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Saturday, April 04, 2020

Down in Jungleland: Life lessons that birdwatching can help you imbibe

Part I of a series on what birds can teach us, Schooled by Avians.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published: February 15, 2020 6:30:10 pm
birdwatching, ways of birdwatching, lessons in birdwatching, ways to do birdwatching, indian express, indian express news Crows are not popular birds. But observe the apprising glitter in their eyes as they size you up as a victim of their thievery.(Source: Ranjit Lal)

There’s more to birding than just being able to identify a bird and put its name down on a list and toot your horn if it’s something rare. Even the commonest birds have life-lessons for us: Crows are not popular birds. But observe the apprising glitter in their eyes as they size you up as a victim of their thievery. They know how to pick locks, solve puzzles and make tools. New Caledonian crows have become world-famous for confidently fashioning — and customising twigs so they can get at cunningly placed tidbits.

And crows do have a schoolboy humour and a sense of fun. Watch them tug a peacock’s tail and deflate its ego or joyfully swoop up mountainsides on updrafts and gleefully freewheel down like children on a slide. They’ve been photographed hitching lifts on the backs of mighty eagles and I’ve seen them taking ticketless rides on buses. But if you’re nasty, they will neither forgive nor forget you and being heckled by a mob of them really is infra dig. Also, they and their cousins, the magpies, have a thing for bling so keep the rings and Rolexes out of sight!

Indian mynas strut around town like MPs who have just won by a huge majority. The ones living in the Capital will teach you how to behave like a proper Delhizen: That you must start your mornings with a right royal brawl in a public park and end the day by screeching and squawking like a Big Fight program gone hysterical, before settling down to sleep. An awara, very besotted Brahminy myna I once met — perched on a wire fence, his head thrown back, crest higgledy-piggledy poured out his heart and soul while serenading a loved one (alas, nowhere to be seen), showing one and all how it should be done without recourse to Bollywood vulgarity.

Parakeets are raucous, querulous and clown-like — especially when precariously balanced on TV cables or telephone wires. But their IQ scores are top-notch: the ancient Romans ate their brains hoping they’d become as clever! (Of course, this showed they needed a few more IQ points themselves!) And, boy, can parakeets teach you a thing or two about how to court a girl and French kiss.

Jungle babblers have always reminded me of glowering, untidily uniformed cops, swinging their lathis behind them. They’re always ready to hop over your boundary wall, into your garden, and rummage in the mud and leaves for contraband and business documents that show you’ve diddled the government of a fortune, muttering darkly under their breath. But babblers actually have a huge lesson to teach the cops, which should be inculcated in every police-training manual: They live in families of six or seven, of which only one pair has babies. These babies are thoroughly spoilt, screaming their lungs out, making demands. The parents and the rest of the clan deal with them with patience, feeding them, keeping them from harm: something the cops ought to think about before they set about clubbing children on the head. Also, babblers are huge softies and can be found tightly lined up on a branch, nuzzling each other with expressions of sheer bliss — mixed with their angry-bird frowns. That is something that compulsorily should be in the police-training manual as part of the morning-parade ritual; it will put some humanity back into the force.

Ladies, beware of the golden-headed glamorous baya! This guy is a sweet-talking property tycoon who offers deals that seem too good to be true. He’ll offer you the best: accommodation with all mod cons — central air-conditioning, gold-plated faucets, modular kitchen, lakeside golf-course view, etc. And no, he won’t short-change you, besides, you have the option of accepting or rejecting his offer! But after winning you over and making you feel like the luckiest girl in the world, he’ll go and build something more palatial for another girl and then another! To pigeons and doves now: reputed as birds of peace and harmony, they’re plump and round and have soft voices. But try watching blue rock pigeons tearing each others’ throats out when they both land on the same branch? They whap each other with their wings, gouge and pull with their beaks, and thus, now acquiring a reputation of being bullies.

I was once prevented from leaving an aviary by a hulking grunting Blue Crowned Pigeon in Singapore’s Bird Park, who threatened bodily harm when I tried to leave! Blue rock pigeons are meant to be monogamous, which I find hard to believe if you see the way they gurgle, pirouette and flirt around every other pigeon. Like us, their numbers are going through the roof (partly our fault for encouraging them). And they stink to high heavens: pigeon poo isn’t something you’d like landing on your head. But yes, they have fabulous GPS.

More next week.

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