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Friday, December 06, 2019

Hatch them off guard

Furore in a crow’s nest as cuckoo babies come out of the closet.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Updated: August 18, 2019 8:29:36 am
bird watcher, crows, bird watcher, crows, down in jungleland, ranjit lal, indian express, indian express news Imagine what life in one such crow home would have been like during the last few months.

Judging by the number of exasperated hoarse “caws” I’ve been lately hearing, often preceded by a panic-stricken squawk there’s turmoil in the treetops. Many respected crow families have had their family honour besmirched. Imagine what life in one such crow home would have been like during the last few months. (Some literary licence has been taken in the following account).

Shri and shrimati ji crow were delighted when the missus laid four greenish-grey eggs, splotched in rust brown in their sturdy edifice up in a mango tree. She only remembered laying two, but found two more eggs in the nest. She was not about to nitpick about numbers, though. “I’m going to be a mama!” she cawed proudly. “And I’m going to be a dada!” her husband said.

“I wonder what their first words will be!” Shrimati crow said, naturally hoping it would be “mama”.  Anyway, shrimati crow diligently sat on her eggs and was thoroughly delighted when two of them hatched first, followed a few days later by the other two. “We have a family,” she said, delighted. Both parents immediately got busy with the shopping — bringing home large quantities of caterpillars, insects, berries. Shri crow assiduously drove away all those who he thought were evincing too much interest in his new family, especially that pair of oddities — a slinky black fellow and his bark brown stippled partner, who had, some weeks earlier, driven them nuts with their yodeling calls.
“You know, our eldest two will really do well when they fledge and fly,” shrimati crow told her husband. “Have you seen the way they bully the younger two? Hardly let them get a mouthful!”

“Way to go! Way to go! Obviously, they’re from my side of the family!” her husband smirked.
The elder two continued to bully and bash up the younger two who grew weaker. Eventually, one sad day the younger two gave up and passed on.  “Well, they were always weaklings,” shri crow said, “too bad! At least the other two are strong and healthy!”

But then one day shrimati crow beckoned her husband to one corner of the nest. “Dear,” she whispered, “Our little daughter is not as black and glossy as when she was born. And there seem to be these faint white spots and splotches on her body. I hope she hasn’t contracted some skin disease.” “Hmm!” her husband frowned. “And have you noticed the change in our son’s voice? It was deep and hoarse when he was really little — but now there are these high-pitched notes that occasionally slip out.” “Oh, well, at least they’re eating well.”
“In spite of which, he’s too slim and a bit too glossy. He’s got a waistline like a girl. Not stocky and burly like me!” He shuddered.

“I’m really worried about our little girl though. She’s getting browner, instead of blacker.” Shrimati crow’s beady black eyes widened. “I think those weirdos put the evil eye on our babies. I mean we lost two and the other two are, well, so different from normal crow babies.”
“I’ve chased them away so many times and they just come back. The speckled brown one even told me that we were exemplary parents!”

Then came that terrible day when baba crow and baby crow were about to fly. Both had been brooding darkly for a number of days.

“Papa, there’s something we have to tell you!” Baba crow said, taking a deep, deep breath.
“We’re coming out of the closet!” Baby crow gabbled.
“We’re not crows. We’re koels.”
“When mama went out to the namkeen parlour one day, our real mama slipped into our nest and laid us!”
“You can ask her,” Baba crow went on. “She’s up there, still watching over us.”
You can well imagine the temper tantrums, the floods of tears, and the disbelief that followed.
“What? We slaved night and day to bring you up and you say your real mama looked after you just because she hung around, checking on us? You ungrateful wretch!’
“No son of mine is a koel! I disinherit you! Begone!”
“How will we show our face to society again? We’re the most intelligent avian species on the planet.”
Baby koel (nee crow) felt sorry for her foster mama.
“Mama,” she said, “don’t be so upset. At least we’re not cuckoo babies…”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what Indian cuckoos keep calling for all through the day?”
“What?”
“One more bottle! One more bottle! One more
bottle…”

(Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher)

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