Society

Bye bye crackers, hello birds

For some villages in Tamil Nadu, Deepavali festivities are also about protecting their winged visitors

Forest Department officials are probably on their way to distribute sweets in Kollukudipatti, Vettangudipatti, and Krishnapuram villages as you read this. Located on the fringes of Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary in Sivaganga district, the villages have been refraining from bursting firecrackers during Deepavali for several decades. The reason? People there want to make sure their bird visitors are not bothered in any way. The distribution of sweets is the Department’s way of thanking people for their gesture. It is done every year with the District Forest Officer leading the way.

Bye bye crackers, hello birds

The villagers though, do not expect anything in return. “I’m 53 now and have not burst firecrackers at all,” says forest department official K Karuppaiah (name changed on request) who was born there. “I never felt like it even during my younger days.” Some children there do buy crackers for the festival, but they are mostly mathappu that do not emit sounds.

Tanks in the 38.40 hectare bird sanctuary are only 10% full at present due to scarce rainfall in the region. “But we still have migrants coming in; at present, we have counted six species,” adds Karuppaiah. Vettangudi is a breeding ground for many birds — water birds such as open-billed storks, egrets (little, cattle, large, and median), pond and night herons, spot-billed ducks, and black and little cormorants, fly in around the last week of August to build nests, lay eggs, hatch them, and fly back towards the end of January with their little ones. Which is why, people in and around the sanctuary are extra cautious — chicks may be startled by loud sounds and their parents might never visit again.

Bye bye crackers, hello birds

Deepavali in the three villages, hence, is all about new clothes, sweets, and non-vegetarian feasts. Are children there never tempted to burst crackers? “Even if the father wants to, his son will ask him not to buy crackers,” says Karuppaiah. “Besides, all of them are brought up with their parents and grandparents telling them how firecrackers affect our winged visitors.”

Koonthankulam village in Tirunelveli district too has no place for firecrackers. “We don’t employ loudspeakers or mela thalam (drums) for functions and festivals as well,” says S Balpandi, a resident who can be termed an ornithologist owing to his five-decade-long association with birds, if not by formal education. “Small birds such as house sparrow, Indian robin and black ibis can be badly shaken by loud sounds,” he observes.

Bye bye crackers, hello birds

The 65-year-old says that Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary attracts ten types of ducks that come by the thousands, harriers, white ibis, common buzzard, and Amur falcon, that visit from Siberia, Mongolia, and Ladakh. “I counted seven harriers here yesterday,” he adds. People in Koonthankulam know how precious their bird visitors are. “We had good rains last Sunday and the next morning, I saw thousands of birds. I’m fascinated at how they know when exactly to arrive. And our white ibises have started picking twigs to build nests,” says Balpandi.

He says that youngsters in Koonthankulam usually head out to watch a movie on Deepavali in their new clothes. What does he plan to do? “Me?” he laughs. “There are 2544 wetlands in Tirunelveli. I will be lost in the woods surrounding one of them, checking on an eagle’s nest or a harrier’s well-being.”

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 9:45:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/bye-bye-crackers-hello-birds/article29777243.ece

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