Of the 14 species of Spiderhunters in the world, two live in Bangladesh. While the Streaked Spiderhunter is seen only in the hill forests, the Little Spiderhunter is hard to find

A charming little bird darting between flowers of the Banana plants quickly drew our attention away from the eagles' nest we went to observe at the village named Bheduria in Bhola. The little bird is named 'Little Spiderhunter', a remarkable bird seldom seen in our villages these days.

The Little Spiderhunter visited every Banana plant with its outsize flower blooming red, radiant and eager to be pollinated. With its little talons, the bird grasped the leathery wrappers of the flower long enough to insert its curved bill into the long florets and suck up the nectar.

The astute flower kept a small cache of nectar in each bud so that the bird had to visit hundreds to have enough. It would not serve the flower if the bird had aplenty from only a few. That was all very fine for us; we cherished the opportunity to watch the rare bird up close for long.

The world has 14 species of Spiderhunters, of which only two live in Bangladesh: Little Spiderhunter and Streaked Spiderhunter. Although the Streaked Spiderhunter is seen only in the hill forests, the lovely Little Spiderhunter once lived in all villages.

That is not so anymore.

Over the recent years, the Little Spiderhunter has become a rare bird of Bangladesh, although its favourite Banana groves and orchards have not depleted as drastically in our villages. Quite possibly, there were other reasons for its population to crash in such a short period.

We speculated that the overuse of chemical pesticides and herbicides in our villages could be the cause of the fall of our Little Spiderhunter. The bird, probably, perished by eating poisoned pests since it took a lot of insects besides lapping up the nectar from the flower.

We still get to see the Little Spiderhunters more often in our hill forests. The hillsides have abundant wild Banana and, certainly, less of the chemical poisons. That, however, is about to change as tobacco cultivation is spreading fast through our hill districts.

We were thrilled to see the Little Spiderhunter visiting a Bellfruit Tree or Jamrul Gach in the front yard of our host in Bheduria. The bird seemed to love its large bell-shaped blossoms to probe into and the sturdy branches to hang from.

We noticed that the bills and the feet of the bird at the Bellfruit Tree were all black which meant that it was an adult male. The bird we saw in the Banana grove had pink feet and a pinkish lower bill. Certainly, that was a female. Those little differences separated the male from the female of this species.

Like the other members of the Sunbird family, the Spiderhunters can hover under the hanging flowers to get to the nectar. The agile male Spiderhunter of Bheduria was happy to feed on the pendulous flowers of Champoo Tree and Madhabilata vines by fluttering its wings rapidly to hang in the air for a few moments.

However, the Spiderhunters and others of the Sunbird family cannot remain suspended in the air as dexterously as the members of the Hummingbird family. The flying techniques and the metabolisms of those two distant families of birds are very different.

Little Spiderhunters use their fluttering flights more while building their cup-nests with fibres, filaments and cobwebs suspended under the umbrella-like Banana leaves. They usually commence their courtship in April and start fashioning the nest in May in Bangladesh.

The indigenous people who collect Camphor wood from the forest of Sarawak in Malaysia greatly value the Spiderhunter. They think that the sighting of a Spiderhunter or hearing its call is a good omen. They enter treacherous forests only after seeing the bird or hearing its call.

We were not sure of the extent to which the Spiderhunter seen in Bhola could be considered a good omen for us. Except for the very sturdy ones, the population of many species of small birds has recently been in a nosedive in our country. Many of them could be extirpated before we even noticed their absence and raised alarms.

We have been polluting and poisoning our little country so much that the little insectivorous birds are dying off very fast. The poison we use in agriculture, horticulture and tea estates may not kill an adult bird promptly, but it often impairs its capacity to reproduce successfully.

The two Little Spiderhunters of Bheduria might be able to nest in the Banana grove and successfully raise two chicks by June or July. To us, that would be a very good omen indicating that the people of Bhola had not poisoned their environment too much for those little birds to thrive.

Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam.

First Published in The Business Standard.

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