by Sadhu Govardhan
In order to inspire nature lovers and to remind us of the importance of
creating bird-friendly, healthy eco systems I want to share the following
compilation of bird pictures, lessons and experiences at Govardhan Gardens.
All pictures were taken at Govardhan Gardens between October and
December 2014. For a professional photographer, they may just be
“record shots”, but for me, they are cherished memories of time
spent with my fellow residents at Govardhan Gardens.
1- sonic bloom
reina mora / puerto rican spindalis
When we think of power, we don’t necessarily think of a small bird
who is primarily noticeable because of his beautiful song. Yet, sound
vibrations set everything in motion in this world.
Life can not be separated from sound and thus they reflect each other.
The less natural sound there is, the less life. It took modern man a
very long time to understand the correlation between bird songs
and their effects in the environment.
Plants don’t just feed from the roots but also through the pores of
leaves (stomata). Specific bird sound frequencies (some are too low
or too high for humans to hear) open the stomata, which allows the
leaves to absorb humidity as well as nutrients.
The result? Wherever there is bird diversity, there is thriving and
abundant plant life. By supporting a diverse bird population in our
environment we can create aesthetically pleasing and healthy eco systems.
ruisenor / northern mockingbird
They are all around us but as long as we are deaf to nature, we can not hear
them. Once we realize their presence and meet them in person, our feathery
friends return the favor by allowing us to live in a virtual sound garden.
Sometimes it’s an incredibly orchestrated symphony; other times just a lone
song. But it's always an exchange, a deep connection with nature once one
opens one’s ears to Mother Nature’s bird concerts.
Not only do the sounds fill the ears of an eco conscious person, the melodies
stay within his mind and heart. Although many sounds may evolve around
simple activities of eating, mating or defending, they always remind a
conscious person of the ecological importance of the presence of birds.
No need for radios, cd’s or loudspeakers – once we are tuned in to
bird music, we are automatically transported into a sound garden
that will help us break free of everything that is adverse to nature.
3-heightened sense perception
bienteveo / puerto rican vireo
(vireo latimeri )
Looking for rare or difficult to see birds can be a taunting experience. It can,
in many ways be compared to a spiritual exercise. You walk very quietly
through the woods – every step is carefully placed and in reverence to
the surroundings – hoping to hear or see that one elusive bird; it may not
be big, in fact, it's more likely tiny, like this evasive Vireo.
At times, the silence becomes so intense that it amplifies every single sound;
this in turn, heightens the sense of hearing until the ears are at their
highest level of alertness for any new, specific or familiar bird sound.
It feels like walking on eggshells - whenever you step on a dry leaf it
sounds like an unnecessary and annoying explosion.
If we walked through nature the way we carefully tread
the earth attempting to watch birds – hoping to get their sweet and
exciting audience - we would have never destroyed this planet.
bobito / puerto rican pewee
From the first moment, I saw this Pewee, I felt a special bond. Although
he looks particularly helpless and lost, I know that he isn’t at all. He knows
all he needs to know about his survival. But nature arranged it so he
looks like a born heart breaker for a reason.
Meeting him instilled the desire to meet him more often or even on a regular
basis. But how would he benefit from that? And why should he trust a
human? After all, humans are the most cruel, exploitative and destructive
species on the planet. Although we feel superior to everyone else, we have
the worst track record when it comes to global destruction. In fact, we are the
only species that systematically destroys the planet.
The way I want to bond with this or any other bird is by making sure
that my land remains a haven for free birds, with highly diversified
natural food, water reservoirs, free of toxins and destruction – in
short, a healthy, highly diversified eco system.
pajaro bobo menor / mangrove cuckoo
As adventurous as bird photography may be, I feel that we have to earn
our right to do so. Just prying on them for the sake of getting a good
picture out of them seems somewhat perverse to me.
Every second, countless birds are killed by our “civilization.” Enormous
amounts of natural bird habitats are being destroyed; many existing
bird species are in danger of becoming extinct.
Naturally they need help and protection. The best way to protect birds
(or any other of Mother Nature's creatures) is to embrace an ecological
lifestyle and to protect existing eco systems as well as create new ones.
Once we do that, and only then, do we deserve to enjoy their images.
jilguero /antillean euphonia (euphonia musica)
One of the main ecological roles of birds is seed dispersal. One good example
of this vital function is the Antillean Euphonia or Jilguero. He may
just look like a fun playboy or handsome rock ‘n’ roller, but his spreading
of sticky Phoradendron seeds, disperses this important hemiparasitic
plant to many trees.
Tropical Phoradendron species have a very noticable impact in wildlife:
they are an important food resource for many pollinators as well as
ideal nesting sites for many bird species.
Unlike humans, the Jilguero knows exactly how and where to spread the
seeds (usually through defacation but occasionally also by dropping
seeds from his mouth). They find ideal host trees that are also the
perfect perching places for them later on.
Unbeknownst to many, avian seed dispersal contributed largely to
the ecological diversity of original rainforests and tropical jungles.
7-natural insect control
jui / puerto rican flycatcher
Every balanced eco system has its natural arrangement of controlling
insects. This control would work perfectly well in a healty eco system. Unfortunately, we have degraded all eco systems globally, and especially
those in the tropics. Instead of recreating the original balance, we make
matters worse by addressing problems with chemical and violent warfare.
Some birds are predominantly frugivorous, some are insectivorous,
and yet others nectarivorous. The shape of their beaks is directly
related to the type of diet a bird eats in the wild.
As his name indicates, the Flycatcher’s main diet is insects. One can
observe him sitting quietly on a branch until a fly, weevil, wasp
or hemipteran insect shows up in the air or close to the ground.
His jaws are especially designed to make him an ideal hunter:
the ligaments are reflexive and cause the jaw to
snap shut once he catches a prey.
Instead of buying often toxic and always dangerous insect control
products, it is more advisable to increase the population of natural
and perfectly equipped predators.
8-ECO WASTE MANAGEMENT
aura tinosa / turkey vulture
Scavenging birds like vultures play a barely appreciated but highly
important role in nature: they are process linkers that take
quick and professional care of potentially disease-carrying
carcasses. Unfortunately, vultures are globally
declining at alarming rates.
Fortunately, they are still a common sight in Puerto Rico,
especially in dry regions of the island. The Aura Tiñosa was
introduced from Cuba for the purpose of scavenging
in the late 19th century.
The performance of their excellent eco-cleaning services
are part of nature’s program not to entertain the concept
of potentially toxic-turning waste. Historically speaking, farmers
around the world used to have designated carcass areas where
farm animals that died of a natural death were disposed of.
This habit maintained a healthy vulture population and
kept diseases down.
9-hearing the message
llorosa / puerto rican tanager
Birds have to live with us but their voice is not heard. The tropical bird
population alone is being reduced by an estimated 144 million per year
and over 500 species have been extinct over the last five hundred years.
Today, we know that birds are absolutely essential and irreplaceable
for any healthy eco system. If we look at their lives, we see two
outstanding qualities: they love to live and travel freely and their
ecological services are stellar. Their existence is a powerful a message
for us: all they want is for the world to be one giant, highly diversified
beautiful garden. If we can pursue that same goal, we can all live as
freely and happily as is possible in a world of birth,
disease, old age and death.
Just like birds are attached to global beauty and pristine environments,
mankind is determined to ignore this simple but profound message.
Considering the wisdom and excellent ecological track record of
birds, it would be wise to learn from them, foolish to ignore them,
and devastating to drive them to extinction.
zumbador verde / green mango
When we think of pollination, the first pollinator that comes to mind
are usually bees. Although this is true there are also over 900 bird
species that pollinate at least 500 genera of vascular plant species. The
vast majority of avian pollination takes place in the tropics.
Especially in the densely populated vegetation of the humid tropics,
avian pollination is essential. Hummingbirds such as the Zumbador
Verde are territorial and they visit up to thousands of flowers per day,
with each hummingbird species focusing on different types of flowers.
The pollination range of hummingbirds is particularly wide – from
humid tropical lowlands to mountainous regions as high as 17,000 feet.
In order to survive at this elevation, just like yogis in the Himalayas,
hummingbirds shut down their metabolism in order to
cope with freezing temperatures.
reinita de fuego / blackburnian warbler
Every winter, migrating species travel to or through the Caribbean.
Amazingly, some birds travel as far as 9,300 miles, most “only ” a few
thousand miles. They fly as if going through invisible tracks or
tunnels – an innate ability that they would lose if they relied
on technology. No human in modern history has been able
to do anything even closely like it.
Migratory birds don’t have to bother with customs or immigration
issues yet . The local birds of each country they visit share their
territory, and they are immediately accepted as important
members of the local community.
The Reinita de Fuego is a rare visitor from the north. It’s bill is designed
to probe crevices in the bark of trees which enables it to eat insects
that are very difficult to reach for most other birds. In this way, these
warblers provide a unique ecological service wherever they go.
Pájaro bobo mayor / Lizard cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilotti)
One thing that fascinates me particularly about terrestrial birds in the
wild are their sudden appearances and disappearances. Most bird
watchers use the early morning hours to observe birds. After all, this is the
time when many of them are looking for their breakfast.
Sometimes I go out too early – and it's still very quiet, with some stray
birds singing, or some late night birds still awake but at one point in time,
the bird traffic along with the first morning orchestra starts. It's
an enjoyable time to hear who is around and to watch
how they all go their ways.
But just as they came out of nowhere, they also disappear very suddenly.
As if someone turned off an invisible switch – they are
simply gone. No matter how hard you try, you simply can’t find them
anymore, even fairly large and colorful species like the tropical Lizard
Cuckoo above. I find it a remarkable phenomenon that borders with
the mystic power of invisibility.
calandria / puerto rican oriole
This species is interesting to observe: it's very acrobatic when it looks
for insects and occasionally overripe fruits. You can see it in
any imaginable position, trying to pry something open or
inspecting potential food sources.
Whenever I run into Calandrias, I sometimes forget to take pictures
because they are so much fun to observe. Like all birds, they have their
unique facial expressions and I don’t consider it far-fetched that
you can find a human counterpart in each bird species’ face.
Since Calandrias are often high up in trees, especially yagrumos
(Cecropia peltata), they are not too worried about any
human around them. Unfortunately, there are human monsters
who only watch birds with the intention to kill them. This sad fact
causes many wild birds to avoid humans by all means.
Just like these disturbing assassins surprise their victims with a
murderous weapon, they will meet the same fate one day not
knowing why they were targeted and killed. After all, there is no
legitimate reason for a human being to kill a bird. One way to
recognize a consciously evolved human is by his non-violent diet.
14-the art of relaxing
zumbador dorado / antillean mango
Zumbadors have the very practical and ingenious talent to find plant
materials that can be used as a swing. I watched this particular bird
for a very long time; although he was visibly enjoying his time on
the swing, he looked around occasionally to see whether
everything was safe.
Similarly, it is always wise to never feel overconfident in one’s
enjoyment and to remember to “turn around” once in a while to see
whether we are as safely situated as we appear to be.
The main reason why hummingbirds relax so often is because they
use up enormous amounts of energy when flying.
pitirre / gray kingbird (tyrannus dominicensis)
In the past, birds were considered to be one of the most reliable weather
forecasters. In today’s world, this may be considered an outdated form
of predicting weather, but it worked as reliably as any modern
weather forecast technology. Birds have their own internal barometer
that allows them to sense even the slightest
change in weather or climate.
Since everything today has be to “scientifically verified” a recent
experiment simulated storms and spring migrations by manipulating
temperature and lighting in a hypobaric climatic wind tunnel;
interestingly, it resulted in instant eating
and flight behavioral changes.
During one experiment that included attaching geo-locators to
birds, it was accidentally discovered that some birds
uncharacteristically travelled about 1,000 miles just to avoid
tornado-producing storms. Global changes in climate, have forced
countless birds, including the Pitirre, to change their habitat and
migration patterns. It is therefore more difficult than in the past
to rely on birds as weather forecasters.
16-marvels of nature
zumbadorcito / puerto rican emerald
Zumbadorcitos require at least half their own weight in food (mostly
flower nectar) on a daily basis and often drink as much as twice
their body weight.
Hummingbirds are not only the smallest bird species but the only bird
that can fly backward, stand in mid-air, go up or down at will. He is one
of the few species, however, that can’t walk. Interestingly, he has the
proportionately largest brain (4.2% of his body weight) of all birds.
The nest of the Zumbadorcitos is a true architectural and structural
marvel: it is made up of various organic matter, including tree
lichens and it expands as the newly born birds grow.
san pedrito / puerto rican tody (todus mexicanus)
It is natural for us to develop a bond or friendly relationship with someone
who lives with us on a permanent basis. We feed our pets every day and
give them whatever time we can spare. Because of this closeness, they
become part of our lives and we have a personal interest in their well-being.
Since birds surround us by the dozens or hundreds, we tend to assume that
they are all just random visitors. In some cases this is true, but many birds
and their offspring live in the same environment for their entire lives. This
means that we will often encounter the same birds in our close
environment on a regular basis. Although many wild birds have a
relatively short lifespan, some can live for several decades.
The San Pedrito above lives and moves around the same area, and I can
visit him daily. As I got to know him better, I noticed that he is the dad
of a family with two kids. San Pedritos are generally easy to spot and to
photograph – it almost seems as if they enjoy posing for a picture.
tÓrtola aliblanca / white-winged dove
Pigeons and doves are some of the most easily recognizable
birds because they are relatively common in most parts of the Americas.
Since this dove, like other related species, has been extensively
hunted, it has become extremely alert to human
presence, especially in the wild.
Over time, doves were forced to change their nesting habitats and
feeding habits dramatically. They are tenacious survivors who adapted
well to human induced, forceful changes. Interestingly, many of them
tend to take shelter of urbanized areas, partially because they must
have realized that hunting them would be a major risk in
a highly populated place.
carpintero / puerto rican woodpecker
One of the least studied and known benefits of birds are their
eco-system engineering abilities. An outstanding example for this
valuable service would be the Carpintero, an easy to spot bird.
The Carpintero drills cavities into tree trunks with soft wood, or old
and about-to-decay trees. Not only do these cavities become homes
for secondary cavity nesting species, some woodpeckers control
insect outbreaks (including fire ants) or make tree sap
available to other organisms.
Interestingly, the Carpintero gets so absorbed in his work, that
hardly anything disturbs him. One day, I needed to remove a dying
tree that was very close to where a Carpintero was working, and
although I had to use a chainsaw in order to cut that tree down, he
was completely unfazed and he was still working away
enthusiastically when my noisy chainsaw work was done.
20-the trap of familiarity
zorzal pardo / pearly-eyed thrasher
The more often we see something or someone, the more we tend to
take it for granted and the less we tend to look at it. We may see a bird
species like the Zorzal very often, and thus it may become “less valuable”
or “less interesting” to us than other species we don’t see often or may
have never seen before.
Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or special something may
be to us at first, just being in its presence for an extended period of time,
usually leads to our taking it for granted to a point of not even
looking at it anymore.
The trap or illusion behind this phenomenon is very dangerous and it
is wise to guard one’s self against it. Every living being has its own
unique features and the same desire to live and enjoy like we do.
To the degree we can not see the beauty in nature anymore,
we are signing a seal of permanent loss and destruction.
21-the speed of extinction
tÓrtola cardosantera / zenaida dove
We all hear about extinction in fauna and flora, but practically
all of us would be surprised just how fast a plant or animal
species can become extinct. One recent example is that of a
close relative of this beautiful Zenaida Dove, the
Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius).
Less than 200 years ago, the Passenger Pigeon was the most
common bird in the U.S., with a population of over 5 billion at their
peak. Their flocks could stretch 300 miles and they were
described as a “biological storm”.
Someone had the idea to hunt this bird and within just a few
decades, due to the relentless rage of addicted hunters, the
population went from 5 billion to one (!). The last survivor
named Martha died in captivity on September 1, 1914.
Mass extinctions are often blazingly fast in modern times, and
no one is exempt from that threat. Sustainability in nature is a vision
that has to be backed up by exemplary and ecological action as well
as respect and love for all life forms.
No sustainability, no future for anyone.
clerigo / loggerhead kingbird
In 1900, an Indian scientist named Jagadish Chandra Bose
began to conduct responsive sound experiments on plants.
He started out by measuring plants’ reactions to sound or music.
Bose’s findings were further developed in recent times and led to the
understanding that sounds sequenced in a particular order
harmonize with the internal structure of a plant. These sound
sequences are naturally occurring in the songs of birds,
like the Clerigo shown above.
Certain sound frequencies stimulate the formation of a plant’s
protein and even flavoring compounds. In other words, the
beneficial ecological effects of birds have by far more reach
than is commonly known or understood.
23-birds in puerto rico
comeñame / puerto rican bullfinch
There are about 10,000 bird species worldwide, roughly two thirds
live in tropical rainforests, and 17 of them are considered to be
endemic to Puerto Rico; another 350 species or so can be observed
here – some only on rare occasions, others quite frequently.
In a healthy eco-system, it is normal to come across 20 to 40 different
bird species and a bird population of about 100 birds per acre. The
more diversified our environment, the more avian species it can
support. Each species has unique features and is consequently
responsible for uniquely differing ecological services.
FALCÓN común / american kestrel (falco sparverius)
There is much unawareness about the important ecological
predator role of raptors like this Falcon Comun or the Guaraguao.
Compared to other predators, raptors are highly mobile (falcons can
sustain diving speeds of over 100 mph) and have stunning
vision, which allows them to be highly effective hunters.
We all know how devastating an out-of-control rat and mice population
can be. This is one of the reasons why decades ago, the Asian
mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) was introduced as a means of
biological pest control. In short, his introduction was a complete
failure (rats are active at night, whereas mongoose are active
during the day) and resulted in high losses of
ground nesting avian species.
The ability of raptors to detect rodent scent marks that are
only visible under ultraviolet light, makes them more
effective than any other natural means of rodent control.
25-adapting to the eco flow
reinita trepadora / black-and-white warbler
The Trepadora is an interesting migrant bird who likes to spend his
winters in the Caribbean. He tends to come to the same areas
every year. This warbler stands out for its unique eating habit: starting
at the base, it climbs up on a trunk and picks out insects along the way.
Timing is the key factor to seeing this bird. Species with elusive
nature or temporary presence remind us how important timing is:
if we go with nature’s flow, it automatically leads to an increased
awareness of what is unfolding around us.
As a society, we have become accustomed (or even addicted) to
doing whatever we want, whenever we want and however we want.
We love to brutally and carelessly dominate nature as if there were
no tomorrow. By adapting to the flow of nature, however, we can
experience beauty, freedom, peace and we will have
continuous profound realizations.
reinita PECHIDORADA/northern parula
If every person in Puerto Rico would just plant one bird-friendly fruit
tree, shrub, palm, flower, or seed-bearing grass, it would support
the lives of millions of birds – a simple gesture with enormous impact.
Even patches of seeming weed shrubs like in the picture above often
have countless flowers, seeds or tiny fruits that can nourish an
entire web of beneficial terrestrial creatures.
Since the fauna is symbiotically connected with the flora in myriad
often mystical ways, we all benefit from supporting both,
flora and fauna. This win-win situation for all is called
‘mutualism’ in ecological terms, and nothing is easier
than planting something to attract and support birds.
27-peace through diversity
paloma turca / scaly-naped pigeon
In recent history, it has become more common for birds
to exhibit atypical behavior: some birds become unusually
aggressive, are afflicted by dangerous diseases, die without
visible cause or have deformed physical features.
What all these anomalies have in common is they can be traced
back to the fact that the avian community is losing its
natural habitat and diversified food sources.
Here at Govardhan Gardens, I have never seen aggressive fighting
of birds over food. With approximately 1,000 different plant
species spread over 10 acres, all visiting and resident birds have
enough to eat. Each species has his favorite areas and food
sources within the farm. Even if several species visit the same
tree, they share food in a civilized way.
28-urban pest control
guaraguao collirojo / red-tailed hawk
Since my commentaries are primarily from the perspective of
promoting wildlife in its natural habitat, I wanted to touch at
least briefly on human-dominated and artificial city dwellings.
Since modern cities give rise to enormous amounts of garbage and
pollution, they are becoming breeding grounds for many pests,
including avian pests like Great-tailed Crackles and Rock Pigeons.
In various large cities around the world, hawks and falcons
are deployed to control various pests. Just a bit over a decade ago,
there was a big uproar when the New York City authorities wanted to
remove the nesting site of a Red-tailed Hawk from a luxury
condo in Manhattan. Eventually, the nest was reinstalled and
the hawk was able to continue his pest control services.
Reinita común / bananaquit (coereba flaveola)
One of my bird-related research projects was to find out how many
nests can be found at Govardhan Gardens, a highly diversified
10 acre farm. The total count within three months was slightly over 100.
I was particularly happy to see that about 20% of all nests were
built in recently established bamboos. Each and every bird nest
is amazing in its own way. This Reinita Comun built her nest in as
little as three days, with her only tool being her beak.
Nest materials include twigs, strips of palm leaves, bark, leaves,
lichen, spider webs (as binding material), plant fibers, ferns, grass,
seed pods, moss, fine sticks and other vegetation.
Nests can weigh from a few ounces (hummingbirds) to a few
thousand pounds (Social Weaver / Philetairus socius ). Some
designs are quite simple, while others are very complex and
spectacular. All of them are made from healthy and
fully sustainable building materials.
Whenever I have to cut a diseased or dying tree, I always check
before to make sure that there is no active nest in the tree.
zorzal patirrojo / Red legged thrush
About 25 percent of all birds have become in danger of extinction. The
main reason for this threat to their existence are massive destructions
of eco-systems caused by our insatiable, materialistic lifestyle.
It’s a sign of our times that the only bird species humans show any
interest in, are chickens. Why? Because they were easy enough for
mankind to abuse, torture and finally be killed by the billions. In the
U.S. alone, 9 billion chickens are slaughtered every year; globally,
50 billion are raised just to be killed.
This Red Legged Thrush, still a relatively common sight, is one of
many species who are seeking a safe place to take shelter. We all can
help to shelter birds by providing a safe, diversified food haven and
home for them. Last but not least, we should become aware of the
fact that we can not survive without protecting our environment
and all its inhabitants.
©Sadhu Govardhan (www.organicfarm.net), January 2015
Dedicated to a beautiful but caged bird I've once encountered.