SUNDAY MAGAZINE

They crave for company

ECO-WATCH

The Painted Stork ... forging a close bond with farmers.

The Painted Stork ... forging a close bond with farmers.  

SOME species of water birds live in mutual love and trust with humans. It is a fact that the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) nests and breeds on chimneys and roofs of houses in Poland and in the neighbouring countries. In fact, residents consider it as auspicious. In the United States, mallards breed on lawns around houses in the countryside.

Back home in some Indian villages and even in Chennai city, the night heron, the pond heron and the egret roost habitually amid the thick foliage of the mango, the tamarind and the neem in yards around houses.

Most water bird-sanctuaries in India, like Vedanthangal and Nelapattu began as a result of such mutual trust between farmers and water birds. Our farmers consider these birds as deities — to bring forth a good monsoon and rich crops. Also farmers derive an altruistic satisfaction of protecting these migrant birds, as their own children. The birds in turn, get safe nesting-sites under human surveillance. When poachers come, the birds fly off to the nearby houses with alarm calls, to complain to the villagers about their distress.

The fishermen of Annamalaicheri village on Pulicat lake, punt their boats at dawn in winter. Spotted billed Pelicans flock around the boats to close in on the fish. Fishermen have to literally push these birds aside with their hands, or with their punting pole, to reach the shore. Along the Sullurpet-Sriharikota road-bridge across Pulicat lake in the north, water birds also collect fish, along with fishermen, in a harmonious, give and take deal. Similarly, as farmers harvest paddy on the mud-flats, north of Pulicat, egrets and grey herons follow them closely, ready to grab insects. Unfortunately, when the farmers spray pesticides on the paddy crop, these birds follow the spray for insects that fly off, but get killed instantaneously either when eating the contaminated insects or through exposure to the spray.

The most interesting case is that of the Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) locally called in Telugu as Yerra kongalu, at Vedurupattu hamlet, about 10 km north of Sullurpet, on the Nellore road and another five km to the left. These birds nest every winter in the trees around huts in Vedurupattu, and sometimes, on the huts themselves. During the quiet afternoons, when the labourers are away in the fields, these birds descend into the yards to feed on food and water that the farmers have left for them before leaving for work.

During November-December 1984, after the severe cyclone that hit the Pulicat lake region, the farming labourers found their huts destroyed and the area inundated. When they moved to a nearby elevated area to live in make-shift habitats, the Painted Storks also migrated along with the villagers. Later, when they returned, these birds also followed suit. These storks had to forego their routine annual nesting and breeding that year — all for sheer love of human company.

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