Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

By Duc Hung   December 25, 2022 | 12:30 am PT
Farmer Nguyen Manh Cuong gave a flock of wild birds a chunk of his land to protect the animals from hunters.
Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Cuong, a 52-year-old duck farmer, has worked his field in the central province of Ha Tinh since 2015.

It's part of a humble 2.8-hectare parcel of land that includes a house, a fish pond and space for Cuong's mallards and a patch of bamboo. He also has small orchard and a few stalls where he raises chickens and pigs on the side.

When he first rented the Dau Lieu Ward land in the town of Hong Linh seven years ago, the area was barren. Cuong and his wife spent months building bamboo shelters they hoped would attract ducks. They built and built and waited for rain.

After a year, their bamboo trees had grown large enough to provide shade in the middle of Cuong's seemingly-deserted field. The shelter soon attracted many species of birds. At the beginning of 2016, a few hundred birds were visiting regularly. The number has multiplied every year since then.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Over the years, Cuong's farm has become a refuge for thousands of wild birds of all kinds.

Cuong said that at first, he thought the birds would stay for only a few days and then leave. He did not expect them to love his place so much. About three years ago, after authorities banned the hunting of wild birds, the number of birds sheltering at the farm increased. It is estimated that there are now 6,000-7,000 birds regularly seeking refuge in Cuong's small bamboo forest.

"I reduced the number of mallards I raise here to leave space for wild birds to live," says Cuong.

"Besides developing a family economic model, I'm also now a hired worker for the birds."

It seems he's pleased with his new role, and maybe even a bit proud: "I've taken it as my responsibility to protect them [the wild birds] in order to preserve the environment and natural landscape, so that the beauty of my homeland will always stand the test of time."

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Every day, Cuong wakes up at 6 a.m. After checking the sheds where his pigs and chickens live, he enters his bamboo groves, which are now home to a large stork population, to check if anything interesting happened overnight.

Bird droppings virtually cover Cuong's bamboo from canopy to root. He says that years ago, the trees around here were green, but after the birds came, many became so heavily covered in bird waste that photosynthesis was impossible, and they died.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Every few meters, Cuong stoops down to pick up feathers and check which bird species were hanging out there the night before. Most of them are storks, but there are also herons and some other wild birds he has yet to identify.

Besides studying bird feathers, Cuong also observes the bird droppings on the leaves. He said feces can reveal whether a bird is healthy or not, as well as whether or not they had enough food that day.

"I study the habits of livestock online so I can use the best methods to raise them," Cuong says. "Ever since the birds came to the farm, I've studied their behaviors to better understand them."

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Cuong bought a blue net hundreds of meters long to create a fence protecting the area where the birds live. Every morning, when the birds go out looking for food, he raises the net so livestock can enter. At 4 p.m. when the birds came back, he lowers the net and brings the livestock back to the barn.

The net prevents animals from entering the bird park while the wild birds are there. Pigs, chickens, ducks that get lost in the garden scare the birds away.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

In addition to being hunted, many birds foraging in the field are killed by mousetraps. Every month, Cuong saves dozens of birds caught in traps.

"Sometimes birds are injured. I find them, take care of them and then release them back to their nests in the garden. Many survive, but some are too weak to make it. Watching them die makes me really sad. Before the birds arrived, I didn't feel much for them, but after living with them for 6 years, I fell in love," he said.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

After about an hour or so in the morning tending to the wild birds' habitat, Cuong gets back to his regular farm work: feeding livestock and delivering goods to customers.

In the middle of the afternoon, when the birds begin returning, Cuong and his wife often stop whatever they are doing and look up at the sky to see their "children."

"Watching birds go eat in the morning and seeing them fly back in the evening makes me feel very relaxed," says Cuong. "When only a few birds return at the end of the day, I feel uneasy, as if something is missing."

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

Between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. is when most birds return to the farm. They darken the sky, chirp and perch on the branches of trees. Cuong often uses binoculars to watch the flocks and look for injured birds.

He said he knows a bird's conditions just by observing it fly. If a bird spreads its wings wide and its legs are straight, it's fine. But if the wings are slightly tilted and their legs are bent, it's likely they've been injured by traps or rounds from hunters' rifles.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

When the sun is almost down and darkness starts to fall, Cuong rows his boat around the farm again to check if any birds are caught in traps, shot or unable to return to their nests for any reason.

The farm is large enough that livestock and even intruders can enter the bird's protected area without Cuong knowing. Therefore, he says his sunset rounds are also to ward off intruders and keep the farm's peace and quiet for the birds.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

After finishing his work, Cuong puts away his boat for dinner with his wife, 46-year-old Nguyen Thi Cam Ly.

Cuong and his wife have two sons. The eldest works in Hanoi while the youngest is studying law at university. The family is doing good financially, having accumulated savings after many years of working the farm. Although they have a house near the center of town, the couple still chooses to live on the farm.

Cuong plans to upgrade and develop more farms in the near future so that wild birds have more long-term places to stay. He's currently developing proposals and plans and seeking investment and financial assistance from local governments and authorities.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

After dinner, Cuong takes a lamp out to check on the bird garden one more time before bed.

Ever since the birds started coming to the farm in droves, local hunters began preying on them. Sometimes between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., Cuong is woken by sounds of the birds screaming. That's when he has to get up and chase away predators.

"Some days it's very dangerous, the hunters even fight back. I have to call the police and local authorities for help. You can't always eat or sleep in peace because of these birds," Cuong says with a gentle smile on his face.

Guardian: Man spends 6 years protecting wild birds

To help protect the birds and prevent strangers from getting in, Cuong often hangs a flashlight and other equipment next to his bed so he can rush out anytime he hears a noise.

Thai Luong, chairman of the People's Committee of Dau Lieu Ward, says Cuong's work is meaningful and contributes to the protection of the local natural environment. "Authorities always support and send people to assist homeowners in dealing with intruders who illegally hunt wild birds at the farm," Luong said.

go to top