Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A bird's eye view

Family members were over for dinner a a few weeks' ago. We were out on my balcony when I pointed out the beginnings of a nest that a pair of bulbuls were building. They were incredulous that different kinds of birds have built nests among my plants the past few months, so I thought I'd share some pictures of my feathered friends and insights I have gained from them.

Two pigeon eggs, the size of quail's eggs
I live in a low-rise apartment with a fairly large balcony. For these birds to even consider building a nest among my potted plants in what is decidedly an urban setting must mean that suitable locations are sorely lacking for them. The sound of cooing alerted me to a pair of green pigeons who recce-ed my balcony first. I didn't pay them much notice until I was watering the plants and saw what looked like a makeshift nest in a pot of succulent plants. So I kind of kept a look out and sure enough, there was one and then two eggs in the pot.

From then on, Mrs. Pigeon would sit on the eggs for hours on end. I would only sneak a peek when she went off on what was presumably a foraging break. Mr. Pigeon wasn't very much in evidence once the eggs were laid (typical!) and when he did show up, his missus would give him an earful in loud coos and chirps. I could only admire Mrs. Pigeon's patience and calm demeanor, sitting there, day and night. She got used to me going out onto the balcony and would follow me with her beady eyes, not budging a bit and making sure I didn't harm her eggs.

Loads of other birds began to hang around my balcony and I guess they had some bird chat going on that this was a bird-friendly zone. I noticed some bulbuls flying to and fro a lot and it was only by chance that I discovered a nest that they had diligently built in my ficus tree. (I have to thank my nature-loving friend, J, for identifying these birds for clueless me.) They were a lot more skittish than the green pigeons, and would fly off the minute I set foot on the balcony.

Two tiny bulbul eggs, deep in the nest
The nest that the bulbuls built was a lot more intricate, ingeniously fashioned out of twigs into a really deep and snug home. Before long, when I climbed up on a chair to take a peep (the tree is about 7 feet tall), lo and behold, there were two tiny eggs in it. Mrs. Bulbul was also patiently sitting on her eggs at the same time as Mrs. Pigeon! I had to sacrifice some of the plants nearby which I couldn't water because I didn't want to disturb the birds.

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the baby birds, worried that conditions in such an urban environment might not be favorable for their birth. But I guess the birds knew better, and one after the other, two pigeonlets and two bulbullets were hatched. My maternity wing was full!

Beautiful feathers start to grow on the pigeonlets
The mothers were still very protective, sheltering these tiny, tiny creatures that were pretty ugly at birth (I'm sure their mums would disagree!) Only when the mums were away could I sneak out to have a peek at these nestlings. They were constantly chirping and squealing for food, and only piped down when their mums hunkered down on the nest. As far as I could tell, Mr. Pigeon, having fulfilled his obligations, had flown the coop.

Constantly ravenous bulbullets
The bulbul couple, however, worked diligently as a tag team, taking turns to bring food back to their ravenous offspring. I had a scare when, one day, there was a loud kerfuffle on the balcony, accompanied by fierce squawks. I looked out to see a large, black bird (not a crow) flying off in a huff. Apparently he had tried to make a raid on one of the nests and was chased off angrily by the mums!

The hatchlings venture away from their nest
Over the next couple of weeks, I hovered around the nests like an anxious maternity nurse, wondering if the tiny babies would fall out of their nests and I would have to scoop them back in again. The pigeonlets matured fast, one bigger than the other in size and far more adventurous. He would hop out of the nest and perch dangerously on the edge of another flower pot. He eyed me warily when I crept near to take a picture but stubbornly didn't retreat back into his nest. It was only when his mum flew back and gave him a good talking (cooing) to that he slunk back into the safety of his home!

Before I realized it, the larger pigeonlet who was hopping around had flown off. His mum was still dedicated to looking after his smaller sibling, roosting every night. But a couple of days later, the younger pigeon, too, left the nest.

It was a matter of time before the bubullets also started hopping out of their nest. They were a lot more skittish than the pigeons and I could only catch glimpses of them. One morning they were hopping from branch to branch while I peered out cautiously, and before I knew it, they, too, were gone.

With the departure of the hatchlings, the adult birds, too, flew away. To be honest, the pang that I felt at their leaving was greater than what I felt when my son left home. I guess it's because while I am still in touch with him, I don't know what's happened to those birds that so captured my fascination for those few weeks.

The very shy Mrs. Bulbul hovering near her nest
Whoever coined the term "birdbrain" had obviously not had much interaction with birds. The pigeons had chosen the location of their makeshift nest wisely, as the flowerpot was concealed among my many plants. Their nest was naturally camouflaged to protect it from predators. The nest that the bulbuls built was an architectural wonder, a deep bowl-like structure that was perfectly contoured to protect the eggs and then the hatchlings.

Even if their brains are small, nothing compares with the huge heart that both these mothers displayed, with a love and devotion equal to none. They spent hours sitting on the nest during the day, leaving only to look for food. At nightfall, they would hunker down and stay till daylight. Call it instinct or whatever, but the birds knew that they would enjoy a safe haven on my balcony. I was just happy I played a small part in providing a shelter safe from the elements and predators. Now I don't know if this new nest is being built by the same bulbul couple or a new one who heard on the grapevine that this is a great location.  Birds are a sign of good omen for the Chinese, and great fortune is supposed to visit when birds build a nest in your home. I don't know about that, but I do consider myself very lucky to have played host to these two families and learnt so much from them.

Update: Even as I write this, the pair of bulbuls are busy flying back and forth to furnish their new nest, so it looks like there will be another new family here soon. Yay!


  1. Really cool pix Aunty B ! Keep the bird blog going
    S from DownUnder

    1. Thanks S from DownUnder. Watch out for the latest updates on the new family of bulbuls!