As a child, I first came to this beautiful picturesque hill city of Shillong in the early seventies, for the first time coming in contact with the people of my matrilineal lineage. The city was beautiful, the mountains were magnificent, lovely dense evergreen forests, majestic cascading waterfalls, unending landscapes traversing across the horizon and pristine unpolluted atmosphere... but something was missing I thought... where were the birds I wondered? I could hardly notice or see them ... my tiny eyes and inquisitive mind, could never comprehend, or even begin to understand the reason why… then?
As a child when I visited my father's home town ... a small village in The district of Kanpur, the memories that I brought back was that, of my grandmother's love and affection... her home-made eatable goodies... pure unadulterated buffalo milk... adventurous bed-time stories... long unending stretches of mustered fields stretching across the horizon... a sound reverberating now and then, somewhere from a distance ... quiet, still, solitude... and of-course, those lovely beautiful prismatic colored Magnificent Birds. And the peacock always stood out amongst them. I was enthralled by their beauty, their lovely iridescent colored plumage, gentle eyes, quick and jerky movements and as they perched on high branch, or soared high up into the sky… I would go into my own flights of fancy, imagining myself to be a bird , flying into the clouds... talking with the winds... high above the mountains… gliding across the landscapes… and into the bosom of the sky.
Kingfisher! The lovely kingfisher and their brilliant multi-colored plumage, expert diver, in matter of just four seconds, it dives into the water, and out with a fish in it's beak. Precise accurate, agile and simply impressive! Is it known that it always takes a dip and cleansed itself before and after it entered its burrow? What a sense of cleanliness! Is it also known that it always fed fish to its chicks head first, cause if given tail first the fin could get stuck in their throats and choke them... intelligence? Or instincts! A matter of debate perhaps.
And of course the mighty royal eagle, majestic in it's flight, they have adorned many a folk lore, catching our imagination, holding us spell bound, with their valorous hunting abilities and their regal gait.
The list is endless, there are about 8600 species of birds and if subspecies and geographical races are taken into account then figure would rise to nearly 30000.
The leggy Sarus crane is the largest Indian Bird and stands the height of a man and the smallest birds are the flower-peckers scarcely bigger than a normal thumb. It is difficult to pick the most beautiful bird but a large number of birds of many different families, particularly those resident in areas of humid evergreen forests, possess extraordinarily brilliant plumage. As a family, the pheasants occupy a high place for color and brilliancy of plumage and adornment. While the sun birds the tiny creatures about half the size of the house sparrow look like living gems as they glisten with their resplendent plumage scintillating in the bright sunshine, flitting from flower to flower.
Birds do have a language, it consists not of speech but of simple sounds and actions that enables it, especially the more sociable ones to maintain contact amongst themselves and convey simple reactions especially those of pleasure, threat, alarm invitations and others. The best songster is the Gray-winged blackbird of the Himalayas and the best talker among the Indian birds is certainly the hill Myna whose articulations of the human voice and speech is infinitely clear and better than that of the parakeets.
The life of a bird varies according to the species and the environmental conditions it lives in. It is known that within the group of related forms the larger the bird the longer its life, but outside related group the size does not matter a great deal. An ostrich has lived in captivity for 40 years, a raven for 69, an horned owl 68 swan 25, pigeon 22 to 35 peacock 20.
Life of any kind should be treasured. Especially the birds, so gentle and harmless. Mother earth also belongs to them and as we encroach, more of their territory and over populate our own, should we not give it a thought regarding the chaos we are creating for them? It has been reported very recently in press that birds that live near cities and towns are very much disturbed by the noise pollution. They seem to forget their own vocal sounds and imitate the sound of vehicles like trucks and the likes, which is posing as a threat on their population as it is causing difficulties amongst themselves to understand the sound of invitation for mating purposes. They evolved from the very same nature in the same manner, as we did... just because we have more manipulative brains, doesn't mean that we forget, that they also belong to this planet as we do. Poor little creatures they can't even fight back, they can only die out and get extinct, as the power of reasoning and the ability to meet new situations and overcome obstacles beyond the simplest is non-existent in them. We have lost many species of birds into time, like the mountain Quail, the pink headed duck etc. and all because we didn't care enough and may be because we didn't teach our children the value of life.
In the state of Meghalaya situated in the north-east of India where I live one hardly get to see any birds. In the morning say around 6 am or so, one can come across few of the birds, especially the common sparrow, the crow and the Mynah. But as the day progresses they disappear, hiding from the pellet-armed catapults of the young boys and men all alike, aimed to kill these innocent harmless birds. And for what? Most of the times they can not even get hold of the injured birds... but which may eventually die somewhere else. What harm do they do, except beautify our sky and our surrounding? Just imagine a sky without birds and the trees without them perched on it…?
Birds are disappearing from the Meghalaya skies. With the existing flora and fauna and conducive climate of the state we should have had myriad of species of birds but rarely do we get to see any exotic variety, either they are too less in number or most of the time they hide or shy away. In the interiors or the rural areas of the state, the story is the same, armed with catapults, the populous hunt them down for sport and meat. If slaughtering of birds goes on in this pace, then very soon our skies will be vacant of these little creatures and the future generation may be ripped off, of a wonderful legacy of beautiful resplendent and scintillating birds. Who decorate and adorn our skies and are the very soul of our forests! Remember... the chirping of the birds at the crack of dawn... they remind us that a new day is born and there is so much more to look forward to.... Hope, yes they give us hope, in their own innocent subtle way... a relief from the hustle bustle of the concrete material jungle that we have all build up around ourselves.... I sincerely and honestly feel we should all get together and do something about it before it is too late!