At Agastya Academy, our journey into the fascinating world of birds began when our Managing Director, Mrs. Vidhya Chendhil, arranged a delightful bird camp expertly guided by Chandrasekaran Sir. This experience turned into an Adventure, and his guidance helped us delve deeper, learning about the intricacies of birds.
Meet Chandrasekaran Sir
Currently residing in Chennai, he spent several years in the banking sector before retiring. Notably, he is a valuable part of the team dedicated to environmental awareness with the tagline சூழல் அறிவோம் - Suzhal Arivom, where the focus is on understanding and appreciating the environment. For the past decade, his passion for nature and birds has led him to travel extensively, observing and documenting birds wherever he goes. Now he is committed to sharing his knowledge on various bird-related subjects.
Initially, we immersed ourselves in the comprehensive 2-day workshop. The workshop drew the participation of twenty-five students from Agastya academy and also Rajendran Academy for Learning. During these sessions, Chandru sir introduced various aspects of birds, from their features, roles in the ecosystem, and intricate structures. A practical demonstration involved a pigeon, illustrating the secretion of crop milk and providing detailed explanations about feather structures.
Excursion: Sunaiparai and Vellode Bird Sanctuary
Then, we ventured to a location near our school named Sunaiparai, where we observed numerous terrestrial and water birds. Following that, back at school, we were tasked with spotting birds within our 30-acre campus. We identified around 29 different species. He also taught us how to identify birds based on their calls, and we noted it down. Later, we registered our findings on eBird, as he guided us on how to use the platform. The following morning, we visited Vellode Bird Sanctuary, expanding our knowledge by witnessing and learning about many new bird species.
By evening, we were tested with a quiz that covered everything we had learned about birds. It was a chance to showcase our newfound knowledge, and we eagerly participated.
Discoveries and Takeaways
Chandru Sir's teachings made a lasting impact on us. We discovered things we never knew before, from birds’ vibrant colours to their habitats and the complexities of the food chain and that birds get their colours from their food chain. We learnt Birds communicate with distinct sounds, such as begging calls, finding a mate, giving alerts, or figuring out where to go and each type has its unique call. Take the Red-wattled Lapwing, for instance. This bird is easily identified by its loud call, resembling 'did-de-dyuit,' earning it the nickname 'did-you-do-it' bird. The Common Hawk-Cuckoo is popularly known as the "brainfever bird" due to its distinctive and repetitive call that sounds like "brain-fe-ver.
We used websites like "Xeno. Canto" and "eBird" to learn and record more such sounds that our guide recommended; they're like treasure troves with colourful bird pictures and sweet bird sounds. We also learnt several scientific terms such as brood parasite, symbiotic behaviour, parasites, migratory, and oriental, enhancing our understanding of the avian world.
Venture into Bird Block
Inspired by our newfound interest, we collectively decided to go on a detailed Bird Block study with Vidhya mam's guidance. Each of us, sixth graders, picked a card to explore a specific bird, covering both terrestrial and water species. All 36 of us got involved in this study, delving into the unique features of our chosen birds, resulting in a thorough exploration of 36 different bird species.
We commenced our research, aided by informative videos from Suzhal Arivom. Chandrasekaran Sir continued our learning journey through an online session, guiding us on conducting research, including how to explain bird sizes in layman's terms. We all had a great interesting discussion with Chandru uncle about all our birds. Subsequently, we ventured into bird watching during the NEST period with Sathya mam on campus and she took us on another trip to Sunaiparai. This excursion proved beneficial for those of us who hadn't encountered our chosen water birds as we finally witnessed Eurasian Moorhen, Red Wattled Lapwing, and Swamphen.
In our pursuit of understanding birds, Vidhya Mam suggested drawing as a learning tool for bird structures, along with identifying birds by their sounds. We became adept at recognizing the distinctive calls of our chosen birds. Notably, our interest extended beyond our designated birds, as we explored and identified numerous other avian species.
The Fascinating world of birds
Our Individual Camp experiences and Chosen Birds
Laya Sruthi: Initially, I thought every bird I spotted was entirely unique. However, I learned that many birds belong to the same species, differing mainly in specific areas like feather colour, as exemplified by the Asian Koel. I chose a card with the coolest name, "The Indian Roller," and I loved it so much that I didn't swap it, even when I had the chance. The bird I looked into is called the Indian Roller, or 'Panangaadai' in Tamil. It's a special bird connected to Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu, and it's got this awesome bright bluish colour. The male does these rolls and twists in the air to impress a female, hence the name. The Tamil name comes from the bird hanging out around palm trees and munching on insects. Grown-up males and females look almost the same, but the babies are a bit duller and darker.
Mahathi: My experience at the bird camp was really good! We studied pigeons and learned about cool stuff like crop milk, feathers, beaks, and legs. I used to not know which bird was which, but now I can spot the difference between a migratory bird and others. At school we watched videos like "Kuyilgal Arivom" to understand what cuckoo birds do. It turns out they're little tricksters, laying their eggs in crow nests and even breaking or eating the crow's eggs to avoid suspicion. We also watched a video about Black Drongos and Baya Weavers. Baya Weavers are smart; they check if the first knot of the nest is strong before laying eggs.
Samyuktha: Before the bird camp, I didn't notice birds much, but now, when I come to school, I always look for them. I got really interested in birds, and even at home, I try to figure out which bird is making those sounds. Even my dad got interested, and now he asks questions about the behaviour of different birds when he sees them. Barn owls help farmers by keeping rodent populations in check. They can eat up to three rats per day. It's amazing how they contribute to saving crops and making life easier for farmers. I learned about them at the workshop.
Bhuvika Shree: I always thought birds just existed simply, but now I know they have important roles in the ecosystem. Some are even helpful to farmers. After learning this, I started identifying birds. Once, at the farm, I spotted 15 different birds, including doves, mynahs, owls, parakeets, sunbirds, babblers, and a kingfisher. I can now recognize more birds than before, like the pond heron and cattle egret.
Vivirithika: Let me share a fascinating insight I gained at the workshop—did you know that India is home to parakeets rather than parrots? The difference between a Parrot and a Parakeet; It's pretty basic, but many might not know! The main distinctions are in size, colour, and tail length. Parakeets mimic our words better than parrots, and they have longer tail. Also, when exploring sunbirds on eBird, I discovered breeding sunbirds are often more brightly coloured or black, while non-breeding ones are a bit greyer, resembling females.
Deepika: My bird is the Oriental Darter, known as Pambu Thara in Tamil. The name "Oriental" indicates it's from the east, and "Darter" refers to its water bird nature. In Tamil, it's called Pambu due to its long neck resembling a snake. Fascinating, right? This bird feasts on fish and got its name from its hunting style. Notably, it's not a migratory bird. Identifying gender is a challenge as both male and female look alike. During nest-building, males fetch materials, and females construct in watery areas. Its size ranges from 90 to 100 cms—three to four times larger than a crow. Comparing sizes to familiar local birds helps us visualize their dimensions and easier for even laymen to understand.
Nithila: My bird, the Shikra, known as Valooru in Tamil, boasts a fascinating tale. The name has Urdu roots, and in Hindi, it translates to "Shikari," symbolizing its prowess as a hunter. Sized between 30 to 36 cms, with smaller ones at 20 to 30 cms, Shikras are adept at catching grasshoppers, small birds, and even frogs. A distinctive feature lies in their iris colour—females sport yellow, while males showcase reddish hues. Their habitat spans farmlands, urban areas, and forests, showcasing their adaptability. My initial struggle to spot my bird turned into joy when, opposite the dining area at school, I finally glimpsed it. Another, heartwarming encounter was at a relative's house a grapevine became a nesting spot for a Red-vented bulbul. The nest was made with a twine like thing. I saw it diving up and down, giving food for its 2-3 baby birds.
Mithusnaa: My bird is the Red-vented Bulbul. We call it "Chinnan" in Tamil and also "Thoppi Kuruvi" around here. I first saw this cute bird during a NEST period at Aadhivanam, chilling on a tree. It's smaller than a crow and has a cool name because of its red vent. Oh, and it's part of the Bulbul family! On that same day, I spotted its well-made nest. I used to be clueless about birds, but after a workshop, we got this handy pamphlet. Now, whenever I'm in the van with my friend, we're on a bird-spotting mission.
Gautham Adthiya: I used to only know about sparrows, but now I've learned so much more. My bird is the White-throated Kingfisher, and after waiting for three months, I finally spotted it! Sathya mam, during lunch, called me over and showed me not just one but four White-throated Kingfishers, which made me super delighted. And you won't believe it I saw few grey-billed babblers at my grandpa's house, just one foot away.
Guhan: Learning about the variety of birds out there was eye-opening. Knowing about birds is essential, and now, thanks to this amazing experience, I've gained so much knowledge. We even had an exam, and I was so happy to take it. My friends were pretty impressed too, calling me lucky to have this chance and some extra bird wisdom that others don't.
Muhammad Yunus: My bird is called Grey Francolin, or Sambhal Kowthari in Tamil. But my favourite bird is the Falcon. They are superfast, and can fly at 390 km/hr. They are also hunting birds, and it’s in a unique fascinating style; zooming high, then diving down for a quick bite on their prey's head.
Aswatha: I learnt about the Black Drongo; it serves as a natural pest control agent, eliminating the need for pesticides by preying on pests. Their droppings contribute valuable nutrients to the soil, acting as excellent manure. Recently, I spotted a woodpecker at our farm with its brown beak munching on insects. I also collect bird feathers and now I can recognize many of them. Lately, I found some feathers with big white dots, and I'm on a mission to figure out which bird they belong to.
Through our Bird Block study and the guidance of bird uncle, we've not only discovered the diversity and wonders of the fascinating world of birds but also developed a newfound passion for these feathered creatures. He shared several new and really useful information that made us bird experts in no time. Now, we're not just bird enthusiasts; we're also mini bird experts and feel super confident explaining all about these birds to anyone keen on exploring nature.