Knowing birds in the close vicinity:
By Rajashekhar Pant
Sitting on a heap of squeezed halves of tangerines and Malta-orange, Rufus Sibis (Heterophoria capistrata) – a black headed orange coloured bird, is not that easy to spot. Its colour often merges with the shining orange hue of the peel of tangerines. Bhimtal, my humble hometown, is known for the lush growth and profuse fruiting of citrus plants. Despite the weather being quite inclement over the past few days, I have been noticing the flocks of Rufus at the compost pit in our kitchen garden, blithely feeding on the seeds and pulp of tangerines. Of course, other than when on the heap of the squeezed tangerine halves, it is easy to recognise this bird having a bright orangish body and a black head and crown.
Like the dogged hill barbet – that appears all of a sudden in large flocks with the palm seeds becoming mature in the second half of December – the presence of Rufus, singing melodious notes, becomes quite noticeable by the third week of January, when the citrus fruits become temptingly juicy and sweet. For as long as the supply of squeezed halves of fruits to the compost pit continues, they are quite gentlemanly (birdly?), however, with the supply getting disrupted they begin an organised invasion directly on the trees.
Within a week or so you are left with the hollowed fruits clinging to the branches. In the past 8-10 years, their love for citrus fruits has increased several-fold.
In fact, the natural habitat of Rufus consists of temperate forests of the lower and middle Himalayas, the oak forest precisely. These forests have an abundant supply of food in terms of acorn, berries and insects found in the thick layer of leaf mould. In the food chain, the main role of Rufus is that of a pollinator. The degradation of oak forest due to several reasons and the ever increasing human interference has effected a change in the habitat of quite a few birds. Rufus is one of such birds, which probably has still been trying hard to settle in the modified land areas. Being an arboreal species, it still needs something akin to jungles or at least clumps of trees with a denser canopy for nesting and breeding. Of course its food habits have undergone a change, yet, its love for forested landscape hasn’t gone altogether.
Since our house is surrounded by several broad leaf trees with denser canopy, Rufus, with its recently developed taste for citrus fruits likes to be here.
At times I wonder if our honourable leaders and policy framers would ever reflect with due deliberation on the impact of speedily changing land-use pattern in the Central Himalayas and the ensuing plethora of problems it has created both for the faunal life and marginal farmers… they probably have more grave issues to deal with – Aur bhee gum hein zamaane mein muhabbat ke sivaa. (Other than love & romance there are several issues to be dealt with.)