Over the weekend, I conducted a three-day workshop for forest guards and members of the local community with an interest in birds and bird watching. The primary purpose of the workshop was to create an interest in nature and hopefully incentivise members of the local community to conserve and protect their flora and fauna including birds. Teaching bird watching, I hoped, would open doors and give them an insight into the wonderful world of nature.
As is the case with most first time birders, watching and identifying birds is a challenge. Apart from the fact that most people have not used binoculars to observe birds, the birds themselves are of no assistance, as most of them are constantly on the move and many of them camouflage themselves very well. During the workshop, I pondered over how well creatures in nature use camouflage to protect themselves. I decided to give my young readers a peek into how cleverly creatures use camouflage for protection.
During the workshop, we came across numerous instances of birds that were so well hidden that many participants were left querying “Kahan hai? Pakshi nahi dikh raha!” (Where is it? I cannot see the bird!). This despite the fact that the bird was no more than twenty feet from us! A small drab brown bird called the bar-tailed treecreeper was sitting on the trunk of an oak tree. The treecreeper is called so because of its habit of creeping up the trunks of trees, in search of insects and spiders in the crevices on the tree. The brown markings of the treecreeper camouflage it perfectly on the tree trunk or on vertical walls.
A common bird that you can see in paddy fields and in waterbodies is the pond heron. This bird is a master of camouflage. In addition to being brown, which helps it hide in agricultural fields, the bird stays motionless for a long period. The frozen heron fools its prey (and us!) into believing that it is not a bird at all. And when its prey — frogs, fish or insects come close, with a rapid movement, the bird catches and swallows them! And when the bird takes wing, a flash of white startles its potential predators, as its wings and body are white, which is not so prominent when it is sitting.
Drab-coloured birds aren’t the only ones that use camouflage for protection. An intriguing visitor to our home garden in the winter is the European goldfinch. This bird loves to feed on marigold flowers (also called gainda). The bird’s colours of brown, red and gold hide it really well in the bush that has golden and yellow flowers. On many occasions, despite hearing the bird’s calls, I have had to search very carefully to find it!
Many birds are masters of camouflage — nightjars, owls, partridges, sandgrouses. Keep your eyes peeled — you just may spot a cleverly camouflaged bird or two!
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