The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Birds find Haven in State University
by Francezca C. Kwe

Business World
Date:
February 27, 2006

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker

White-breasted Waterhen

White-breasted Waterhen

In the University of the Philippine campus in Diliman, Quezon City, some other, often-ignored sound may be discerned apart from the din of students: the chatter of diverse resident birds. The campus, with its isolated buildings, tall trees, hidden creeks and extensive grass lands, is a paradise for birds.

Their increasing numbers can attest to this, as reported by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) which posts numerous sightings on its website <www.birdwatch.ph>.

The group has reported sightings of 82 species of birds in the campus, more than double the number reported in 1998 in a study of Diliman fauna by biologists Dr. Perry Ong, Marisol Pedregosa and Michael G. de Guia.

"The birds like it here because of the diverse habitats. In Diliman we have almost everything -- forest, grass-land, watery and muddy areas, buildings for nesting," said WBCP member and conservation scientist professor Jonathan Villasper of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.

Even mainstays of the campus are unaware that the chirping in the stately acacias comes from species other than the familiar maya (rice bird).

Mr. Villasper said an observant person might catch a sighting of the swift blue-winged kingfishers around the grounds of the Marine Science Institute or the lagoon.

Then there are the orange-tinged Cattle Egret, the Barred Rail trotting through the tall grass, the slender White Breasted Waterhen, the inconspicuous Brush Cuckoo and many others found in different spots over the 493 hectare campus.

Though most of the birds visit to breed and feed, the Diliman habitats also support some endemic Philippine birds such as the Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker and the bright Colasisi.

In recent years, these creatures have drawn more attention to the university as a bird sanctuary than a family picnic ground or jogger’s romp. Individual birders and bird enthusiasts, as well as bird-watching groups and environmental stalwarts, such as the WBCP and Haribon, to name a few, are flocking to the campus to catch a glimpse of its feathered inhabitants.

Their vigilance does well for the continuing process of gathering information about the birds, as each sighting brings discoveries to light.

For instance, bird watchers became aware of the presence of the Ashy Ground Thrush when one crashed against the glass panels of the Vargas Museum.

"We picked up the injured bird and was able to identify it as an Ashy Ground Thrush," said Mr. Villasper. The Thrush is listed in The Threatened Birds of the Philippines, published in 1999 by Nigel J. Collar, Neil Aldrin D. Mallari and Blas R. Tabaranza, Jr.

But most of the birds, he said, are common enough. No exotic species – in the eyes of many are here. But what is ironic is that in the state of things – rapid urbanization resulting in loss of habitat -- even the most common birds are quickly becoming rare, when once upon a time they were widespread all over the Metro Manila area.

Now the birds are concentrated in unspoiled pockets of UP, the nearby Ateneo de Manila University, Fort Bonifacio and the Manila American Cemetery.

In UP, they have found a safe haven for now. "But there are still threats to the birds, from hunting and the conversion of habitats around the campus," Mr. Villasper said.

Since the birds are not on the list of protected species as specified by the Philippine Resources Conservation and Protection Act, there’s no stopping anyone from collecting them, as one group has done, having "harvested some 20 waterhens from the Jardin ng Mga Rosas supposedly for food," said Mr. Villasper.

He said there have also been some instances where the residents of the university, some from the squatters’ areas and communities on the fringes, have hunted birds using traps and air guns.

In other times, the birds have been displaced when new structures, agricultural or landscaping methods are installed in the campus.

"There have been some initiatives in the past by the Board of Regents to turn the campus into a protected bird sanctuary, but nothing came of it," said Mr. Villasper. The implications of such a move, he added, would result in a complex bureaucratic bind.

The first step to establish the birds’ permanence is awareness among the community members. "Once they have the awareness, then comes the development of appreciation for the birds, and consequently, the desire to look after them," Mr. Villasper said. "Once they become aware, then the general UP community can decide on whether strict protective measures are needed."

Meanwhile, the birds have no lack of champions and admirers from UP and beyond. Dr. Perry Ong and Dr. Benjamin Vallejo, Jr. of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology are hard at work completing a 2005 study of the university’s wildlife.

This study will serve as an update to existing data. The WBCP continues to hold regular bird-watching sessions in Diliman. Should the birds disappear, bird watchers and the occasional passers-by granted a glimpse of jewel colors among the trees, would surely notice the heavy silence behind the usual grind.