Ever since I wrote a piece listing my favourite animals, recently, the birds have been tweeting as furiously (and rudely) as President Trump: How can I call myself a birder or an ornithologist, and yet not have a single bird on that list? Well, here’s making amends — a list entirely devoted to birds. Again, there’s no single favourite. Each one mentioned is special for its own unique qualities.
Shikra: For spirit oversize. This diminutive, gimlet-eyed hawk (the ladies are dark brown, the gentlemen, ashy grey) is another proof that you don’t have to be huge like Godzilla to be intimidating. One look at its glowering orange or yellow-ringed eyes, small yet extremely capable hooked beak and those grappling iron talons is enough. Watch it take down a myna in mid-flight and you won’t forget the experience in a hurry.
Cranes: For their exuberance in love and indifferent attitude towards killjoys objecting to PDA. Crane pairs are also revered for their lifelong fidelity, yet while courting (like others of their clan) they will prance and trumpet their love for each other. They are sure to make the sourpuss moral brigade cringe and shrivel up. So, bravo!
Jungle babblers: For the glorious mixed message they send out. Khaki-clad, hard-eyed, they’ll hop intimidatingly into your garden in the early hours like a raiding party from the CBI, calling rudely all the time — and even belligerently hammer on the French windows. Then they will overturn every leaf, twig and pebble in the garden and confiscate all the undisclosed spiders, beetles and cockroaches you may have stashed away from the income tax department. Yet, you can, sometimes, catch them lined up deep on a branch blissfully nuzzling each other, looking ecstatic and pissed off at the same time.
Coppersmith barbet: My first “proper” bird, seen in close-up through big binoculars. It looked like a clown with hiccups so clearly there was no turning back. Still finding out what the other 1,200-odd clowns in the country look like!
Pahari (and House) crows: For their immense sense of fun and sheer enjoyment of life. Watch them fly straight at a mountain cliff face, get buoyed high by the updrafts, cawing hoarsely with laughter — and once on top, fold their wings and dive like bungee jumpers without a cord. Just as they bottom out, they unfurl those glossy wings and climb up again, cawing gutturally with sheer enjoyment. In the city, watch the crafty house crows pinch buttered melba toast from under the noses of the hoity-toity brigade by the poolside.
Rose-ringed parakeet: For being so much like us that we catch them, cage them and talk to them! They squawk and squabble like us, eat (and waste) like us and fly at breakneck speed like green-chilli missiles, shrieking happily. Yet, while raiding the guava (or litchee) tree, they will (like schoolboys) maintain silence. Do note: the ancient Romans thought parakeets were so intelligent that the patricians ate their brains hoping some of that intelligence would be passed on to them.
The Indian myna: For being the swaggering big city-badass par-excellence and for loving nothing better than a brawl in the park the first thing in the morning. Listen to mynas debate (often they sound like Parliament in session), chortle and scream at each other before the fisticuffs begin. Yet, mynas can break off hostilities in a trice, with no grudge left simmering: something for us to learn.
Magpie-robin: For being the best city flautist in the country. Imagine, this guy is all decked up in a shiny tuxedo early in the morning and renders one soulful sonata after another in the park, non-stop. But like all true artistes, he, too, has a temper, and will furiously chase off a rival, with coat-tails flying and cursing each other in loud but dulcet tones, completely making your morning.
Flamingo: For, well, just being itself. A bird with a boomerang bill (and upside-down feeding technique), pink ballerina tutu, parade-ground marching ability, brigadier-general haughtiness, and affinity to suffer collective panic attacks: who in their right mind would create something like this!
Great white (rosy) pelicans: For being the most magnificent flying clowns. With their beady bright eyes, tiny shendis and seaplane like take-offs (and landings), they are truly a delight to behold. On the water, they will fish in cooperative flotillas, driving the fish towards the shores by beating the water and then using their huge bills to net the catch. See, you don’t need to dynamite fish after all!