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Bangladesh’s ‘bird restaurant’ serves up snacks with a side of conservation

Mynas on an overhead wire.

Mynas on an overhead wire. Image by Karunakar Rayker via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

  • Shomour Kumar Ghosh, a sweetmeat maker living in western Bangladesh, began feeding a flock of mynas gathered outside his shop in 2012.
  • Since then, he hasn’t stopped, and today feeds an estimated 2,000-2,500 of the birds each morning, at a cost of around $28 daily.
  • Ghosh’s “bird restaurant,” as it’s become known, is one of several efforts initiated by individual bird lovers across Bangladesh trying to do their part for avian conservation.
  • Ghosh’s love for birds and his feeding efforts have been widely lauded across Bangladesh, and in 2020 he was awarded the best “Bird Lover” in the country by the Forest Department.

DHAKA — It was a misty winter morning in February 2012. Shomour Kumar Ghosh started out his day by opening his sweetmeat shop in the district of Pabna in western Bangladesh and sitting in a chair to catch the sun’s warmth. He then noticed a flock of mynas, known locally as shalikh, gathered in front of his shop, apparently looking for food.

Out of curiosity and love for animals, the 50-year-old scattered a handful of chanachur — a mix of fried lentils, peanuts, chickpeas and more, often known as Bombay mix — to the birds. They ate the offering and flew away.

What happened the next day was beyond anything Ghosh could have imagined.

“I was surprised the next day when I saw nearly 100 shalikh birds coming in front of my shop around the same time. I gave away food to them and the number continues to rise,” Ghosh told Mongabay over the

It was the dead of winter here, and the crop fields that the birds usually flock to for feeding were barren. As a result, the birds were now frequenting urban areas in search of food.

“The surprising fact is that the shalikhs come and take food and then left without making any sound,” Ghosh said.

Samar Kumar Ghosh feeding the mynas outside his shop.
Shomour Kumar Ghosh has fed the mynas outside his shop every day since 2012. Image by Sharon Kumar Ghosh.

He gradually he fell in love with the birds, he said, and decided to have his breakfast along with them in his shop. Over the following years, the number of birds rose to an estimated 2,000-2,500, and the morning routine has become something like a prayer time for Ghosh, from which he derives immense pleasure, he said.

“To me, birds are my guests. Every morning, they came to my shop to have their breakfast,” he said.

The birds travel 10-15 kilometers (6-9 miles) to eat, even though chanachur isn’t something they’d eat normally. And they come in batches, Ghosh said, with one group feeding first while the others wait on the electricity and phone wires overhead, as well as on the rooftops and alleys adjacent to the sweetmeat shop. After one batch finishes its breakfast, it flies away and another takes its place. This goes on for around two hours.

Then came COVID-19, and in Pabna, as everywhere else around the world, things changed overnight. Shops shut down and the streets emptied of people.

“The situation was abnormal. I thought if I started to stop feeding the birds, where would they go? Then I thought I should not stop it, whatever the situation is. I continue to feed the birds. And for not a single day I stopped feeding,” Ghosh said.

But that raised another problem, given that Ghosh’s shop, Shamol Doi Bhandar, wasn’t doing any business during the closure. He estimated it cost 3,000 taka (about $28) a day to feed all the birds.

“My store is my only earning source. As the shop remained closed, I had to struggle but I did not stop. I started feeling love for the birds. They are like my kids. As long as I am not hungry, my birds will not remain hungry,” he said.

And so it became a habit for Ghosh: arrive at the shop every morning, give food to the birds, and then return home.

“When everyone is concerned about their safety and security, Ghosh did not backtrack from his love for the birds. It is very rare,” Supratap Chaki, vice president of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Community of Pabna, told Mongabay.

Chaki said Ghosh showed how the conservation actions should be.

M. Monirul H. Khan, a professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, said initiatives like this and others at a local level constitute a great conservation effort. At the same time, they show empathy and understanding of the importance of protecting nature and biodiversity.

Samar Kumar Ghosh feeding the mynas outside his shop.
Shomour Kumar Ghosh feeding the mynas outside his shop. Image by Sharon Kumar Ghosh.

Khaleda Hasan Parag, who lives across from Ghosh’s sweetmeat shop, said his neighbor’s dedication to feeding the birds without pause for a single day over the past decade shows strong commitment.

“Now the sweetmeat shop is known as Bird’s Restaurant for breakfast. Such a philanthropic activity should be replicated across the country for better preservation of birds and animals,” Parag said.

Bangladesh is home to 714 known species of birds, according to the IUCN, the global authority on wildlife conservation. Of these, around 320 are migratory birds, arriving mostly from Mongolia, China, Tibet and Russia during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

There are around 100 community-based bird sanctuaries across the country, built through the initiatives of local bird lovers, according to data from the Bangladesh Bird Club. The government, through the Bangladesh Forest Department, manages 24 wildlife sanctuaries, all of them key habitats for various bird species, among other wildlife.

Ghosh’s love for birds and his feeding efforts have been widely lauded across the country. In 2020, the Forest Department conferred on him an award for the best “Bird Lover” in the country.

“I did not start this to get any recognition or anything. But I think I have some responsibility toward nature as we survive on nature. Birds are one of the key resources of nature, and it is our responsibility to protect nature for a better world and better living,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh recently moved his shop to a new location, but he hasn’t stopped in his mission of feeding the birds. He’s even enrolled his son, Sharon Kumar Ghosh, to continue the feeding activity.

“To me, it is a heavenly moment when birds encircle me,” he said. “Whenever I am out of the city, my son does my job.”

Banner image: Mynas on an overhead wire. Image by Karunakar Rayker via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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