We came across a nest inside the hibiscus bush, 3-4 weeks back. It was beautifully built: like a cup with twigs and no synthetic materials. And nestled perfectly where the main branch was branching into multiple branches. It had the cover of leaves on top and the sides. “It is a practice nest” I announced expertly. Not like I knew it was one, I was just hoping it was! With the constant presence of a cat within a 20 ft radius, I knew what would be inevitable.
Days later I saw eggs in it, 3 of them, pinkish-blue with spots on it. (Wikipedia called that colour ‘Mauve’) It was the nest of a pair of Red-whiskered bulbuls. If you haven’t seen the bird, Google it. They’re small, the size of sparrows, maybe slightly bigger, white underside and dark upper side, with a crest and tiny red streak at the cheeks which gives them the name “Red-whiskered”. And they sing, beautifully.
Wikipedia also said that the eggs hatch after 12 days, so I figured they would hatch around last weekend. (3-4 days before this post). I kept watch on the nest. The cat was also infrequent around the house and I was happy about that. The mother/father would be seen on the nest, sleeping, or just lying on the eggs – incubating them I guess.
Around last Thursday I noticed that the eggs had hatched and there were 3 little chicks in the nest. Pretty tiny and helpless. The mother would also be seen most times, siting on top of the nest, same as before, maybe giving them warmth after food. I kept watch, the cat also seemed to have given them a wide berth.
Yesterday, I watched the chicks’ heads show up out of the nest – their mouths open, the red-whiskers forming on their cheeks already. I called Amma and we watched the birds from inside the compound, from behind the grill. The parent came along with a wasp in its beak, and perched at a safe distance from the nest. I went back and took Amma along. The bird came down to the nest and fed the chicks. It then sat on the nest as before. It was surreal. It was beautiful.
Today, I got called out by Appa to show me something. Right near the door where there’s a patch of mud to grow plants there was a bunch of feathers lying around. They looked like a lot to be from that tiny bird. I dismissed that as a pigeon. I checked out the nest. The chicks were there, the parent wasn’t. I did hear the song of the birds a while back. Later I checked again, the feathers looked smaller, like that of a smaller bird. A much smaller bird. They did belong to a Red-whiskered bulbul. The cat slept peacefully in her usual place. A meal eaten and washed down with some milk.
The nest was still devoid of parents, the chicks were still there in them. If the parents are gone, they’ll probably keep waiting for their food and then they’ll starve by today night. The very thought of them putting their heads out and mouths open all day waiting for the parent who won’t be turning up ever, while slowly losing strength and then dying, is heart-rending.
I did not want to be angry with the cat. It is hard to be. It’s her food. I wished I could blame the birds, for building the nest so low. But then, some other place, some other cat or the same cat without leaving a trace here. I wished they had colonised the bird box I left in the garden, much safer and out of reach of cats. I wished the gardener wouldn’t come up often and trim the bushes and just let them grow so that the box would get covered, so that birds could take that place. I wished I hadn’t grown attached to the birds. I wished the chicks had been eaten and not the parents – at least they could build safer nests next time onwards and raise chicks that grow up to adulthood.
A big part of me wanted a happy ending at least once for a nest. To have chicks hatch, grow up, be taught how to fly and fly away and have the nest abandoned. The same part of me, once also wanted the Cat’s kittens to grow up and move on, and visit again as adults.
How does one reconcile to such deaths? Of course, it is but natural! There is also probability- that thing that keeps the world moving. The probability of a chick surviving to adulthood, the probability of an adult surviving to “old age”. One probability for the cats, one for the bulbuls, one for the wasps they catch. Where does Compassion fit in? Is it OK to feel sad for the passing of a bird, or a cat or a wasp? Or should I view with detachment and marvel at probability? Or is it a simple thing of marveling at life as the chicks reached out to pick up the morsels from their father’s beaks shaking helplessly, and again marveling at death where a cat gets to eat them and live?
I guess how much attachment/compassion we feel is what defines us. I guess it is OK to feel sad at the passing away of life taken away early. It is also OK to not feel any bitterness towards the Cat. It is ridiculous to feel happy about it ridding the streets of rats, and feel angry when it goes after a squirrel or a bird.
Oh well, such is life.
Update 1 (July 13th 10 PM):
I came home from work at around 6:45 PM and saw that the 3 chicks were still alive. On a whim I checked the website of People For Animals who specialise in these kind of rescues and I called their helpline. The person who answered said that he’ll come along and pick it up, and that he knew the area where I live. He asked me to move the chicks to a carton box. I went into the garden, prised the nest out and moved it into a box that I had cut holes in. The chicks were alive.
7 PM turned 7:30 and then 8:00 and there was no sign of these rescuers. I called again and was told that the shift had changed and was given the number of the “night rescuer” who said he’ll come pick it up later. 8:00 turned 8:30 and when I called again the “night rescuer” was in Jayanagar rescuing a kite. After dinner at 8:45 I called again and said I’ll bring it in myself. “Same compound as BGS Hospital” they said.
I called Anand immediately (who else!) and he was as expected, game for it. Bless his soul. He drove down and I placed the box in my lap and we went along to their centre. We reached the place close to 9:30 PM and handed the box in. The night rescuer was there and said that he was about to leave for my place. The nest was pulled out and thankfully the chicks were alive. He had the chicks shifted to an incubator. “What will you feed them?” I asked. “Insects and a powder mixture which we keep for orphaned chicks” he said. “Did they fall off?” he asked. “No, my cat ate their mother, the nest was low in a bush” I said. He didn’t offer any judgement. People who know animals. I asked if I could call up later and ask about them, he said they’d be happy to update me of the status if I did.
It’s not exactly a happy ending. Happy would have been for the Mother to still be alive and tending to the chicks, but its the best I could do given the circumstances.
We drove back satisfied, and just as we neared home a large bird flew by, and perched itself on the stone fence of an empty site – A Barn Owl. It was my first ever sighting of an Owl in the “wild”.
Update 2 (July 14th 12:30 PM):
One of the parents came searching in the morning at 7 AM. I felt bad that his kids were gone.
But I got this picture sent by PFA through whatsapp. The birds are doing fine and are being fed now. The plan is for rehabilitation and reintroduction into nature once they grow up.