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Her dreams are interwoven with that of a Baya Weaver

Priyadarshini has discovered a triple-chambered nest that measures 136 cm in length

The Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus or Thookan-naan Kurivi), a bird known for its nest building skills, occupies a special place in S. Priyadarshini’s heart.

For the past year, the M.Sc. Zoology graduate of Nehru Memorial College, Puthanampatti, has studied over 1,000 nests of the avian ‘king of construction’ and discovered what she feels is a rare treasure in her native village of Reddiyarpatti, around 90km from Tiruchi: a triple-chambered nest that measures 136 centimetres in length.

“I have consulted experts in the subject, and they all agree that this may be one of the longest Baya Weaver nests found in recent years,” Ms. Priyadarshini told The Hindu. “Earlier research from 1987 records the longest weaver bird’s nest as 44cm, and then slightly later, at 67cm. Usually weaver birds build only one nest, but this seems to suggest that the bird returned to the old one and just continued to build another one below it,” she added. The length variation is caused by the two starting points of the nest. Weaver bird nests are commonly seen in cultivable lands and on trees growing near water bodies. The Baya Weaver prefers to build nests with the fibres of coconut and Palmyra trees.

Ms. Priyadarshini surveyed the nests on vegetation over 480 wells situated in a radius of 13km around Reddiyarpatti from August 2016 to January 2017 and found the unusual nest hanging from a ‘Nuna’ (Morinda tinctoria) tree above a well in a field six months ago. She has photographed the state of the nest when it was in use and then abandoned when the trees were cut down. She had to obtain the Forest Department’s permission to be allowed to keep the nest for study purposes.

“This particular nest is built using sugarcane leaves, because they were growing in abundance near the well,” said Ms.Priyadarshini. It takes a male Baya Weaver 18 days to construct a nest, which it completes only after its female mate is paired. “If the female doesn’t seem to like the nest, the male will stop working on it, and start a new one somewhere else,” said Ms. Priyadarshini, who used a friend’s video camera to record the nest-building behaviour of the birds.

Once an aspiring student of medicine, Ms. Priyadarshini decided to opt for Zoology in college when health problems affected her board exam results. She graduated with distinction in Zoology.

The 23-year-old first-generation learner began her research in her second year of M.Sc and decided to continue it even after graduation in May, turning down an offer for a medical coder’s job in Salem. At present, she is working as a primary school teacher in Reddiyarpatti.

With internet access available only in the nearby Erakudi village, the enterprising Ms. Priyadarshini used a cousin’s smart phone to find the geographical location of possible nesting sites in the area and kept a record of all her observations on the laptop computer that she has used since her school days.

She recently presented her research findings at an international biodiversity conference organised by A.V.C. College in Mayiladuthurai and at the 4th Tamil Birder’s Meet in Yelagiri.

But she feels it is too soon for her to formally publish her work. “Of the 7000 coconut trees that were surveyed, nests were seen only on 19 trees. We must be able to tell people why these birds and other native fauna of the fields are slowly vanishing, and this needs more in-depth research,” she said.

Ms. Priyadarshini knows that opting for doctoral studies in the subject will be tough without the approval of her father, Sathasivam, who works in a grocery store in Thuraiyur, and her mother Bhanumathi, a daily wage-earner. Both parents worry over their eldest daughter’s near-obsessive love for the weaver bird, and her safety as she ventures out alone for field studies. “They have supported me so far. I’m sure they will continue to do so,” said Ms. Priyadarshini, with a hopeful glance at her parents.


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