The robin and the village: How Pothakudi in Sivaganga district went without street lamps for the sake of a bird

A safe haven The robin had woven its nest deep inside the box, and reaching for the controls meant that it would be startled special arrangement

A safe haven The robin had woven its nest deep inside the box, and reaching for the controls meant that it would be startled special arrangement   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A Karuppu Raja stopped in his tracks. He had an arm extended towards the Electricity Board control box in front of his home at Pothakudi village in Sivaganga district, when he saw it: a fluffy nest. The beady eyes of a female Oriental magpie robin met him fearfully; she was stressed.

The 25-year-old walked home without turning on the control that powered the 35 street lights of the village. “I didn’t have the heart to,” he says over phone. Karuppu then took some photos of the nest on his phone and shared them on the villagers’ WhatsApp group.

“I told them that I hoped we can refrain from using street lamps for as long as the bird took shelter in our EB box,” he explains. “I later saw three eggs and felt that the mother should be left alone to hatch them.” Karuppu’s home is a stone’s throw away from the box and he volunteers to turn on the main switch every day as soon as dusk falls. The robin had woven its nest deep inside the box, and reaching for the controls meant that it would be startled every time.

The nest inside the EB box

The nest inside the EB box   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“It had chosen our village and I felt we owed it to its family to see that they were safe,” adds Karuppu.

Pothakudi consists of 120 families, a majority of whom are into agriculture. Karuppu convinced all of them to agree to keep the street lights turned off for 35 nights. “It was not easy,” he recounts. “The WhatsApp message was successful to a certain extent, but I went door to door, explaining the situation.”

Some older inhabitants of the village, Karuppu says, were against the idea. “They asked me why they should remain in the dark for the sake of a bird,” he says. But Karuppu was ready with an answer. He countered their argument with, “Today, do you see all the birds you grew up seeing? Where are they? What has human intervention done to them?” Finally, they too agreed.

The 35 street lights are Pothakudi’s lifeline at night; without them, the entire village will be nothing but an unending pitch-dark stretch, dotted with a few lights from windows of houses here and there. “Our women didn’t step out after sunset,” says Karuppu.

Meanwhile, the mother robin was at work. “Her eggs were beautiful…light blue with brown dots,” recalls Karuppu. “In fact, I had noticed the male and female scrounging for material to build a nest a few days back,” he says, adding that he had no idea they had the EB box in mind. “Sparrows are our regular guests; they often build nests inside homes in our village, and I regularly feed pigeons and peacocks at home.”

Karuppu was thrilled to hear a series of tiny chatter one morning: the chicks had arrived. “The mother was busy looking for food for the hatchlings. The moment she neared the nest with food, the three of them would go cheep cheep non-stop,” he laughs. All this was a valuable lesson for children in the village. “The birds taught them what no online class can,” says Karuppu. “Little boys would ask me every time they saw me, ‘Annae, are the young ones bigger now’?”

By the time the hatchlings grew, the village became a social media sensation. Just before our conversation, an MLA had called Karuppu, saying that he was visiting them to show his appreciation. The birds flew away earlier this week, but the excitement has not died down in Pothakudi.

Every one has learned something new. Karuppu, for instance, learned that “The kuruvi don’t like to get wet in the rain. So they build their nests in a protected space, or beneath huge leaves like that of a banana tree.”

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 7:51:47 PM |

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