Kolkata, the city where i live, is frequently portrayed as an ill-planned, congested city, with little in the way of natural beauty. This portrayal is not too far off the mark–the city, does have very little in the way of green cover. Rampant tree felling, in order to feed the real estate boom, has left the city with a tree cover of only 4.79%, in comparison to the national average of 19.49%.
Nevertheless, tiny patches of green, hemmed in by grey concrete blocs, continue to exist. These are best represented by the numerous gardens and empty spaces in one’s backyard. Many of these host a significant amount of biodiversity-ranging from caterpillars, butterflies and millipedes, to birds and even a few mammals, such as bats, rodents and civets. Some of the more extensive patches even contain jackals, fishing cats, and the endemic marsh mongoose, a subspecies of the small Asian mongoose.
On a normal wintry day, upto 30 species of birds can easily be observed in my locality, which includes my own little backyard, and a small park which fringes a pond which is still rich in fish. Some of these are :
The Indian Pond Heron is commonly met with at ponds(yes, its that obvious) and other small water bodies. This drab-looking bird likes sitting motionlessly at the edge of water bodies, often striking out to catch molluscs, crustaceans, fish and tadpoles. Their white wings show up prominently upon flight. These semi-colonial breeders are also known referred to as the “paddybird”, because of its tendency to frequent flooded paddy fields. They are arguably the most numerous of Indian waterbirds.
The brown shrike is a small passerine which is a winter visitor to South Asia. Its breeding grounds lie in Northern Asia, from Mongolia to Siberia. Distinguished by its dark back and the distinctive “shrike-like” mask, it is similar in appearance to the red-backed and Isabelline shrikes. Like other shrikes, it preys mostly on insects, which it impales upon thorns. The numbers of this winter migrant need to be monitored carefully, for they are a useful indicator as far as the impacts of climate change are concerned. Already, some trans-continental migrants, such as the gadwall and garganey, are showing a dip in numbers at their wintering sites in India.
Resident to the Indian subcontinent, the Jungle Babbler is commonly met with in city gardens and orchards. They are referred to as the “sat-bhai” in Hindi, an allusion to their gregarious habits. This bird is frequently found in flocks of 8-10 birds, which are easily located by the birds’ noisy chattering. Jungle Babblers are primarily insectivorous, but also feed on grain and berries.
The familiar Blue Rock Pigeon, also known as the “Common Pigeon”, is a familiar sight in cities, and many of the ones which we come across are feral birds(though its natural habitat does encompass South Asia). The Blue Rock Pigeon has been introduced in many cities worldwide, and it breeds in the eaves and ledges of houses. It normally feeds on flocks.
The white-breasted waterhen is a small rail which frequents water edges, especially in places where reed beds and other forms of vegetation are common. Unlike most other rails, however, it is extremely bold, sometimes even crossing busy streets which pass by waterbodies. They feed mostly on molluscs, insects and other invertebrates, and sometimes even catch fish. Their harsh and repetitive croaks are commonly heard just before the onset of the breeding season, whose beginning is marked by the first rains.
This is no hummingbird-in fact, there aren’t any in India. The Purple Sunbird(Cinnyris Asiaticus) is a common sight in groves and gardens throughout India. Voracious nectarivores, they are the most important pollinators of Acacia, Butea monosperma and Woodfordia sp. They are thus an excellent indicator of ecosystem health.
These are just a few of the common birds that regularly grace my neighbourhood. The complete list includes:
4)Oriental Magpie Robin
10)Eurasian Collared Dove
11)Blue Rock Pigeon
13)Black-crowned Night Heron
24)Blyth’s Reed Warbler
32)Asian Pied Starling
37)Yellow-footed Green pigeon
But who can say if these species will continue to thrive in an oasis of green amidst climate change, increased tree-felling and never-ending soil and air pollution?