A little past the blue hour of dawn when the light is soft, is when one begins to hear the chorus of birdsongs. The soprano choir of dainty chirps is soon joined by a trill, a bold squawk. From a distance, there is an answer, almost on echo. Scientists tell us, this repertoire of bird songs and calls are performed to attract a mate, to claim a turf, or to warn predators. It is also believed that bird sounds have a role in waking up other forms of life and signaling the break of day. From a personal experience, I believe this, too.

Here in our corner of the city, we are fortunate to be visited by a variety of birds and enjoy their songs and calls. The staccato taps on the pine tree trunk signal the presence of the speckled brown pygmy woodpecker. The tiny green bird that playfully dangles from the fronds of the tivangdal or bishops staff fern and gives out a tiny cheep-cheep sound is the mountain white-eye. The blue nuthatch hikes up and down tree trunks to glean or pluck insects from bark crevices, sounding like a malfunctioning alarm clock.

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Mountain white eye under the shade of some ferns.

The Eurasian tree sparrows or maya as we call them, come in flocks to feed on the grass seeds and burrowing worms. When pine cones open to reveal their winged seeds, the sparrows waste no time in extracting these seeds. It is fascinating to watch these birds feed each other, sharing the food that they have foraged.

When a big flying shadow crosses the sky, it is the black crow announcing its presence with low uwak-uwak cries. Because crows are known scavengers, their increasing numbers could be attributed to the growing garbage of the city. 

The crested mynah, is a robust black bird with a tuft on its head. It is very territorial and the most talkative, whistling, croaking and screeching from the crown of the highest trees.

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A sunbird catches some rays on the araucaria.

The yellow-bellied sunbird or tamsi is a 12 cm. fast-flying small bird that flits from flower to flower, to extract nectars with its down-curved beak. It also loves the juicy fruit of the mulberry tree, and calls out with low whistles while perched on twigs.

The shrike or tala is a mean-looking bird with a black eye-mask like Zorro. Its Latin name Lanius comes from a word meaning butcher. In the vegetable garden, the shrike gives out a harsh sound, pounces and mutilates worms, grasshoppers, crickets and other insects.

Sometimes, the ocean tide sound of the wind through the pine trees is punctuated with the melodious call of the elegant tit. Its call brings forth the arrival of other smaller birds that go on a feeding frenzy, scouring the pine branches for critters. A small, yellow bird with a mottled coat of black and white, the elegant tit is endemic or native to the Philippines.

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A male pied bushchat strikes a pose on the fence.

Another mainstay in the garden are the yellow-vented bulbul. These birds are not easily frightened by the presence of humans and are quite numerous. The bottlebrush flowers are magnets to these birds that love the nectar and the insects that the plant also attract. At different times of the year, we have been visited by the blue rock thrush, the yellow wagtail, the olive-backed pipit, the fly catcher, and another still unidentified small black bird with beady eyes.

It is not only for their songs that we appreciate our garden visitors. As a keystone species, birds are indicators of a healthy environment for organisms and for us, humans. They are attracted to habitats with a rich variety of plants that support a diverse mix of living creatures such as insects and arachnids. Birds are insectivores and help control the population of insects that might otherwise turn into pests that infest and destroy agricultural crops and forests. They are great pollinators and seed carriers too, thus helping in the propagation of plant life. Because some birds are carnivores they also help decompose carcasses. And yes, birds are also sources of nourishment for other living things.

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Birds are also pollinators like this bee at the back garden.

One cannot be grateful enough for the presence of birds that makes one realize that nature persists, despite what we, humans are doing to vanquish it. When we hear the sound of the chainsaw, that’s one home less for the birds and other living things. In our homes and urban spaces, let us provide a healthy, organic habitat for our fellow creatures. Planting native and fruit-bearing trees such as pine, balete, alnus, mulberry, guava, and citrus. Turn our spaces into pollinator havens by planting flowering plants that are locally available and easy to grow such as margarets, bougainvillea, honeysuckle, bottlebrush, passionfruit and the pink flower vine. These are attractive not only to birds, but to butterflies and the fast-diminishing bees as well.

In the evening, a little before the blue hour when the light is faint, the songs and calls cease and the birds go home to who knows where. A bat or two appear in the garden. But that is another B story.