The Covid-19 shutdown in Bangladesh has entered its fourth week now. More and more people are getting bored sitting at or working from home. Some are stressed.
It is really important to keep fit during this time – both physically and mentally. In such stressful times, forming new habits, such as birdwatching, can come as a relief.
Those living in Dhaka and in other metropolises may shun birdwatching as an absurd idea in a concrete jungle where nothing but tens of millions of people and some crows are the only inhabitants.
Well, there is news for you. The concrete jungle actually has some surprises in store for you if you are paying attention.
A quick survey among Facebook friends revealed some basics about Dhaka's birds and its residents' birdwatching (or not watching) practices. The most common birds that can be seen from the rooftop in Dhaka are the house sparrow, common myna, tailorbird, red-vented bulbul, house crow, Indian silverbill, oriental magpie-robin, black drongo, black kite and pigeons. Among the lesser seen birds are the green bee-eaters, owls, woodpeckers, black-hooded oriole, purple sunbird, etc. Of course, there are many more species of birds living in this city that this writer does not even know about.
Only a few friends said they can recognise most birds they see. Two or three of them jokingly said, "don't put me to shame by asking the birds' names." Two more friends admitted that they never paid attention. Point to be noted that these responses came from those who took an interest in the post about birds and commented voluntarily.
So, is it worth giving a shot at birdwatching from the rooftop or the balcony? The Business Standard talked to Obaidul Haque, an avid birder and general secretary of the Bangladesh Bird Club.
"Birdwatching even from the rooftops in Dhaka can be a very exciting experience," he said, adding, "In fact, my mother and I go out to the roof after the Fajr prayer every day. Hundreds of birds start chirping in the early morning. I've seen innumerable birds since the shutdown began. On an average, I find 18 to 20 different species of birds every morning here in a place like Gulshan."
Asked about the popular impression that Dhaka has only one bird – the house crow – Obaidul Haque said this impression was nothing new. Even 20 years ago, when he started growing an interest in birding, people used to have this conviction that Dhaka was not a place for birdwatching. But in Kazipara, where the birder lived back then, he would find 14/15 different species in a span of just 15 to 20 minutes.
He added that there are certain challenges for the wildlife to survive in the city; but the fact remains, wildlife is out there. But since wildlife watching does not have a strong footing in our culture, people just fail to notice them. If someone starts looking for birds and other wildlife from today, there is a fascinating world waiting for them. Humans share this city with squirrels, mongooses, dogs, monkeys, birds and even frogs.
"We just need to pay attention to them," said Mr Haque.
The birder, who is also an associate professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, pointed out that this is a very good time for birdwatching even for people living in Dhaka or other urban areas.
"With the decreased pollution levels and human activity, the birds are now very vibrant. They've been flying around more freely and comfortably and engaging in nesting activities. During this shutdown, people can go to the roof, exercise, pay attention to the surroundings, and take notes of the birds they see. There are many online resources which can help identify the birds. There are field guides as well, but one does not really need a field guide to identify Dhaka's birds."
Like many megacities, Dhaka has grown to be a concrete jungle. What can we do to attract and support birds? One thing we should definitely not do, according to Obaidul Haque, is use bird feeders. Used for a prolonged period, these feeders make birds dependent on them and may impact birds' natural skill of foraging.
That being said, he is not against providing fresh, clean water for birds to drink from and bathe in, because natural water sources have become a rarity in the city. Different birds feed on different things – insects, seeds and nectar. We can have more native flower plants on the roof and promote a little bush and grasses to attract birds.
Birds know very well which native flowers bloom in which season, and can benefit from the flower plants. Other bigger plants will also attract birds, Mr Haque said. The idea is to provide, and preserve, where applicable, a habitat for them.
While watching birds itself can be pleasing enough, knowing them a bit is more exciting. Another birder friend Reza Noor Muin leaves some tips for would-be birdwatchers.
The Wikipedia article titled "List of birds of Bangladesh" can be a good starter for beginners. "eBird" is also a good place to look up. The eBird app is available for both Android and iOS platforms. As you grow more interest in birding, you can delve into the Oriental Bird Club Image Database for bird photos and Xeno-canto for bird sounds from all over the world.
After the Covid-19 outbreak, scientists and environmentalists have renewed their call to preserve biodiversity and take care of the natural world. Apparently, we can start doing our part right from our rooftops!