Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Birds, Builders & the City!

It’s not concrete but feathers which makes life beautiful… Sanjay.

For the first time in so many years of my writings I dared to use my own quote to start a topic & I apologize as I am no great philosopher, celebrity or thinker to have a quote list of mine. Yet when I have been invited rather honored by my ever enthu nature lover friend Anuj Khare for a speech plus presentation at 18th Rajya Pakshi Mitra Sammelan (Friends of Birds), these were the word which came to my mind to start my presentation. At the start of the New Year itself I was lucky to be associated with two major events regarding birds; Bird fest in first week of January & The Rajya Pakshi Mitra Sammelan in second week of January. Many will wonder what’s big deal, agreed there are birdwatchers like there are sky or star watchers, so what’s special about the bird fest events? Well, in both events along with interaction with authorities in the field of birding there was bird’s photography exhibition & what caught my attention was a huge photo frame in the exhibition at the entrance only, of a common sparrow. Many visitors were stopping in front of the sparrow’s picture frame & I could hear the comments “Kharach chimanya disatch nahi aata” i.e. sighting of a common sparrow is rare now a days! The who’s who of Pune’s social life was there & they too expressed concern about sightings of common birds like sparrows getting rare from city life. Even PMC’s Commissioner who graced the event was curious to know about why sparrows from the city getting vanished! This has already set my thought process on role as beauty of a community is enriched by the variety of species of life you found around which we call biodiversity! And sure as a city we are going on reverse track is a fact.

On all such background when I went to give presentation that too with the subject like “Birds & Builders”, most of the audience was ready to grill me & many looking at me like “he is the guilty one for every wrong doing about birds”! I started my presentation with the above quote & in the first place accepted that role of builder on the front of birding is the main reason why the need I itself has been caused for such sammelans! Its easier to blame someone for any wrong thing happening & especially when the target is builders or developers then the job is more easier! But when we say Tigers are in danger then can we blame that too just some category, the threat tigers have, even say the poachers? Well, no will be the answer as it’s the entire system which is responsible for the survival of the tiger is at blame & that includes forest department too people residing around the forests, the policies regarding development around tigers habitat & such hundreds of factors which decides faith of the tiger!

On similar lines sparrows or any common birds’ species like bulbul or maina or kingfisher depends on entire system or surrounding around them may it be city or village. Like poachers are one of the links in making tiger’s life difficult, builders too are just a link for making city birds life difficult! But like poachers who are mostly locals around the forest & if decided they can be saviors of the tigers, same way builders also can become protectors of the birds! As for whom the builders build the home? For the common man only & does these common men asks what kind of arrangement the builder has made for the birds around their building. In my entire twenty five years work, I haven’t come across a single client asking so! For that not just one or two buildings but entire city surrounding which we call as urban development needs to be worked out keeping birds in mind. After all when we say green buildings, it doesn’t meant only for human species but the term covers entire biodiversity around, of which bird are a major part. Again many citizens will say that, there are so many trees around so what more they can do for birds? Well planting trees is satisfying just one of the needs of the birds. We have to understand bird’s life cycle to build a surrounding for them. For e.g. a bird like sparrow cant build its nest like many other birds like "baya". Sparrow or bulbuls can make a nest only if they have a safe place for the same; like below Mangalore tile roof or any small opening in walls of wadas which are made of clay. At such places these species can make a nest of dry grass or fallen leaves & that type of material only if a safe shelter to support the nest is available. Also they required source of water as well food nearby to feed the new born.

Now have a look around & what we see? All around the concrete walls, glass facades, lush lawns, ornamental exotic trees with no fruits or grain farms & imagine from where the poor sparrow will get her infrastructure to survive? Also most of the birds needs dust to have dust bath i.e. soil cover & in a concrete paved surrounding there is very less exposed soil around so that’s another lacuna in their needs. At the same time the increasing level of sound pollution & air pollution is major reason driving the birds out of city. As small birds like sparrow can’t sustain the high sound levels getting emitted through our nearly four million vehicles in Pune as well the smoke they emit is a bonus for polluting the air the birds’ breath. And in addition we have all year long processions with DJ & Dolby system with speaker walls for any event from marriage to some person’s janamadin or smrutidin! Why just birds even human will run out of the city such is the situation around! Similarly the new buildings with all aesthetic sense & international looks have no spaces for nesting of these birds; rather we don’t want any bird damaging our so called beautiful & exotic elevations by their excreta or food spills or the shabby material they use for their nests! The city has two rivers & number of streams in form of natural water bodies but what’s their condition now? The rivers have become big drains; the streams have either got encroached by every known segment of society or have been concretized, making all the vegetation lost! Now all we can see around is kites, crows & pigeons, that’s all birding the so called developed city is witnessing! In Pune we have habitats like Naik Bet or the  hills around (It’s called as Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary also) & neither forest department nor local body has enough funds to protect vegetation over there, is what both organization claims! So neither there is any habitat for birds nor anybody cares about the birds in the entire city & we call it as progress or development! And then we have PMC, Urban Development Department, Architects, and Structural Designers along with all sorts of latest fancy materials to make our residences comfortable but unfortunately poor birds have no one to think for its residence! We have garden department but is that enough & with all the trees around yet birds are getting rare is a fact so what can be done & what are we doing are the two questions we all should ask ourselves on birds front! Sadly its same scenario all around the State, in every town or metro on the bird’s front.

Actually the needs of the birds are very less as mentioned above & all it takes a little caring & concern regarding the birds while planning our buildings. We can plan some open space where thickset of plantation with creepers & shrubs so as there will be habitat for nesting & food in form of worms & insects. Also try to plant fruit baring trees as well have some patches of exposed soil on the ground level. The farms or agriculture fields are fast getting replaced by buildings so we can make arrangements of bird’s feeders in every attached terrace & ask the flat holders to keep some grains in such feeders along with water bowls. This can be a supply of food & water for the smaller birds & it works, I can tell this from my own experience at my home as well office terrace bird feeders. Every day at least ten species of birds including sparrows & bulbuls comes here & get feed! Also we can keep properly ventilated artificial nests at safe distance from floor in attached terrace; just assure that the birds get enough privacy & secure feel in such nests as well somewhat greenery around via plantation in flower beds or even in pots! We can involve ornithologists i.e. people working in bird research & take their suggestions while planning our buildings. Dr Satish Pande has shared one such tip with us that to keep holes in top floor terrace walls i.e. parapet of the buildings so birds like parakeets & owls can make their nesting at such places. We are doing it & witnessed parakeets nesting in such holes. Most important is involving younger genre in the awareness campaign as that has great power. We have witnessed this Diwali the anti fire cracker campaign has helped in reducing use of fire crackers which is a big disturbance to the bird life around. So we can make school kids aware about the importance of birds in our life & make them participate in conservation of the same.

At city level, terms like water bodies, green belts & biodiversity parks should not be tags for just development plan but needed to be in existence on ground too. As these places not only makes breathing lungs for the city but act as habitats for the various bird species also. Every citizen should fight to make these places alive as growing population of different species of birds is an indication of healthy biodiversity in the city. Even the media needs to be more aware about this front as again neither bird fest nor the pakshi sammelan could make front page of any news paper because birds don’t have got celebrity status neither the bird watchers is a sad fact of the society!
Most of the business houses use images of beautiful birds & greenery, for their marketing purpose but what we do in actual to protect this scenes is more important. Recently I heard an advertise of some builders project on a city FM radio channel where first a sound clip of vehicles horns & machines is played & then you hear chirping of birds & on the background a voice asks you, “what kind of music you want to listen when you wake up?“ Well, very nice way to define importance of the birds in our city life & surely effective to sale the flats!  
Friends’ birds paint the sky we live under with their beautiful color & their cheerful sound makes the best composed music our ears could hear; but for that all they need is some little space of their own & they depend on us only for that space. It’s our greed that we encroaching that little space also as we are blind in our so called power over other species; but remember however powerful & knowledgeable we may be all our knowledge & power won’t be able to make a single sparrow back once it is extinct! Just playing an advertise won’t be sufficient for the poor birds or else one day all we will be left with is only the recorded chirping of the birds & on that day the term beauty also will vanish from our life & we only will be responsible for the outcome!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.
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