TAKE WING These two tiny villages off Bangalore have been wholly adopted by birds

Aflap of a wing, a gentle glide across the sky, a moment of contemplation before it perches first on one tree, then another — I follow a painted stork until it merges into a sea of flapping wings. As I look around, I find every tree painted in hues of white, pink and greys. The storks have landed and I am in no bird sanctuary but in a little village called Kokkare Bellur, named after the ‘white’ birds that claim ownership to it. My bird guides are two curious ten-year-old boys who are not just content helping me spot the birds but insist on showing me the best camera angles.

Located near Maddur town on the Bangalore-Mysore highway, Kokkare Bellur is today popular with birding enthusiasts and slowly emerging as a tourist destination. Every year, flocks of painted storks and spot-billed pelicans arrive punctually in the migratory season seeking a safe haven to nest and create a new generation of birds. The villagers openly welcome their guests and have adopted them, as they believe the birds are omens of good luck that bring prosperity. Every villager goes all out to show his winged guests hospitality and protection.

The boys take me to a small wired enclosure where a baby pelican, which has fallen from its tree, lies safe from stray dogs, while the parent watches from the tree nearby.

As we follow the boys, the village opens into a grove of tamarind and ficus filled with birds.

The green merges with white and grey and I am told there are more than 100 trees that now house the painted storks and pelicans.

Around Bangalore, it is not uncommon to see villages adopting birds that fly from far and near to nest. While Kokkare Bellur is rather popular and may soon get a ‘community bird sanctuary’ tag, another village off Tumkur Road has seen a similar pattern over the years. There is no signboard here, just the call of the birds to indicate that you are near. At Kaggaladu, a hamlet near Sira town, it’s painted storks and grey herons that visit, having forged a special relationship with the villagers over the last two decades. The village is now like a full-fledged heronry but the villagers want to keep noisy tourists away.

I walk around and see nests everywhere, while some late-comers are just beginning to build them. Birdcall echoes through the air as the villagers go about their daily chores. I stand there for a long time, watching the birds in their habitat, safe from predators and poachers, building their homes. A streak of white blinds me as a flock flies out. I follow them to the road and we part ways there.

LAKSHMI SHARATH

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