by Sadhu Govardhan
to inspire nature lovers and to remind us of the importance of
creating bird-friendly, healthy eco systems I want to share the
compilation of bird pictures, lessons and experiences
at Govardhan Gardens.
pictures were taken at Govardhan Gardens between October and
December 2014. For a professional photographer, they may just be
“record shots”, but for me, they are cherished memories
spent with my fellow residents at Govardhan
reina mora / puerto rican spindalis
think of power, we don’t necessarily think of a small bird
who is primarily noticeable
because of his beautiful song. Yet, sound
everything in motion in this world.
not be separated from sound and thus they reflect each other.
The less natural sound there is, the less life. It took modern man a
very long time to understand the correlation between bird songs
and their effects in the environment.
don’t just feed from the roots but also through the pores of
leaves (stomata). Specific bird sound frequencies (some are too
or too high for humans to hear) open the stomata, which
leaves to absorb humidity as well as nutrients.
result? Wherever there is bird diversity, there is thriving and
abundant plant life. By supporting a diverse bird population in
environment we can create aesthetically pleasing and healthy
ruisenor / northern mockingbird
all around us but as long as we are deaf to nature, we can not hear
them. Once we realize their presence and meet them in person,
friends return the favor by allowing us to live in
a virtual sound garden.
it’s an incredibly orchestrated symphony; other times just a lone
song. But it's always an exchange, a deep connection with nature
opens one’s ears to Mother Nature’s bird concerts.
do the sounds fill the ears of an eco conscious person, the melodies
stay within his mind and heart. Although many sounds may evolve
simple activities of eating, mating or defending, they
always remind a
conscious person of the ecological importance of
the presence of birds.
for radios, cd’s or loudspeakers – once we are tuned in to
music, we are automatically transported into a sound garden
that will help us break free of everything that is adverse to
bienteveo / puerto rican vireo
Looking for rare or
difficult to see birds can be a taunting experience. It can,
in many ways be compared to a spiritual exercise. You walk very quietly
through the woods – every step is carefully placed and in reverence to
the surroundings – hoping to hear or
see that one elusive bird; it may
be big, in fact, it's more likely tiny, like this evasive Vireo.
At times, the
silence becomes so intense that it amplifies every single sound;
this in turn, heightens the sense of hearing until the ears are at their
highest level of alertness for any new, specific or familiar bird sound.
feels like walking on eggshells - whenever you step on a dry leaf it
sounds like an unnecessary and annoying
If we walked through nature the way we carefully tread
attempting to watch birds – hoping to get their sweet and
audience - we would have never destroyed this
bobito / puerto rican
From the first
moment, I saw this Pewee, I felt a special bond. Although
particularly helpless and lost, I know that he isn’t at all. He knows
all he needs
to know about his survival. But nature arranged it so he
looks like a born
heart breaker for a reason.
instilled the desire to meet him more often or even on a regular
basis. But how
would he benefit from that? And why should he trust a
human? After all,
humans are the most cruel, exploitative and destructive
species on the planet. Although we feel
superior to everyone else, we have
the worst track record when it comes to global destruction. In fact, we are
only species that
systematically destroys the planet.
The way I want to
bond with this or any other bird is by making sure
that my land
remains a haven for free birds, with highly diversified
water reservoirs, free of toxins and destruction – in
short, a healthy,
highly diversified eco system.
pajaro bobo menor / mangrove cuckoo
adventurous as bird photography may be, I feel that we have to earn
to do so. Just prying on them for the sake of getting a good
out of them seems somewhat perverse to me.
Every second, countless birds are killed by our
of natural bird habitats are being destroyed; many existing
species are in danger of becoming extinct.
they need help and protection. The best way to protect birds
other of Mother Nature's creatures) is to embrace an ecological
and to protect existing eco systems as well as create new ones.
do that, and only then, do we deserve to enjoy their images.
/antillean euphonia (euphonia
of the main ecological roles of birds is seed dispersal. One good
of this vital function is the Antillean Euphonia or Jilguero. He
look like a fun playboy or handsome rock ‘n’ roller, but his
seeds, disperses this important hemiparasitic
to many trees.
Tropical Phoradendron species have a
very noticable impact in wildlife:
are an important food resource for many pollinators as well as
nesting sites for many bird species.
humans, the Jilguero knows exactly how and where to spread the
(usually through defacation but occasionally also by dropping
seeds from his mouth). They find ideal host trees that are also the
places for them later on.
to many, avian seed dispersal contributed largely to
ecological diversity of original rainforests and tropical
jui / puerto rican flycatcher
balanced eco system has its natural arrangement of controlling
This control would work perfectly well in a healty eco system.
Unfortunately, we have degraded all eco systems globally, and especially
in the tropics. Instead of recreating the original balance, we make
worse by addressing problems with chemical and violent warfare.
birds are predominantly frugivorous, some are insectivorous,
yet others nectarivorous. The shape of their beaks is directly
to the type of diet a bird eats in the wild.
As his name indicates, the Flycatcher’s main diet is insects. One can
him sitting quietly on a branch until a fly, weevil, wasp
hemipteran insect shows up in the air or close to the ground.
jaws are especially designed to make him an ideal hunter:
ligaments are reflexive and cause the jaw to
once he catches a prey.
of buying often toxic and always dangerous insect control
it is more advisable to increase the population of natural
and perfectly equipped predators.
tinosa / turkey vulture
Scavenging birds like vultures play a barely
appreciated but highly
role in nature: they are process linkers that take
and professional care of potentially disease-carrying
Unfortunately, vultures are globally
at alarming rates.
they are still a common sight in Puerto Rico,
in dry regions of the island. The Aura Tiñosa was
from Cuba for the purpose of scavenging
late 19th century.
performance of their excellent eco-cleaning services
are part of nature’s program not to entertain the concept
potentially toxic-turning waste. Historically speaking, farmers
the world used to have designated carcass areas where
animals that died of a natural death were disposed of.
habit maintained a healthy vulture population and
llorosa / puerto rican tanager
Birds have to
live with us but their voice is not heard. The tropical bird
is being reduced by an estimated 144 million per year
and over 500
species have been extinct over the last five hundred years.
Today, we know
that birds are absolutely essential and irreplaceable
for any healthy
eco system. If we look at their lives, we see two
qualities: they love to live and
travel freely and their
services are stellar. Their existence is a powerful a message
for us: all they
want is for the world to be one giant, highly diversified
If we can pursue that same goal, we can all live as
happily as is possible in a world of birth,
disease, old age
Just like birds
are attached to global beauty and pristine environments,
determined to ignore this simple but profound message.
wisdom and excellent ecological track record of
birds, it would
be wise to learn from them, foolish to ignore them,
to drive them to extinction.
zumbador verde / green
When we think of
pollination, the first pollinator that comes to mind
are usually bees.
Although this is true there are also over 900 bird
pollinate at least 500 genera of vascular plant species. The
vast majority of
avian pollination takes place in the tropics.
Especially in the
densely populated vegetation of the humid tropics,
is essential. Hummingbirds such as the Zumbador
Verde are territorial
and they visit up to thousands of flowers per day,
hummingbird species focusing on different types of flowers.
range of hummingbirds is particularly wide – from
lowlands to mountainous regions as high as 17,000 feet.
In order to
survive at this elevation, just like yogis in the Himalayas,
down their metabolism in order to
reinita de fuego / blackburnian warbler
migrating species travel to or through the Caribbean.
Amazingly, some birds travel as far as 9,300
miles, most “only
” a few
They fly as if going through invisible tracks or
an innate ability that they would lose if they relied
No human in modern history has been able
to do anything even closely
don’t have to bother with customs or immigration
issues yet . The
local birds of each country they visit share their
territory, and they are immediately accepted as
members of the local community.
The Reinita de Fuego is a rare visitor from the
north. It’s bill is designed
to probe crevices in the bark of trees which
enables it to eat insects
that are very difficult to reach for most other
birds. In this way, these
warblers provide a unique ecological service
wherever they go.
Pájaro bobo mayor /
Lizard cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilotti)
One thing that fascinates me particularly about
terrestrial birds in the
wild are their sudden appearances and
disappearances. Most bird
watchers use the early morning hours to observe
birds. After all, this is the
time when many of them are looking for their
Sometimes I go out too early – and it's still
very quiet, with some stray
birds singing, or some late night birds still
awake but at one point in time,
the bird traffic along with the first morning orchestra
an enjoyable time to hear who is around and to watch
how they all
go their ways.
But just as they came out of nowhere, they also
disappear very suddenly.
As if someone turned off an
invisible switch – they are
simply gone. No matter how hard you try, you
simply can’t find them
anymore, even fairly large and colorful species
like the tropical Lizard
Cuckoo above. I find it a remarkable phenomenon
that borders with
the mystic power of invisibility.
calandria / puerto rican oriole
This species is interesting to observe: it's
very acrobatic when it looks
for insects and occasionally overripe fruits.
You can see it in
any imaginable position, trying to pry
something open or
inspecting potential food sources.
Whenever I run into Calandrias, I sometimes
forget to take pictures
because they are so much fun to observe. Like
all birds, they have their
unique facial expressions and I don’t consider
it far-fetched that
you can find a human counterpart in each bird
Since Calandrias are often high up in trees,
(Cecropia peltata), they are not too worried
human around them. Unfortunately, there
are human monsters
who only watch birds with the intention to kill
them. This sad fact
causes many wild birds to avoid humans by all
Just like these disturbing assassins surprise
their victims with a
murderous weapon, they will meet the same
fate one day not
knowing why they were targeted and killed.
After all, there is no
legitimate reason for a human being to kill a
bird. One way to
recognize a consciously evolved human is by his
14-the art of relaxing
zumbador dorado / antillean mango
Zumbadors have the very practical and ingenious
talent to find plant
materials that can be used as a swing. I
watched this particular bird
for a very long time; although he was visibly
enjoying his time on
the swing, he looked around occasionally to see
everything was safe.
Similarly, it is always wise to never feel
overconfident in one’s
enjoyment and to remember to “turn around” once
in a while to see
whether we are as safely situated as we appear
The main reason why hummingbirds relax so often
is because they
use up enormous amounts of
energy when flying.
pitirre / gray kingbird (tyrannus
In the past, birds
were considered to be one of the most reliable weather
forecasters. In today’s world, this may be
considered an outdated form
of predicting weather, but it worked as
reliably as any modern
weather forecast technology. Birds have their
own internal barometer
that allows them to sense even the slightest
change in weather or climate.
Since everything today has be
to “scientifically verified” a recent
experiment simulated storms and spring
migrations by manipulating
temperature and lighting in a hypobaric
climatic wind tunnel;
interestingly, it resulted in instant eating
and flight behavioral changes.
During one experiment that included attaching
birds, it was accidentally discovered that some
uncharacteristically travelled about 1,000
miles just to avoid
tornado-producing storms. Global changes in
climate, have forced
countless birds, including the Pitirre, to
change their habitat and
migration patterns. It is therefore more
difficult than in the past
to rely on birds as weather forecasters.
16-marvels of nature
zumbadorcito / puerto rican emerald
Zumbadorcitos require at least half their own
weight in food (mostly
flower nectar) on a daily basis and often drink
as much as twice
their body weight.
Hummingbirds are not only the smallest bird
species but the only bird
that can fly backward, stand in mid-air, go up
or down at will. He is one
of the few species, however, that can’t walk.
Interestingly, he has the
proportionately largest brain (4.2% of his body
weight) of all birds.
The nest of the Zumbadorcitos is a true
architectural and structural
marvel: it is
made up of various organic matter, including tree
lichens and it expands as the newly born birds
san pedrito / puerto rican tody (todus
It is natural for us to develop a bond or
friendly relationship with someone
who lives with us on a permanent basis. We feed
our pets every day and
give them whatever time we can spare. Because
of this closeness, they
become part of our lives and we have a personal
interest in their well-being.
Since birds surround us by the dozens or
hundreds, we tend to assume that
they are all just random visitors. In some
cases this is true, but many birds
and their offspring live in the same
environment for their entire lives. This
means that we will often encounter the same
birds in our close
environment on a regular basis. Although many
wild birds have a
relatively short lifespan, some can live for
The San Pedrito above lives and moves around
the same area, and I can
visit him daily. As I got to know him better, I
noticed that he is the dad
of a family with two kids. San Pedritos are
generally easy to spot and to
photograph – it almost seems as if they enjoy
posing for a picture.
tÓrtola aliblanca / white-winged dove
Pigeons and doves are some of the most easily
birds because they are relatively common in
most parts of the Americas.
Since this dove, like other related species,
has been extensively
hunted, it has become extremely alert to human
presence, especially in the wild.
Over time, doves were forced to change their
nesting habitats and
feeding habits dramatically. They are tenacious
survivors who adapted
well to human induced, forceful changes.
Interestingly, many of them
tend to take shelter of urbanized areas,
partially because they must
have realized that hunting them would be a
major risk in
a highly populated place.
carpintero / puerto rican woodpecker
One of the least studied and known benefits of
birds are their
eco-system engineering abilities. An
outstanding example for this
valuable service would be the Carpintero, an
easy to spot bird.
The Carpintero drills cavities into tree trunks
with soft wood, or old
and about-to-decay trees. Not only do these
cavities become homes
for secondary cavity nesting species, some
insect outbreaks (including fire ants) or make
available to other organisms.
Interestingly, the Carpintero gets so absorbed
in his work, that
hardly anything disturbs him. One day, I needed
to remove a dying
tree that was very close to where a Carpintero
was working, and
although I had to use a chainsaw in order to
cut that tree down, he
was completely unfazed and he was still working
enthusiastically when my noisy chainsaw work
20-the trap of familiarity
zorzal pardo / pearly-eyed
The more often we see something or someone, the
more we tend to
take it for granted and the less we tend to
look at it. We may see a bird
species like the Zorzal very often, and thus it
may become “less valuable”
or “less interesting” to us than other species
we don’t see often or may
have never seen before.
Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how beautiful
or special something may
be to us at first, just being in its presence
for an extended period of time,
usually leads to our taking it for granted to a
point of not even
looking at it anymore.
The trap or illusion behind this phenomenon is
very dangerous and it
is wise to guard one’s self against it. Every
living being has its own
unique features and the same desire to live and
enjoy like we do.
To the degree we can not see the beauty in
we are signing a seal of permanent loss and
21-the speed of extinction
tÓrtola cardosantera / zenaida dove
We all hear about extinction in fauna and
flora, but practically
all of us would be surprised just how
fast a plant or animal
species can become extinct. One recent example
is that of a
close relative of this beautiful Zenaida Dove,
Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes
Less than 200 years ago, the Passenger Pigeon
was the most
common bird in the U.S., with a population of
over 5 billion at their
peak. Their flocks could stretch 300 miles and
described as a “biological storm”.
Someone had the idea to hunt this bird and
within just a few
decades, due to the relentless rage of addicted
population went from 5 billion to one (!). The
named Martha died in captivity on September 1,
Mass extinctions are often blazingly fast in
modern times, and
no one is exempt from that threat.
Sustainability in nature is a vision
that has to be backed up by exemplary and
ecological action as well
as respect and love for all life forms.
No sustainability, no future for anyone.
clerigo / loggerhead kingbird
In 1900, an Indian scientist named Jagadish
began to conduct responsive sound experiments
He started out by measuring plants’ reactions
to sound or music.
Bose’s findings were further developed in
recent times and led to the
understanding that sounds sequenced in a
harmonize with the internal structure of a
plant. These sound
sequences are naturally occurring in the songs
like the Clerigo shown above.
Certain sound frequencies stimulate the
formation of a plant’s
protein and even
flavoring compounds. In other words, the
beneficial ecological effects of birds have by
far more reach
than is commonly known or
23-birds in puerto rico
comeñame / puerto rican bullfinch
There are about 10,000 bird species worldwide,
roughly two thirds
live in tropical rainforests, and 17 of them
are considered to be
endemic to Puerto Rico; another 350 species or
so can be observed
here – some only on rare occasions, others
In a healthy eco-system, it is normal to come
across 20 to 40 different
bird species and a bird population of about 100
birds per acre. The
more diversified our environment, the more
avian species it can
support. Each species has unique features and
responsible for uniquely differing ecological
FALCÓN común / american kestrel (falco
There is much unawareness about the important
predator role of raptors like
this Falcon Comun or the Guaraguao.
Compared to other predators, raptors are highly
mobile (falcons can
sustain diving speeds
of over 100 mph) and have stunning
which allows them to be highly effective hunters.
We all know how devastating an out-of-control
rat and mice population
can be. This is one of the reasons why decades
ago, the Asian
javanicus) was introduced as a means of
biological pest control. In short, his
introduction was a complete
failure (rats are active at night, whereas
mongoose are active
during the day) and resulted in high losses of
ground nesting avian species.
The ability of raptors to detect rodent scent
marks that are
only visible under ultraviolet light, makes
effective than any other natural means of
25-adapting to the eco flow
reinita trepadora /
The Trepadora is an interesting migrant bird
who likes to spend his
winters in the Caribbean. He tends to come to
the same areas
every year. This warbler stands out for its
unique eating habit: starting
at the base, it climbs up on a trunk and picks
out insects along the way.
Timing is the key factor to seeing this bird.
Species with elusive
nature or temporary presence remind us how
important timing is:
if we go with nature’s flow, it automatically
leads to an increased
awareness of what is unfolding around us.
As a society, we have become accustomed (or
even addicted) to
doing whatever we want, whenever we want and
however we want.
We love to brutally and carelessly dominate nature
as if there were
no tomorrow. By adapting to the flow of nature,
however, we can
experience beauty, freedom, peace and we will
continuous profound realizations.
If every person in Puerto Rico would just plant
one bird-friendly fruit
tree, shrub, palm, flower, or seed-bearing
grass, it would support
the lives of millions of birds – a simple
gesture with enormous impact.
Even patches of seeming weed shrubs like in the
picture above often
have countless flowers,
seeds or tiny fruits that can nourish an
entire web of beneficial terrestrial
Since the fauna is symbiotically connected with
the flora in myriad
often mystical ways, we
all benefit from supporting both,
fauna. This win-win situation for all is called
‘mutualism’ in ecological terms, and nothing is
than planting something to attract
and support birds.
27-peace through diversity
paloma turca / scaly-naped pigeon
In recent history, it has become more common
to exhibit atypical behavior: some birds become
aggressive, are afflicted by dangerous
diseases, die without
visible cause or have deformed physical
What all these anomalies have in common is they
can be traced
back to the fact that the avian community is
natural habitat and diversified food sources.
Here at Govardhan Gardens, I have never seen
of birds over food. With approximately 1,000
species spread over 10 acres, all visiting and
resident birds have
enough to eat. Each species has his
favorite areas and food
sources within the farm. Even if several
species visit the same
tree, they share food in a civilized way.
guaraguao collirojo / red-tailed hawk
Since my commentaries are primarily from the
promoting wildlife in its natural habitat, I
wanted to touch at
least briefly on human-dominated and artificial
Since modern cities give rise to enormous
amounts of garbage and
pollution, they are becoming breeding grounds
for many pests,
including avian pests like Great-tailed
Crackles and Rock Pigeons.
In various large cities around the world, hawks
are deployed to control various
pests. Just a bit over a decade ago,
was a big uproar when the New York City authorities wanted to
remove the nesting site of a Red-tailed Hawk
from a luxury
condo in Manhattan.
Eventually, the nest was reinstalled and
the hawk was able to continue his pest control
Reinita común / bananaquit (coereba
One of my bird-related research projects was to
find out how many
nests can be found at Govardhan Gardens, a
10 acre farm. The total count within three
months was slightly over 100.
I was particularly happy to see that about 20%
of all nests were
built in recently established bamboos. Each and
every bird nest
is amazing in its own way. This Reinita Comun
built her nest in as
little as three days, with
her only tool being her beak.
Nest materials include twigs, strips of palm
leaves, bark, leaves,
lichen, spider webs (as binding material),
plant fibers, ferns, grass,
seed pods, moss, fine sticks and other
Nests can weigh from a few ounces
(hummingbirds) to a few
thousand pounds (Social Weaver /
Philetairus socius ). Some
designs are quite simple, while others are very
spectacular. All of them are made from healthy
fully sustainable building materials.
Whenever I have to cut a diseased or dying
tree, I always check
before to make sure
that there is no active nest in the tree.
zorzal patirrojo / Red legged thrush
About 25 percent of all birds have become
in danger of extinction. The
reason for this threat to their existence are
of eco-systems caused by our insatiable,
It’s a sign of our times that the only bird
species humans show any
interest in, are chickens. Why? Because they
were easy enough for
mankind to abuse, torture and finally be killed
by the billions. In the
U.S. alone, 9 billion chickens are slaughtered
every year; globally,
50 billion are raised just to be killed.
This Red Legged Thrush, still a relatively
common sight, is one of
many species who are seeking a safe place to
take shelter. We all can
help to shelter birds by providing a safe,
diversified food haven and
home for them. Last but not least, we should
become aware of the
fact that we can not survive without
protecting our environment
and all its inhabitants.
©Sadhu Govardhan (www.organicfarm.net), January
Dedicated to a beautiful but caged bird I've