Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Swarm and the Banyan Trees

The two Big Banyan trees you see in the picture above stands next to the apartment where I stay now (Daadys Layout, Hebbagodi, Bangalore). In the last 3 or 4 weeks the tree sprouted new leaves and the colors changed dramatically. In fact all the trees in Bangalore underwent the usual dramatic color changes during the last couple of months. These two big trees create a special ambience to our living place. The reason is nothing but there are living beings on it 24x7 making a lot of noise. In the night time few bats and some small birds (I don’t know what bird) of the size of around two cricket balls makes the chirping music, while during day time the chirping musicians of numerous kinds. Unfortunately I am a very bad ornithologist who can identify very few birds like crows, sparrows and eagles; perhaps a few other well-known birds like a wood-pecker , a king fisher, a horn-bill and many other birds of which I do not know the English names but the Malayalam names.

This location started to be become noisier in the last one year on account of recordings played over loud speakers from various religious institutions around. Noise is uncomfortable and I love to remain in silence once I am back from office. For the same reason, I used to switch of TV even if interesting programs are being broadcasted. But the chirping of birds always turned to be soothing.

When I said that the chirping sound of the birds are soothing; you would have imagined of nice music like chirping that we always imagine or see in a calm village movie scene. But it was not like that for the last few months when the tree bared full of fruits.

A small type of bird which was a little bigger than the usual sparrow used to be the main musician. They used to come in small and large groups to feed on these fruits. The fruits were red in color and sized slightly bigger than ripe coffee beans and the two trees were full of these and turned almost red on account of this. The huge number of birds that alighted on the tree made me to think that the fruits will be over by one or two days. But the nature showcased a beautiful story. The birds never took more than they wanted. They just had the ripest red fruits which were about to fall. Different flocks came over day by day again and again whenever they were hungry. In fact all the Banyan Trees of the same species bared fruit around the same time in and outside Bangalore. When I inspected the ground below the tree I never saw an over ripened fruit laying there. Over the last three months (January to March) the tree gave food to a lot of living beings including sparrows, and the above bigger birds, crows, eagles, squirrels and lot many other birds which visited the tree.

These birds which came in flocks demonstrated a spectacular show of coordination which I am not able to find how till now. They use to turn up in small groups (might be around 50 or 100) and first alighted in the nearby trees. After making sure that there are no predators around them took one or two round flights around the tree in group in a harmony before alighting onto the Banyan tree for the feast. While they were feeding or better say harvesting, they start to make the chirping music. They never user to chirp while they made sure of safe surroundings. Slowly more bird flocks of the same kind used to turn up onto the tree. Gradually the music level will increase like a monsoon rain becoming strong. Meanwhile small groups of birds use to fly way and take one or two round flights to alight again on the same spot. The distance from one end of the tree to the other end of the adjacent tree that you see above is somewhere around 75 meters. When the chirping level reaches a certain level, all the birds (more than 1000 in numbers) fly away together from the tree, and the sudden sound of the flapping wings along with the sudden silence from the chirping being stopped simulated the sound of strong winds before summer rain. After this spectacular group show there will be silence for at least another half an hour before small flocks turns up again. I couldn’t understand how they coordinate the sudden flight when all the 1000 or 2000 birds are making the same chirping sound. One thing I noticed is that the chirping sound is at the maximum level just before the sudden group take off. It created a similar feeling of an airplane warming and speeding up its engine before a takeoff. Coordination by seeing the other birds flying away seems to be impossible since the span of the tree with a radius of 50 or more meter (the two trees together) is beyond that. The sound itself will have a small delay to reach from one end to another end if I guess that a group leader coordinates the activity by making a strange sound. It is something like a flock of birds flying away when they hear the BANG sound of a hunter’s gun. Initially I thought that they took off because a predator bird like an eagle or crows or squirrels were spotted. But this assumption turned out to be false, since many a times I could see them feeding on the tree together. Then I watched for humans or dogs nearby and found that that too is not the cause. The only convincing argument that I made myself is that the birds decide to fly together based on a maximum chirping sound level.

By chance if any ornithologist who has done enough research on this subject goes through my page, please share your findings. I came across great stories of scientists who learned about the flight and life cycle path of dragon flies across two generations from Hyderabad – Bangalore – Western Coast - Maldives and back to origin. So I believe that this spectacular coordination between the birds would also have been researched and revealed. If not I am happy to announce this as a subject for research for new aspirants, and I am sure that the show will start all over again from next January and the subsequent months till the last fruit of these Banyan trees are consumed.

One word to those who cut down trees for any reason – When you destroy these you are destroying some unknown beautiful things for ever which might be even suit commercialized interests of you in the future.


  1. Is this the Big Banyan Tree that everybody keeps talking about?

    1. Noooo.... This is just two Banyan trees, I have been to the Big Banyan tree (Kengeri) long back ago when I was a bachelor in Bangalore, I didn't own a camera then. The Big Banyan tree is slightly more than 100 meter in diameter. The total circular area covered by the tree is somewhere around 2.75 acres (my measurement using Google maps). But it was described as 5 or 6 acres on a board kept there. It is called "Dodda Alada mara" in Kannada and you can read more about it in the link below which says it spans 3 acres.
      The main central part of the tree perished. I think all these kinds of trees can grow enormously large but other animals like cattle and humans won’t allow it. The hanging roots need to touch down on the earth to grow as another big tree trunk so that the tree can expand. But in most of the cases the hanging roots will never touch down the earth when cattle eat it or humans destroy it.

    2. I've always wanted to see the Big Banyan Tree. Maybe the next time I come down.

      And you should try to go there again, now that you have a good cam. I would love to see some pics. :)