I often sit back on my sundeck/patio attached to the front of my house to enjoy fresh air and an open atmosphere. Staying cooped up all day in the house makes me feel cramped. My hardwood deck with a canvas awning allows me a view of my entire tiny garden.
One March day, I caught sight of a pair of red-vented bulbul (Pycnontus cafer,Jureli in Nepali) darting around my pencil-pine tree.
Red-vented bulbuls are a common sight around Kathmandu. You can identify this bird by its short black crest, dark brown body with a scaly pattern, white rump, red-colored vent, and black tail tipped in white.
Confident, curious, and gregarious, it’s amusing to behold the feather on their crest bristle when they are flustered, alarmed, or angry.
As I watched, I figured the bulbuls were building a nest on my pencil-pine tree, which is almost as high as my two-and-a-half storied house. Pencil pines are a joy to behold. Also called Italian pencil pine (Cupressus sempervirens ‘glauca’), it’s an exotic, slim, fastigiate, evergreen, hardy conifer with dark green foliage.
It seemed my pencil-pine had outgrown itself—almost 30 ft in four years—near-vertical and tapering to the top—quite an eyeful for my guests. It always reminds me of the columnar structure of the Red Machhindranath chariot.
Days passed, and the brace of bulbuls became an everyday sight. Highly vocal, their chirps, whistles, trills, and excited chattering became a routine, day in and day out. For several days, the twosome eyed me with suspicion but soon realized I was no threat to them. Guess what! They ignored me after a couple of weeks and continued with their business.
The bulbul pair approached in a hawklike glide, perched on a TV cable next to the tree, looked around, and then ducked into the bushy branch some 12 ft from the ground, carrying tiny dry grass and weed straws in their beaks. As weeks followed, the frenzied activity of the birds escalated.
One day, I observed their beaks held what looked like insects and worms instead of sprigs. Then it crossed my mind that the eggs must have hatched into chicks. A red-vented bulbul lays two to three eggs at a time. So, the nest held two or three baby birds—I reckoned. Wow!
The birds never appeared to relax as their visitations to the nest became endless. Their calls, too, grew louder. I watched in awe at how wary they were of predators. As the mother entered the nest, her male partner rested upon the cable and kept watch.
One day, a loud shriek shook me while sitting in the living room before my laptop. Startled, I dashed out, fearing something was amiss about the bulbuls. Indeed, it was.
An absolute pandemonium had broken out. An ominous-looking house crow seemed bent on snatching the bulbul nestlings from the nest. With piercing squeals and flailing wings, the frantic parents were snapping at the crow to ward it off. I froze. It took several seconds for me to get a hang of the situation.
I sprang up, grabbed a close-by mop stick, and rushed to the tree, brandishing it, yelling at the top of my voice. That did the trick. The crow panicked and took off. The enraged bulbul-duo gave it a good chase. They flew back soon and attended to their nestlings fawningly. Phew! That was a close call.
Life for the bulbuls seemed to bounce back again. I made it a point to watch them more often than not. But the villainous crow did not appear in the ensuing days, and everything fell to normal.
One morning as I hung around my garden, I did not see the usual flurry of the bulbuls. Maybe they were gone to forage for food for their nestlings, who I assumed had grown into fledglings.
To my great surprise, I did not see them the entire day—the following day or the next. Then I reckoned the babies must have fully grown and flown off.
I kept an eye on my pine tree for almost a week but there was no sign of the bulbuls. Both the parents and the fledglings were gone. I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic—how truly I missed them. But I felt flattered that I had helped rescue the bulbul nestlings from mortal danger.