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Conservation Is For The Birds

Conservation Is For The Birds

Artist, naturalist and photographer, Vishwajeet Naik is all these things and more. But above all, writes Bittu Sahgal, he is passionate about birds, an involvement gifted to him by his father, Dr. Sattyasheel Naik, an orthopaedic surgeon and ornithologist, who mentored him along his avian adventures.

Vishwajeet Naik’s innovative wooden boxes with appropriately cut openings have now been approved by Indian Grey Hornbills Ocyceros birostris that have been breeding and nesting consistently in his garden. Photograph by Vishwajeet Naik.

Most individuals venture deep into the heart of wildernesses to be in the company of birds. As the images on these pages reveal, Vishwajeet has come up with a twist to this passion… he invites birds, including some exceedingly shy and unusual ones, into his one acre backyard garden located at Stavely Road in Pune, Maharashtra.

Evening the odds

Naik’s experiments with creating environments in which birds felt both safe and comfortable began over two decades ago, when his father began positioning earthen pots and water feeders strategically around their garden. Almost instantly, these attracted Spotted Owlets and mynahs, which began nesting. But they stopped within a season because the pots had large holes from which fledglings would fall off, or from which predators were able to destroy eggs.

Experimenting with boxes, bowls and vessels of all descriptions, his father focussed on retaining the natural habitat of the birds, even as he fashioned discarded materials into an abode for the avians he loved. He studied Indian Grey Hornbills that would use the hollows of ancient tamarind, pipal or banyan trees, which were fast vanishing as the city squeezed the natural world out of its geography. With every tree that vanished, the number of birds began to dwindle. And, preferring to be more than a mere chronicler of tragedies foretold, he chose to even the odds… by offering artificial residences for birds, fashioned from old oil cans (post detoxification), wooden boxes, and containers of all shapes and sizes.

Having effectively passed his passion on to his son, he now takes great pride in the fact that, after 10 consistent years of bird-home-making, their tiny family refuge now offers asylum to an astounding 50 species of birds, with even more passing through with every changing season. The most prominent residents in this urban preserve are Indian Grey Hornbills, Jungle, Common and Brahminy Mynahs, Magpie Robins, Grey Tits and Rose-ringed Parakeets, but the list is long.

Vishwajeet Naik fashioned his nests at home using everyday materials he found around the house. Photograph by Vishwajeet Naik.

Home sweet home

Based on shape, size, nesting behaviour and special needs, Vishwajeet began testing different-shaped boxes to see which ones assorted birds accepted. As a general rule he came to the conclusion that a two-inch diameter opening was ideal for artificial nests. This enabled small birds to enter, even as it kept most predators out and prevented fledglings from falling out. By placing the opening on the upper side of the box, he made it possible for ‘his’ birds to have a comfortable, secure base.

Initially he observed that birds would visit the garden to take a quick dip, drink some water and then vanish. To invite them to stay on, he began planting indigenous species including drumstick, banyan, and several fruiting and flowering trees.

The birds responded rapidly by arriving in larger numbers and staying longer, particularly in summer when the grass would be sprayed with water. He responded by placing two-inch-deep water feeders that looked as natural as possible. Driven by the passion to see more and more birds flourish in the avian haven created by his family, he added mango, chickoo and other fruit saplings that not only offered natural foods, but more shelter too.  Soon a large variety of creepers emerged and he discovered birds nesting safely in these too. In the heart of urbania, a natural ecosystem, replete with food, water and cover emerged for grassland birds, water birds, raptors, migratory species and even some forest birds. Spotted Owlets now roost and breed in the garden every year.

Recycle and reuse

How can anything establish the worth of what people discard better than turning ‘kachra’ (garbage) into a home? Refusing to purchase any fancy material or make high cost artificial nests, Vishwajeet chose to recycle and turn any and all suitable material he could find into nests. Not only was this economical, but it is the easiest way to plant the idea into the minds of others (including Sanctuary readers!) that anyone can emulate Naik’s example to the advantage of birds and people, whose surrounds would turn greener and be filled with bird song.

As an example, old bamboo baskets that are used to deliver flower bouquets are the perfect nesting spots for doves. Small earthen pots were approved by tiny Grey Tits. Wooden boxes with appropriately cut openings passed the stringent quality control checks of Indian Grey Hornbills that have been breeding and nesting consistently in his garden for four years now. Parakeets prefer wooden boxes in keeping with their behaviour of nibbling the wood and Magpie Robins and three different types of mynahs… they seem to love large oil cans! The lotus ponds (filled with guppy fish to keep mosquito larvae from breeding) in the corner of the garden attract the White-throated Kingfisher and Pond Herons.

Naik’s artificial homes welcome several cavity nesting birds like these Alexandrine Parakeets Psittacula eupatria and Spotted Owlets Athene brama. Photograph by Vishwajeet Naik.

A pleasure shared

Far from holding on to secrets in an effort to lay claim to any unique skills, Vishwajeet has chosen to spread his know how and passion with missionary zeal. He has conducted over 200 slide shows on the creative art of artificial nesting for birds and he visits NGOs and schools that invite him to interact with their children or members. In his view… a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled!

by Vishwajeet Naik, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXII No. 4, August 2012


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