The Strange Case of the Weaver Birds

2 weeks, 3 days ago 0
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Unusual nesting behaviour of the Streaked Weaver Bird came as a precursor to drought and failed monsoon.

Written by Akarsha B M

In the month of July 2016, bird watchers of WildCAT-C, a wildlife conservation team in Chikmagalur noticed a strange nesting behavior of the Streaked Weaver Bird around Chikmagalur town. The bird is less common compared to the Baya Weaver Bird. The weaver birds nest mostly on reeds in lake beds and ponds and the nesting generally starts in the month of September. However, that year in Chikmagalur, the Streaked Weaver Birds started unprecedented nesting in the month of July itself. The birds were seen nesting not only on reeds in lakes and ponds but also very close to houses and gardens in the villages and in all possible locations where there was opportunity for nesting.

Streaked Weaver Bird © Sharath IM

Members of WildCAT-C have been active bird watchers for over 20 years and regularly watch and record birds around the Chikmagalur landscape during all seasons. So far in the group’s birding history, they had never observed such a strange nesting behaviour of Streaked Weaver Bird in the month of July.

This unusual observation in an odd season compelled the group with key questions like – Why this behavior? Are the birds signaling anything? Are they predicting the onset of any worst natural phenomenon?

The answers came a bit later.

By mid September, across the malnad region including Chikmagalur and several parts of Karnataka, the monsoon had failed totally. In and around Chikmagalur, most of the lakes and ponds which are the lifeline for aquatic life and agrarian community in the region were already dry and there wasn’t a drop of water left (even to immerse the idol of Lord Ganesha!). With no water there were neither reeds nor any fresh grass in the lake beds.

Streaked weaver bird nest © Sharath IM

© Sharath IM

If the group’s correlation of the strange nesting behavior to the failed monsoon was correct, it meant the Streaked Weaver Birds had forecast the failure of monsoon and onset of severe drought (where the Met department predicted normal monsoon!). With drought the birds also sensed that there would be no opportunity to nest and breed later during the normal breeding season as no grass and reed grow on dry lake beds. This would threaten the entire population of birds in this area.

Dried lake bed of Kuruvangi Doddakere near Chikmagalur © Sharath IM

Hence, as a survival strategy the Streaked Weaver Birds may have used the small window of opportunity for survival and started early and unprecedented high number of nesting. With this move, the birds had also increased the opportunity to breed in advance and reproduce large number of offsprings. Even if there was drought related casualties, at least some populations may survive. A strategy for survival adopted by the birds abiding by the law of nature!

While the humans were busy in their own world, the birds had gone ahead with their best survival strategy. Humans on the other hand were out on the streets fighting for water that was not available!

While studies will confirm the correlation, there is a lesson to be learnt from the Streaked Weaver Bird – look around and see what nature is trying to communicate to you. There could be a vital lesson in survival.

The author is a trustee of WildCAT-C (Wildlife Conservation Action Team – Chikmagalur)

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