We hope that the DDA does not decide to ‘beautify’ and ‘landscape’ this area in Dwarka which is the last refuge of the Baya in this concrete jungle that we know as Delhi.
Akhilesh Pandey is a keen observer of life in and around the area where he lives. We have never met since he lives in Dwarka and I live in Kishangarh located between Mehrauli and Vasant Kunj.I know him only through his voice on the phone since he has called me a couple of times, to either comment on one of my pieces in Cityscape or to share his concerns about the damage being caused to the fauna and flora of this city.
The other day he called me to share a story that he has been following and writing about in City Plus for the last four years. This is a story of remarkable resilience by a bird that has become such a rarity in Delhi that ornithologists were on the verge of concluding that it was no longer found in Delhi. The fact that this bird has chosen a nesting site and scores of pairs have been building a colony, year after year on the same plot of land on the same shrubs and trees is a sign not only of the tremendous adaptability of the bird but it is also a sign of hope for other small birds, like the Sparrow, that have begun to stage a tentative come back in this concrete jungle that we know as Delhi.
The bird that Akhilesh Pandey has been chasing is the Baya –The weaver Bird. The scientific name of the Baya is Ploceusphilippinus. Not being familiar with the logic that determines the naming of fauna and flora, I cannot say with any measure of certainty if the Philippinus part refers to Philippines where the bird could have been observed or to an ornithologist called Philip who first described the Baya. What I can say without any doubt, however, is that the last time I saw a Baya nest in the heart of New Delhi was on a date-palm tree that grew along the boundary wall separating the Delhi Kannada School and the NDMC Middle School on Maharishi Raman Marg in Lodi Estate. I was then in the last year of school, the NDMC Middle School was a Primary School and the road was known, not as Maharishi Raman Marg but as Lodi Estate Road No 3. This was way back in 1968 or 1969.
The next time I saw a few Baya nests in Delhi was about four years ago on a small cluster of date palms in the open ground near Adilabad Fort opposite Tughlaqabad. I had taken some school kids on a heritage walk and had thought to myself that the children who were with me were fortunate to have seen the nests and the busy weaver birds because I had little hope of the birds surviving in Delhi for long.
The news that the Baya has returned and has returned not in ones and twos but in a large enough group to form a colony is heartening news indeed and one must thank Akhilesh Pandey for not only documenting the return of the Baya, taking hundreds of photographs of the nests and of the birds, (some of which he has willingly sent me to be shared with the readers of The Hindu) but also following it up with getting the Bombay Natural History Museum to visit the site and to record the presence of the birds.
The Baya normally nests in open grass lands and fields, building their nests, shaped like inverted bottles or the snake-charmers flute, on thorny trees like Keekar and Babool or on date palms. They have a particular preference for trees that hang over water since they provide additional protection against predators.
It is the Baya male who begins to weave the intricate nest, drawing long strands from grass or date-palm leaves, the male bird keeps rushing to his mate for approval and only when she is happy with the layout that she joins the effort of making a home. If she does not like the architecture she flies off and the male has to begin once again and that is why you would find almost as many unfinished and half built nests in every weaver bird colony as you would find complete ones.
Go to the vacant DDA land that abuts the Sector 10 metro station at Dwarka and is adjacent to the Dwarka courts and pray that DDA does not decide to beautify and landscape this last refuge of the Baya in Dwarka. Pray real hard and if possible go to the DDA website and ask them to leave this bit of the wilderness intact, to not “beautify”, “landscape” or otherwise “develop” it in any manner and hope that they will, for once, pay heed.