Express News Service
As much the world survives on a delicately intertwined balance and interdependency, such a system is
often overlooked when it’s scaled down to our homes and communities; yet, there’s much to be done in
your own backyard, it seems — all in the effort to make your garden ideal for winged visitors
CHENNAI: The current pandemic, despite its adverse effects, also has a positive side to it. It has made us think, introspect into the reasons for this catastrophe and explore whether it has anything to do with the way we have ill-treated nature. It has also given us enough time to develop new interests and hobbies.
Cooped up in our homes, it has made us look more closely at our own garden, whatever may be its size. We are now able to appreciate other living things that live in our garden more than ever, especially birds. There cannot be anything more soothing and relaxing than observing sunbirds actively pursuing their nectar-feeding activities. Armchair bird-watching is the inthing these days.
There are countless observations and records of new species in the city. All one needs is an infinite amount of patience, an unobtrusive lookout spot and a bit of a garden. However, not all gardens are equal in this regard and this is irrespective of its size. They are different in other aspects as well.
What birds need
- A safe place to rest and breed.
- Food, both vegetarian and the nonvegetarian, without pesticides. There are practically no vegetarian birds. Even a seed-eater like a house sparrow has to feed its young ones with insects and caterpillars, full of high-quality protein and energy-rich fats.
- Water The first two requirements have to be provided by the plants in our garden. Plants differ widely in their ability to support,birds. There are two broad categories of plants — native ones like avaram poo (Tanner’s cassia) and exotic ones like thanga arali (Nerium).
The advantages of native plants
1.They have existed here for thousands of years and hence, are welladapted to the locally prevailing
climatic conditions and, therefore, do not need extra gardening attention.
2.They also have interacted and, in turn, been shaped by other living beings around. That is, they have
co-evolved. Native plants support hundreds of other living beings, including insects and their
caterpillars, and are, therefore, crucial for the breeding success of the birds around us.
When looking around for suitable native plants, we should choose those thatserve multiple roles — food for human beings, nectar for the birds and butterflies, and fruits for birds.
Ideal picks for your home garden
1.Curry Leaf Plant (Karuvepilai): There is no meal in south Indian cuisine that does not use curry leaves in some form or the other. Birds like Asian koel and red-vented bulbuls avidly devour the fruits. The flowers provide nectar for several butterflies and the whole plant supports the larvae of several butterflies.
2.Mango: The ‘King of fruits’ is much loved by all of us and also by birds like the Indian koel and parakeets. This also supports a large number of butterflies and, in turn, several insect-eating birds.
3.Drumstick Tree: This is also used a lot in our cuisine. Sunbirds are very fond of its nectar. The tree supports a large number of creepy-crawlies that constitute an important part of bird food.
Another way of choosing birdfriendly plants is by looking at their source of food. Nectar constitutes the major food source of sunbirds, flowerpeckers, leafbirds etc., and a supplementary source for other bird families also. Bird-attracting flowers are usually red, day-flowering and have abundant nectar. Some of the plants with red, nectar-rich flowers are hibiscus, Indian coral tree (mullumurungai), red silk cotton (sevvilavu), and flame of the forest (purasu).
Fruits constitute another major part of their diet. Most of the fruiteating birds around us prefer small fruits because of their small-sized beaks. The most important of them are the fig trees (arasu, alam, athi, itchi, etc), which are mostly big trees. A smaller tree belonging to the same family is the Sandpaper tree (pirayan) which is favoured by the bulbuls, and could be more suitable for home gardens. Other fruit-bearing plants of importance are vellai poolanji, kattu karuveppilai, uthiyan, naruvili, pirandai, etc. There are plants, small and big, to suit all sizes of gardens.
Therefore, people with handkerchief- sized gardens or only a balcony need not despair. For nectar, there are small plants with red-coloured flowers, like hibiscus, ixora (idlipoo) and for fruits, thoothuvali and manathakkali. In the garden, there has to be a vertical transition with ground covers and sub-shrubs close to the residence, and then shrubs, small trees and midsized trees. The large trees should be the farthest away. Each species, especially shrubs, should be planted in clumps (three together) to afford some hidden space for breeding and cross-pollination.
Reduce the lawn as much as possible and instead use ground cover plants like karisalangkanni, mustard, paruppu keerai, thumbai, mithikeerai, etc. Water should be placed in a shallow saucer-shaped earthenware pot allowing both a dip and a drink. If possible, don’t prune the trees, especially those away from the path, to afford nesting material and for woodpeckers. Leaf litter should be left as it is, at least in one wild corner, for ground birds like babblers. Happy armchair birding! (The writer is an ophthalmologist and birder based in Chennai)