating from Sathuragiri hills become one at Sivarakottai to form the Kamandala Nadhi. The area is home to a number of water and field birds, spotted deer, fox, rabbits, monitor lizards and a range of snakes.

Over 30 varieties of birds were photographed and documented at the event organized by Naanal Narbargal Kuzhu. "Since the area is surrounded by millet fields, grain eating birds are more than raptors or hunting birds," explained birder Raveendran. Eurasian Marsh Harrier and Brown Shrike were the only raptors spotted during the documentation. Sivarakottai also has a patch of marsh land called 'Malai oorani' spread over 15 acres, where birds such as the Munia, Indian Pond Heron, Egrets and White Throated Kingfisher are found. Naatu Karuvel trees that flank the agricultural fields provide shelter to a variety of sun birds, palm swifts and bee-eaters.

A flock of skylarks called out from inside a bush and a number of Swallow tails fluttered across the sky above as the birders furiously recorded them. The group also saw numerous weaver bird nests dangling from the tree branches. Prabhakaran another birder pointed out that singing birds or babblers are commonly spotted in these fields. These birds live alongside human habitations and are dependent on agricultural activities. "Munias eat the grains and seeds. The fly-catcher varieties and weaver birds act as natural pest controls as they eat the worms found in the crops,” he informed the group.

"The continuous failure of the monsoons has made it difficult for the water birds to survive. Also, in recent times, the hunting of Kaadai and Kavudhari variety of birds for meat has increased," pointed out Ramalingam, President of Madurai District Farmers' Association. He also rued the fact that millet cultivation was fast shrinking and along with it there was a decline in the number of birds too.

The event provided an opportunity to discuss ways and means of conserving birdlife. Wildlife photographer Sriram Janak felt that bird watching was best started as a hobby in one’s own backyard. Another group member, Anand, pointed out how he had spotted the now rare house sparrows in certain green localities in the city. Even scavenging birds such as crows that feed on household waste are dwindling in number, he observed. Guna Amuthan, a street photographer, resolved to look out for birds around his house and environmentalist Ilanzhezhian, briefed the gathering on the traditional backyard birds such as Varagu Kozhi, Senthalai Vaathu, Sittu Kuruvi and Kinni Kozhi that were domesticated by ancient Tamils.

The other types of birds documented at Sivarakottai included the Indian roller, Peacock, Red Wattle Lapwing, Red vented bulbul, Tailor Bird, Cormorant, Black Drongo and Ashy Prinia.

Things you can do for birds:

Count birds in your neighbourhood.

Plant fruit bearing trees (they attract birds).

Leave out a bowl of water for birds in the hot summer months.

Restrict use of plastics, increase green space.

Keep water bodies clean.