Baya the Builder

It was the last day of rainy season’s sojourn in southern Rajasthan. One afternoon, while chasing the Greater Coucal to photograph, who was showing her bronze wings but not a full view, a bright yellow color on a Babool tree caught our attention. We treaded as softly as we could, with our flip-flops trying to do what they are supposed to do- flip flop and our aching feet trying their best to not let them do so. A closer look and there appeared three of these creatures. We smiled ear to ear; it was our first encounter with a Baya in her breeding season.

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Baya is a dull brown bird who can be passed for as sparrow if not seen alertly. But come the breeding season which is in rainy season, and the male adorns a bright yellow turban and waist coat, all ready to participate in the Swayamwar of not so beautiful lasses. Now the condition of the Swaymwar is that the princess will marry whosoever builds her the best safe and cosy home. Aptly, a group of males arrive to participate for the marriage and lookout for some suitable place to build the house.

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A suitable sight has to be somewhere where there is abundance of the building material that is grass, the Acacia or Sugar Palm tree, on which the nest is built hanging from the branches, and the water. In fact, most of the time the brown colored hanging nests are all that we get to see on a roadside tree. These are old nests. The live-in nests are green in color because of the grass used to build it, which later on turn brown as the grass dries .

Work in progress for Helmet stage

Work in progress for Helmet stage

When all the aspects of the ‘location’ have been looked after like nearby grocery shop, proper water supply, a good wholesale area of grass to act as cement and mortar, now comes the architectural plan. The nests are to be built on the eastern side to protect it from southwest monsoon winds, else the winds will sway the nest dangerously and eggs will shoot out of the tunnel. It has to have a nice and cosy kitchen cum bedroom where the female can rear and feed its kids. A nice lobby is added as an entrance chamber only after the female has looked the sample flat and approved of the living and bed chamber.

Neck bending work

Neck bending work

Male Baya follows all the construction rules stringently. It gets a safety helmet of yellow color and wears a building dress of the same color to let the female parties notice from faraway that a construction site is in full swing.

When the females arrive, excitement levels in males go to the level of chaos. There is an overt display from the males; super fast flurry of wings and the shrill pitching of his vocal cords. Everyone tries to woo the girl. The girl behaves like a girl. She too is looking for a boy but not overtly. She will go and inspect the house and if she likes the house and its builder, she will do the ‘Grih Pravesh’ by sitting on the nest. The male will do what the males are supposed to do; waste no time in ensuring that they are a couple now!

Safety Helmet and coat

Safety Helmet and coat

The male, once it pairs with a female, will make her the houselady in charge of the house and kids. For all its diligence, patience, perseverance and hard work, don’t assume him to be the ideal husband. Now that the female is busy looking after the kids, it dons the typical male(bird) behaviour and tries to woo another female.It immediately starts building another nest for another girl! If he has the guts, he will settle another girl in another house and go on looking for the third one, and all in the same colony.

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It is wonderful to see the Baya boy in building action. He laboriously collects the strands of rough grasses and palm fronds, strips and knot these to weave the nest. Eight days of toil bring the nest to Helmet stage and in total some eighteen days, five hundred trips and 3500 strips of grass to collect the fronds are needed to complete the nest.

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So next time when you see a Baya nest hung to decorate a home, think of the labour; labour of innumerable trips to collect the threads, labour of meticulously weaving these strands, and lastly the labour of LOVE and Lost LOVE!

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