Aman Sharma, a 19-year-old from Delhi started Cuckoo About Nature Club — a birding club by youth for youth. He grows over 500 plants in his terrace garden, which invite birds, butterflies and bees.
When most of his friends spent their holidays in foreign countries, Aman Sharma recalls how different his school vacations were. His parents used to take him to bird sanctuaries and national parks across the country.
“As a child, my parents made me explore my country and familiarised me with our natural heritage. Ever since I developed a love for animals and birds,” says Aman Sharma, a climate justice activist and a youth wildlife conservationist.
Residing in a metropolitan city like Delhi didn’t stop him from pursuing his interests in birding and wildlife photography. To attract more birds and butterflies near his house, he set up a terrace garden, which he calls his ‘urban jungle’, with over 500 plants. “I have spotted over 100 species of birds from my terrace,” claims the 19-year-old.
Birding community by youth for youth
Aman started bird-watching from his house balcony at the age of 13. “I would wake up early every day to spend some time on my balcony watching the birds in the neighbourhood. It was a life-changing experience,” recalls Aman, who is currently pursuing environmental studies in the US.
“Once a bulbul built a nest on my balcony. I was so excited that I borrowed my mom’s camera to capture the view. I realised that just in the one to two hours I spent on my balcony, I could spot more than 25–30 species of birds visiting there. But everyone, including my parents and teachers, didn’t believe what I witnessed on a daily basis. So, I decided to capture the birds through the lenses for proof,” says Aman.
He adds, “When I tried to convey my findings to my friends or family, I figured that none of them really knew that these species exist in a city like Delhi or that they could spot them around their houses.”
This realisation was a turning point in Aman’s life, who started going out for bird walks in the city. Eventually, these walks led him to realise that children of his age are missing out on a great opportunity to understand urban wildlife. So at the age of 14, he and two other like-minded kids from Delhi founded the Cuckoo About Nature Club — a birding club for children.
“I wanted the club to be different. So, instead of an adult coming and conducting the walk, we had the bird walks conducted by children for children. We would take the kids to national parks close to Delhi. Soon, we became India’s largest birding community for youth by youth,” elaborates Aman, who is also the co-founder of the NGO, Re-Earth.
Other than being a wildlife conservationist, he also works around addressing the climate crisis and has been part of several national and international campaigns and initiatives to combat climate change. “I also got to speak at the 75th UNGA & the Nobel Peace Center about my journey,” says Aman, who is also Nikon’s youngest ambassador for spreading awareness on urban wildlife in Delhi.
How to set up an urban jungle at home?
“Delhi has hundreds of species of birds and even Delhites don’t know about it,” says Aman, whose urban jungle is a treasure trove for several birds and butterflies in the region.
During the 2020 pandemic-induced lockdown period, Aman says that he couldn’t travel to his favourite jungles and wildlife destinations. So, he decided to turn his 1,500 sqft terrace into a tiny jungle.
“The terrace was fully barren and was used to keep all the construction equipment. So, I turned it into a green patch by planting more native plants,” says Aman, who did this after a thorough research on setting up a terrace garden.
“Whenever I go out, I always keep an eye out for finding a cutting or sapling of a plant. Besides, I have travelled across Delhi, visiting forests to collect plant cuttings. Currently, I have more than 500 plants on my terrace which attract hundreds of birds and butterflies,” he says.
Aman shares tips on how to set up an urban jungle:
- Make sure that you have enough space and enough water.
- Make sure your terrace can take the weight of plants.
- To invite butterflies into your garden, plant the necessary host plants — plants where butterflies lay eggs that turn into caterpillars that eventually turn into butterflies.
- You can plant powderpuff, milkweed, lemon tree and curry leaf saplings as host plants.
- To invite birds, grow fruiting trees like guavas, pomegranates etc.
- Grow many flowering plants or trees to invite bees in addition to butterflies.
When asked about a piece of advice for youngsters of his age, Aman says —
“Young people need to stop waiting for heroes and be the hero themselves. Go beyond academics and studies to take up hobbies that actually impact society and build a healthy environment. Take up something that can actually save this planet.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat; Photo credits: Aman Sharma.