Down In Jungleland: The Birds Are Alright

Now that spring is here, a roll call of the birds that are out and about.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published: March 27, 2016 12:00 am
Statuesque like a palace guardsman, the dulcet notes of the red-whiskered bulbul are stress-busting. Statuesque like a palace guardsman, the dulcet notes of the red-whiskered bulbul are stress-busting.

Now that spring is here, I decided to take a “roll call” of all the birds I could hear in the morning, while sitting at my desk in front of the computer, preparing to write. Their “attendance” saw the following species mark their presence:

Brown-headed barbets: Well, they’ve been yelling their heads off about global warming right from the middle of December, and are getting into top form now. Usually, their dumpy little cousins — the coppersmiths — also chip in, but these little clowns appear to be getting scarcer, at least in my neck of the woods.

Red-whiskered bulbuls: A solitary songster is my early-morning alarm, at five am, and lives in the bougainvillea outside the bedroom window. Tall and statuesque as a palace guardsman, its dulcet notes are stress-busting. The poor bird only gets a bit hassled when bullied by its cousin, the red-vented bulbul (in picture).

Jungle babblers: The Sisterhood of the Dishevelled Khaki hammers on the French windows at least once a day, demanding entry and search and seizure rights. When I refuse, they furiously ransack the bed of dried bougainvillea leaves on the porch beneath, muttering curses all the while and breaking into a cacophony when they spot a cat sneaking into the garden below. No doubt, they think it’s been sent by me to assassinate them. They should be grateful I haven’t told anyone in the HRD that I caught them cuddling disgracefully on the bottlebrush tree just the other morning.

Rose-ringed parakeets: Can be heard shrieking at all times, just outside or from the trees in the Nicholson cemetery next door.

Magpie-robin: An occasional long melodious whistle signalled the arrival of this tuxedoed maestro, though it still hasn’t given a standout performance. I’m looking forward to watching a couple of these gentlemen chase each other across branches, hurling imprecations at each other. They remind me of a pair of top-class conductors running after each other in and out of the orchestra pit with raised batons and purple faces, coat-tails flapping madly.

Mynas are having their usual argument, but sadly, their loquacious and eloquent debates (on the state of the nation?) soon break down into heckling, shrieking and name-calling, just like in talk shows.

The purple sunbirds are in high spirits, no doubt having imbibed nectar first thing in the morning and are still jitterbugging their way from bloom to bloom. They must be in seventh heaven considering this year the bars have opened early — I was shocked to see enormous silk cotton trees (which can produce 5 cc of nectar per bloom per day) in full bloom even before February had turned the corner. Happy hours are here again!

The koels are already plotting their mischief — they suddenly burst asunder with a lunatic yodel, which no doubt gives the crows a bit of a coronary. Then they lapse into silence as if all is well with the world and it was only your imagination working overtime.

Until that thought is quickly dispelled by the mad cackling laugh of the black-rumped flameback (golden-backed woodpecker to birders over 40) which suggests it knows better and you couldn’t be more wrong because evil has been done!

The dismal drunken honk of a peafowl suggests it’s been given a fright, but then, there they are — a couple of dowdy peahens eyeing a magnificently cloaked cock bird parading on the wall, every eyespot newly minted, its throat palpitating with emotion.

A sudden high-pitched squeal indicates the arrival of the antediluvian grey hornbills. Their romances are the stuff of legends. It’s heart-warming to watch the extraordinarily shabby gentleman offer his long-lashed ladylove (equally shabby) a tiny emerald neem berry, held delicately at the tip of his massive pickaxe-like bill and go into raptures when she accepts. Afterwards, somewhere in the big cemetery trees, the lady will confine herself in a hollow, while her mate seals up its entrance leaving a narrow slit through which he will assiduously feed her while her eggs hatch.

And then there’s the heart-stopping cry of the shikras — those fierce diminutive hawks that have been nesting in the cemetery for years now. The partners call to and fro as if plotting ambush moves and give other birds frights.

But there are softer, gentler refrains I can hear too — the background trill of white-eyes, for whom the bougainvillea is again a great favourite; the quiet “chit-chit” of the tailorbird as it scouts the balcony (and then suddenly yells at 90 decibels — towit, towit towit!) and the soft, crooning lullaby of the laughing doves, which can so quickly make your eyelids droop…

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher.

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