Birds Out Back
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine
Oct 2010 Issue
Most of us in the urban jungle would think that having the sounds of chirping birds to wake us up in the morning is almost close to the idyllic fairy tale story, since the sounds of the city is an entirely different set and that there are hardly any birds hovering freely around us anymore. It was the same case for me, until the informal settlers from the PNR rail system here in Malabon were relocated, leaving the place barren and empty, and after a few years sprawling with small trees, grass, shrubs, vegetation and yes, different kinds of birds!
It happened one early morning. I was roused from sleep by different chirping sounds, and it piqued my curiosity me: What birds can I find outside? I opened my window to take a look, and I was amazed with what I saw. I did not notice that the bird population in the nearby lot has grown and diversified. I grabbed my camera and started shooting.
Michael C. Lu, president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (www.birdwatch.ph), was kind enough to help me identify these newfound feathered friends. After photographing the birds, I collated them and grouped them into four and emailed them to Mike. The following day, Mike has already identified the birds I saw.
I thought that amongst the birds I photographed, I knew at least one – the very common Maya bird. But I was wrong, and Mike corrected me. “Probably the most common urban bird after the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (maya), this is the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) – the yellow coloring is found under the start of the tail feathers. It also has a black mask around the eye,” Mike commented. “Yellow-vented Bulbuls are open country birds that have adapted to the urban landscape in Metro Manila. They are one of the most common species although they keep to the trees and do not show themselves too often,” he added.
The next bird in the set is a small bird just like the Maya but with the white color on the tip of its tail feathers. According to Mike, “this is the Pied Fantail or Maria Capra. Distinctive fan-shape tail that it flicks up and down. This feisty bird is known to mob cats and dogs when they come near it’s territory.”
One of the birds that really caught my attention is a small bird that I often saw walking around the thicket. I noticed its duck-like legs and it wasn’t very shy and not easily scared by humans nearby. It is very pleasant to look at, especially how it struts around early in the morning or late in the afternoon, perhaps searching for food. Mike appeared to have the same fondness for this particular bird. “Wow, a White-breasted Waterhen! I love this dainty bird.” According to him, the Amaurornis phoenicurus is commonly found near grassy wetlands.
The last set of photos featured the first bird I photographed. I was roused from sleep by the sound it produces which is quite different from the common sounds I hear everyday. So I looked out in the window to look for that bird, and there it was, perched in a small tree, unmoving and well hidden from casual gaze. “This is a Lesser Coucal – called Sabukot in Tagalog. Despite it’s size – as big as a chicken – it can quickly disappear into the thickets. The Lesser Coucal is a common grassland species. It inhabits tall grass only. This proves that grasslands, like forests, is a type of habitat. Certain birds like the Centropus bengalensis can only thrive in grasslands,” explained Mike.
Mike explained that these birds are commonly seen, if one cares to stop, look and appreciate these beautiful creatures. “The birds in the lot are quite common but they are not commonly seen by non-birdwatchers because in the Philippine setting, all living creatures are captured, killed for fun, for food, and for a certain need to prove that humans are the superior species. What you have is a pretty interesting mini-habitat where all these different species have found a temporary sanctuary.”
Mike, who is a sales manager for an industrial tool company, also shared his thoughts regarding issues involving birds, like hunting and loss of habitat.
Loss of habitat is an important factor in population decline and species loss. “Take for example, the reclamation area along Macapagal Avenue. The reclamation started 20, maybe 30 years ago. One lot that we used to frequent behind the Coastal Mall had around 100 species of grassland and wetland birds but with the decision to develop the area , the whole habitat was destroyed,” said Mike. Development of new habitats for birds – even accidental cases like this one – can be a factor in striking a balance between creation and destruction. With this, birds are provided with new habitat, however temporary it may be. According to Mike, “the accidental creation of habitats only proves that there is still hope once nature is left to its own devices. The process is slow and we have to start now.”
Mike also stressed other important problems. “The Philippines is an amazing place. It’s biodiversity is very rich. With bird species alone, more than 200 species are found only in the Philippines and nowhere else in the world. Sadly many of our countrymen are not aware and they do not appreciate our wildlife. We have very strict laws (i.e. Wildlife Conservation Act) but these are hardly enforced. It is common to see wildlife being sold, eaten or kept as pets. The wildlife rescue center in the Ninoy Aquino Park is filled to the brim with confiscated wildlife.”
In the past, birds are often a symbol of an emissary or messenger, a bringer of hope and the symbol of freedom. Seeing these birds out back made me realize that it was an experience that sent an important message about bird life issues facing the country, and the world. These birds are in need of refuge, and since humans are bent on clearing every form of bird habitat, all these birds can afford for themselves are temporary, accidental habitats, while some end up in cages or worse, inside bowls at dinner tables. They are stripped of their home and freedom.