Society

Hullabaloo in the banyan tree

Coming home: Birds roosting on trees Photo:S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S_MAHINSHA

I stand under a banyan tree in Perur, sipping coconut water, when I hear them. Is it the cuckoo? Or the myna? I can’t figure it out; but it sounds like all the birds in the city have decided to sing their hearts out. The sounds get louder as dusk sets in, and the entire area is engulfed in the music. “They gather here every day,” says Nagathaal, the tender-coconut seller. “Don’t we all go home after work? It’s the same with birds. This is their home.”

The tree must be way over 100 years old. Its branches spread out like an umbrella and the thick canopy casts a cool darkness below. Nagathaal’s shack is right next to the trunk. She has been waking up to the sound of the birds every morning for the past 35 years. “They come at around dusk and chatter till 11 p.m. They are up by 3 a.m.,” she says, speaking of her bird-neighbours. There are many trees in the area, but none of them is as alive as this one; mynas and crows seem to have a special liking for it.

“Birds are attracted to huge, old trees,” says bird expert A. Sukumar. “They roost in their branches in the evening. Dense canopies protect them from predators.” Sukumar says that many species of birds prefer banyan and peepal trees since they can feed on their fruits.

These trees are like an apartment complex where a variety of birds co-exist. They fly to their branches hoping for a good seat for the night. There is competition, which sometimes leads to squabbles. But most of them are settled amicably. After all, they are old neighbours. “There is an understanding between them,” says Sukumar. The evening cacophony has a lot of meaning to it, he adds. “A bird might be saying to its partner, ‘Come soon, it’s getting dark.’”

Sukumar says that some peepal and banyan trees can house up to ten species of birds. “Crows will roost in the top floor and mynas will take the middle floor. Smaller birds will occupy the lower floors,” he says. Many other places in the city have massive trees where birds roost in their hundreds. For example, the banyan tree at VOC Park, the one near Vasantha Mill in Singanallur and the one near Kurichi tank.

“The banyan tree is a sanctuary,” says M. Gunasekaran, an independent bio-diversity researcher. “We can sight a variety of bird species on its branches. Fruit-eating birds, hole-nesting birds…the tree is a multi-dimensional attraction.” Gunasekaran has spent long hours admiring the birds that come to roost in the banyan tree in Perur.

It’s interesting to observe them, he adds. “Like men who rush to catch a seat for themselves and their family when a bus pulls over, birds fight it out for a comfortable branch.” They must have worked hard all day, looking for food, giving predators the slip…a few hours of rest will do them good. No wonder their chorus dies down a little after dusk — their day begins at dawn and they cannot afford to be up all night.

Retired zoology professor K. Rathnam explains the 6.30 p.m. commotion. “For some 15 minutes, there is a racket, and then they settle down. Birds travel long distances to reach these trees, most of which are in places they find safe.” Crows, cuckoos, sparrows…they can all be heard, but it’s the myna that’s the loudest of them all, adds Rathnam.

Resting as a group gives birds peace of mind, since there are multiple eyes looking out for danger, says bird enthusiast K. Mohanraj. He says that around 15 years ago, there was a strapping vaagai tree in Ramnagar from which you could hear the loud ‘quack quack’ of wetland birds. Sadly, the tree is not there anymore.

Now that there is the promise of rain, cuckoos will be in the mood to sing their best songs, he says. Ace photographer and writer M. Krishnan poetically titled one of his books Mazhai Kaalamum Kuyilosayum (The rainy season and the cuckoo’s song). Mohanraj adds that urban-dwellers could hear the bird song in their backyards, if they planted bushes. “Hibiscus, mullai, henna…plant them, and small birds will come to them. They will sing for you.”

Maram Thatha K.A. Nagarajan, who has raised thousands of trees in Erode, feels that there can be only one reason for birds to cause a hullabaloo when they settle down for the day. “They are happy. ‘ Appada,’ they feel, ‘my work for the day is over.’”

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 6:54:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Hullabaloo-in-the-banyan-tree/article12560020.ece

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