By Bittu Sahgal
Time loses all meaning when I am in wild places, urban or rural. That chippy sound I’m hearing right now outside our ground-floor Mumbai home? It’s a Purple Sunbird Nectarinia asiatica doing what it does best… stealing nectar from flowers.
I often spend time watching orioles, sunbirds, flycatchers, Magpie Robins, parakeets, koels, bulbuls, pigeons, sparrows… and a veritable mob of peafowl from the next-door Parsi Panchayat campus that comes to raid our tiny kitchen garden. In the small wilderness that our building protects, I sleep to an orchestra of amphibians and wake to birdsong. At dawn and dusk, all manner of eat-or-be-eaten hunger games play out between spiders, ants, beetles, termites, centipedes, geckos, snakes, pipistrelles and a particularly shy and exquisite-looking pair of shrews.
“It is vital that such natural urban hideaways be protected,” said herpetologist Dr. Sathyabhama Das Biju when visiting us one monsoon evening, adding with conviction that he fully expects a species or two new to science to be discovered in some or other ignored urban wildernesses.
Returning to our sunbird… its curved beak is fashioned to perfectly fit nectar-rich flowers like the flame of the forest Butea monosperma. If perchance the beak and flower are not a perfect fit, the bird will do what any survivor would… steal! It punches a tiny hole at the base of a flower and collects its reward without returning the pollination-service nature had intended.
Of course, when hunger strikes, nothing is off the menu for any opportunistic survivor… including the flies we see in this protein-rich Diptera swarm.