The practice of feeding birds has long been prevalent in my family. As a child and then a young man, I remember seeing how my late father drew fear out of wild Red Fluted Bulbuls to the extent that they began eating out of his hand. He then went a step further and taught them to catch tossed titbit in the air. My amazement increased, when my mother told me that the gift of ‘communicating’ with animals ran from generation to generation in the male paternal side of the family and its manifestation increased with age.

I now began to understand as to why I was always drawn towards birds and beasts, especially when they were in pain or distress. As a boy of nine or ten years, I inherited an old air gun with pellets and as it is with youngsters, I toted it around on weekends and holidays. This was a time, when migrating ‘tilliars’ landed on Pipal trees in Lahore by the hundreds and a large number became pot roast at the hands of teenagers with air guns. The huge Pipal tree in our compound was no exception and come early summer, it would resound with the raucous chatter of these birds. I had seen my elder sibling bring down these birds and had on one occasion tasted their meat - which was good, but in my reckoning, the time had come that I too should be counted amongst the list of successful ‘shikaries’. My aim was good and true and I experienced a surge of elation as the victim came hurtling down, mortally injured. I picked up the little feathered creature and saw a pair of beautiful amber eyes looking up at me beseechingly. My mother found me squatting on the ground holding the lifeless bird and tears streaming down my face. Something changed there and then and I vowed never to harm God’s creatures unless it was in self-defense. As time went by, I found that I could feel an animal’s pain and distress, just like my father had done.

Now that I am leading a retired life and living in an environment close to nature, I have established a unique bond with the feathered friends, who inhabit my premises. I have installed bird houses and bird feeders at various places in the compound, but my friends prefer to eat from a huge boulder in my front lawn, the top of which is always covered with left over bread shredded into small pieces and bird seed.

In return these wonderful creations of nature pay me back in full measure.

Take the large tribe of ‘mynahs’ that have made the holes and cavities under the eaves, their home. They not only keep my garden free of insect pests, but act as excellent watchdogs. There has never been an occasion, where we have ignored their urgent and loud alarm calls. Such is their efficacy that almost all the venomous snakes killed around the house were a result of an alarm raised by these birds. They have now become so domesticated that they eat fearlessly from out table whenever we dine outdoors.

A pair of yellow fluted Himalayan Bulbuls began nesting in the thorny safety of the Lady Banksia rose climber that adorns our verandah. Contrary to popular belief, this family continues to use the original nest with necessary modifications season after breeding season inches away from where we sit, without an iota of concern. We now have several more nests in shrubs as the bulbul population grows. These birds eat from our stone table and entertain us with their peculiar warbling call. They also join the Mynahs in eliminating pests and raising an alarm whenever danger threatens.

Intrigued by sunbirds or the tiny bird often referred to as the ‘phul sungi’. I planted trees and shrubs around my home that carried the reputation of being sweet nectar producers. I now have two varieties of sunbirds that use this habitat round the year. One type displays a luminous black color that changes to blue black with reflected light, while the other has bright crimson and green plumage. Females of both these species are drab in color.

I consider myself very lucky that I and my family are blessed with these creatures of the wild, for watching and interacting with them generates a feeling of being close to the Almighty Creator of all life. I am also fortunate that I appear to have passed on the ‘gift’ of communicating with animals to my son, who has of late (along with my daughter in law), become an avid conservationist.