I remember a conversation I had with a young bird watcher in Sahayadri School. It was at dinnertime, and I was telling him about my trip to the peacock hill, not far from the campus. I had been there to look for peacocks. There was not a single bird around, but I came upon a feather. It was long and beautiful. I couldn’t identify the bird from whose wings the feather would have drifted down. I showed what I found to the bird watcher. It was a treat to see the sense of wonder spread on his face.

Children love birds. For a boy or a girl, there is nothing quite like climbing a tree and peeping into a nest full of spotted eggs, on a fine summer morning. It is not uncommon these days for students to do projects on trees or birds. Unfortunately they tend to look for all the information they need from the websites. The irony is the trees and birds about which they have to study may be found just outside the classroom. Watching a banyan tree and the birds that nest in the branches, one can

learn so much about the inter-relationship that exists between flora and fauna. If students are asked to read a book on birds, however good it is, not many will relate to the content with interest. At most, they will look at the colourful pictures. But if a teacher asks the students to observe the birds on the campus, and share what they have seen, they will find the activity interesting. An outdoor activity of this kind will probably make them visit the school library to look for details in books or journals.

Inter-relationship between plants and birds

Birds and Plant Regeneration by Tara Gandhi, has an abundance of facts relating to birds, their habitats, and mainly their role in regeneration. The book is an outcome of an assignment to document different aspects of natural regeneration, in which birds have a vital role. The author has included tables of data and drawings related to the topic. The information is a good resource for anyone who is involved in the study of the inter-relationship between plants and birds. There are also colourful photographs of forests, islands, wetlands and birds such as the spot-billed duck, jungle mynah, and the koel, to name a few.

In the introduction the author refers to Dr Salim Ali’s concern over the loss of flora and fauna, and she says that the book ‘attempts to draw attention to the role that birds play in this process of natur regeneration’. She speaks of the inter-relationship between plants and birds by citing the example of the Calvaria Major, in other words, the dodo tree. We learn how the tree could reproduce only when the dodo ate the fruit and excreted the seed. The tree and the bird were found in Mauritius 300 years ago when the Portuguese invaded the island. The dodo became extinct a short while after. As a result the trees couldn’t reproduce, and now there are only thirteen of them in the island. This information gives us an idea of the significance of the symbiotic relationship between birds and plants in general.

Classification of birds

Reading the first chapter of the book, we get an idea of how birds are classified. There are frugivores, omnivores, grainivores, insectivores and nectarinivores, based on the food they eat. If we have ever wondered what babblers or mynahs that are so common, eat, then this classification provides us with the details. The author points out how birds of each category help in germination and enrichment of soil nutrients, the role they play in reproduction and distribution, and in protection from insects and pests. After defining what an ecosystem is, she goes on to write about seed dispersal and regeneration caused by birds in different ecosystems such as forest, wetlands and islands. She vividly describes the process of fertilization of water by water fowls. Her reference to painted storks, open billed storks, spoon bills, herons, pelicans, ibis, cormorants and various types of egrets building their nests on bushes in and around water bodies, and her mention of all other activities associated with rearing of nestlings, bring to our mind a picture of a bird sanctuary like Vedanthangal near Chennai.

The roles the birds play in regeneration

We often see an egret or a heron standing very close to cattle in the fields. In the book, there is an account of how people in the village Kokhaarbelur in Karnataka, protect the water fowls like painted storks and spotted pelicans. This reveals the fact that birds and animals can relate to us without fear; but this mutual understanding depends a lot on our interest in taking care of them. In dealing with island ecosystems the author cites a number of examples to explain soil fertilization for which the birds are the cause. As we read the book, our knowledge on ecology gets broadened; the author refers to many environmental truths. In the chapter assigned to mechanisms for natural regeneration by birds, Tara Gandhi with suitable examples writes about the role of different kinds of birds in promoting the regeneration process.

In the final chapter the author describes birds that belong to different categories, giving useful information about the nests they build, the food they eat and also their zoological names. Conservationists as well as bird watchers will benefit from reading this chapter.

Care for nature

Except man, all other life forms seem to be conscious of the significance of inter-dependence. Tara Gandhi’s book is mainly about this inter-relationship. It brings to our mind an excerpt from the book, All The Marvellous Earth by J. Krishnamurti. ‘If we could, and we must, establish a deep, long abiding relationship with nature—with the actual trees, the bushes, the flowers, the grass and the fast moving clouds—then we would never slaughter another human being for any reason whatsoever.’

Tara Gandhi shows us how birds contribute to the well being of Mother Earth. Although the book is full of facts, the author has used simple language to present them, and also to explain concepts related to ecology in a lucid style, which a lay person can easily understand. Since we have not been giving importance to the ecological truth that for sustenance inter-relationship is important, we have become solely responsible for the degradation of the planet. Our so-called development will no longer be meaningful, if the concern for nature is not in our agenda. In the introduction the author begins with Salim Ali’s lines: ‘But for the trees, the insects would perish; but for the birds, the trees would perish, and following this inexorable law of nature to its conclusion…but for the trees, the world would perish’. This concern is the essence of the book.