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Birds of a feather

BIRDS AND PLANT REGENERATION·Tara Gandhi· Orient Longman Ltd· New Delhi·2000·pp81

By Asad R Rahmani
Published: Tuesday 15 May 2001

A Bulbul feeding on insects<sc (Credit: ASAD RAHMANI)This book was initiated in 1989 and went into incubation for 11 long years. Over all, the book is good but has its share of imperfections. It successfully highlights the important relationship of birds and plants, but has many flaws. These, I hope will be removed in the next edition. I know Tara Gandhi very well so I can take the liberty, as a friend and well-wisher, to be critical. But first I would like to highlight the good points: Tara is well read, meticulous and a very fine naturalist, which is adequately reflected in her work. She has traveled far and wide, in India and abroad. Tara has been fortunate enough, to be in close proximity with nature and her observations of birds ratifies this. I had the opportunity of visiting Andaman islands with her and I learnt from her vast knowledge of forests and birds of these famous tropical islands. Her dissertation, under Salim Ali, was on 'A Comparative Study of Birds in Monoculture Plantations and Natural Scrub near Madras'. Birds have been her constant fascination. She has therefore, the right credentials to write a book on her favorite subject.
The book is divided into five chapters, with a four-page bibliography in the end. While the first chapter (The bird-plant inter-relationship) is brief and cursory, the second and third chapters on 'Bird-aided Dispersal' and 'Mechanisms of Natural regeneration of birds' are well written and more detailed. I hope people will read this book and appreciate the importance of birds in the ecosystem. Some birds do damage crops but over-all their role is beneficial as they eat a large number of insects and pests which, cause tremendous damage to crops.
Now coming to the difficult part of the review. The book has its share of loopholes. The diagrams are terrible, especially the Woodpecker (pg9) and Sunbirds (pg10). Table 1 is very confusing for the reader who might be unfamiliar with the diverse species of birds. It is copied from Meher Homji's paper but the year of publication has not been specified. While some habitat and bird pictures are fine, the illustrations are far from satisfactory. Birds belonging to this category include the Imperial Pigeon, Haircrested Drongo, Jungle Mynah and Rosy Pastor. The picture of the Purple Rumped Sunbird feeding a chick is wrongly printed -- it should be vertical showing the hanging nest, not horizontal. Other glitches are minor such as mesurements given in feet (not metres.). The name of the Keoladeo National Park Bird Sanctuary. If one overlooks these minor mistakes , the book provides you a good introduction to the important but neglected subject of the bird's role in the regeneration of forests.

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