A lone roadside tree in Al Ain has been hailed as an unlikely wildlife wonder, as residents and birds alike flock to the thriving nature spot.
The bare branches of the sidr tree – near a traffic light in Al Maqam – have become an ideal nesting place for two colourful species of birds for many years, long since dispelling any thoughts that this may be a flying visit.
Western cattle egrets and African sacred ibises can be seen roosting in the tree all year long, bringing joy to nature lovers.
The tree has become the talk of the neighbourhood as theories abound over why its popularity endures, with Environment Agency Abu Dhabi also weighing in on the debate.
The agency says the location of tree, at the corner of 135th Street and Al Reem Street, may have had an influence on the birds' nesting decision. Others say a nearby portrait of UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan might have something to do with it as well.
“Since childhood, we used to witness peculiar bird species present in Al Maqam area, particularly around Qasr Al Maqam,” said Al Ain resident Omar Al Blooshi.
“This didn't strike us as odd; we were accustomed to observing numerous migratory birds lining the street.
“This holds great significance for me, especially in observing the birds. Initially, these birds disappeared but returned after the second migration. Gradually, we realised these birds had become partially settled in the region.
“The image of Sheikh Zayed displayed there adds a beautiful touch of peace to the area, along with these exquisite birds that have graced us for a decade.”
The two bird species have similar feeding habits, which may have contributed to both congregating in the same tree.
There are also a number of farms in the area, offering food and water supplies to the birds whenever they feel the need to swoop in.
The tree of Zayed
Others feel the influence of the UAE's Founding Father is at work.
“Throughout my time at university and later as a teacher, I compiled numerous accounts, all sharing a common thread: Sheikh Zayed personally fed the birds,” said Fatima Al Kaabi, another Al Ain resident.
“He would place seeds in his palm, extend his arm and the birds would gather around him in a group, enjoying their meal before returning to the trees.
“There were also constant water ponds in the area. Some believed that he scattered seeds to attract the birds. All these stories were deeply connected with Sheikh Zayed.
“Many years ago, when I was a university student around 1982, I became captivated by the birds inhabiting a particular tree.
“During Sheikh Zayed's time, the trees, especially around the entrance of Qasr Al Maqam, were revered and protected.
“Sheikh Zayed strictly prohibited harming old trees or uprooting them. In my twenties during my university days, the tree came to be known as 'the tree of Zayed', and the birds were affectionately called 'the birds of Zayed'.”
The western cattle egret, recognisable by its prominent white plumage, is a common winter migratory bird.
The African sacred ibis, with its distinctive curved, elongated bill, is an introduced species that has become self-sustaining in the UAE after establishing breeding populations.
The Environment Agency said the hum of traffic could have helped bring the birds to the neighbourhood.
“The traffic signal lights and traffic activity could attract insects such as grasshoppers, locusts, beetles and crickets – favoured source of food for both the species, creating a frequent source of food for both these birds and for their offspring,” the agency said in a statement.
“EAD is actively monitoring the population trends of these two species across different habitats in Abu Dhabi. EAD actively protects and conserves species and their habitats through legislation and devoted efforts of their rangers.”
"The relationship between the two species, which share nests and take turns incubating and raising their young, highlights how adaptable these species are to environmental changes.
“It also emphasises the significance of preserving green spaces and providing suitable habitats for urban wildlife.”