She turned her garden into a bird haven

She turned her garden into a bird haven

Rare migratory birds have made an appearance in Subha Bhat's garden.

Can you imagine a home garden in the heart of Bengaluru, which is thronged by feathered beauties that chirp and flutter around joyously? This is the scene in the front yard of Shubha Bhat’s dwelling nestled in the campus of Indian Institute of Science.

As a child, Shubha loved to wander in the wilderness of her native village near Kudremukh forest. When she moved to Bengaluru 18 years ago, she felt a contrasting environment. Also, the dearth of water for human beings made her think about other living creatures. That was when she placed a pot of water in her courtyard and waited for weeks until her first visitor, a dog, arrived, followed by a few crows. A keen observer, she had seen birds bathing and drinking water elsewhere, but she wondered as to why they did not come to her place. And then, she started experimenting.

Incidentally, Shubha realised that the birds bathe in shallow water and need to be safe from predators. So, she placed shallow, wide pots, filled them with water, and grew more flowering plants in the garden. Flowers attracted insects, which in turn, lured some birds. Intrigued, she began referring to the books of Salim Ali, Richard Grimmett and Tim Inskipp to identify them. She even sought the help of renowned ornithologist S Subramanya. Red-whiskered bulbul, oriental magpie-robin, spotted dove, Asian koel, greater coucal and the like became her guests. Gratified with the success and yearning for more, she introduced large concrete tubs to grow water lilies. Fishes like guppies which would feed on mosquito larvae and curb the risk of stagnant water were raised. Gradually, kingfishers and black kites too began frequenting. 

Birds generally perch upon twigs, so she set up tiny bamboo twigs in the garden. Many little fascinating birds like the Asian paradise flycatcher, black-naped monarch, ultramarine flycatcher, red-breasted flycatcher, rusty-tailed flycatcher and Blyth’s reed warbler came to perch upon. Simultaneously, she placed a few hanging pots and grew creepers for camouflaging, and soon she could spot barbets and cinereous tit in the garden. “On one rainy day, I watched a tailor bird dipping in the water collected on a leaf,” she recalls.  With that, she presumed how the smallest of birds would thrive. Leaves of plants like Colocasia, banana, Ixora, common sandal and hibiscus retain water for a longer time and she planted some of them after which tailor birds, sunbirds, warblers and flowerpeckers started visiting. She splashes water on these plants at least twice a day.

Later, she hung coconut shells with just a spoonful of water, and more small birds arrived. There are sprinklers installed in the garden that use recycled water to keep the surroundings moist and the birds get to shower in that. Shubha has strategically developed her yard over the years, where at present, more than a hundred types of birds arrive. She has recorded a maximum diversity from September to March. She has spotted rare birds like the green warbler, Tytler’s leaf warbler, and the western-crowned warbler in her garden.

S Subramanya says, “Shubha has been a champion among the birdwatching fraternity in the city. She has given several new bird records for Bengaluru. Her records of Tickell’s thrush, eye-browed thrush and Kashmir flycatcher are the very firsts here.” 
Some of these birds are migratory.

Apart from tending her own garden, she has placed some birdbaths in the institute campus which are looked after by some volunteers along with her. Every alternate day, she goes around with a water can and refills these baths. She participates in regular guided nature walks and goes for birdwatching within the campus every day. Inspired by her work, many people have tried to emulate this effort — both within the institute campus as well as in other areas. Many of those who share the passion interact with her regularly and get guidance. 

“I spend up to five hours a day when migratory birds arrive. Each bird is unique. Some prefer their own territory whereas others are willing to share. Each bird has a distinct call for feeding, mating, fighting and they all sound different. It is a unique world in itself,” she says.  What started as an attempt to give water for birds turned into alluring myriad bird species and she is blissful about that.  Somewhere within, we all have compassion towards nature but only a few actually do something about it, Shubha Bhat is one among those rare nature enthusiasts . 

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