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Thursday, January 27, 2022

The sky’s my playground: Watching a parakeet court his lady

The ancient Romans were so impressed by the birds’ domed foreheads — that bespoke great intellect — that they cut them off and ate them, hoping to imbibe some of the birds’ wisdom.

Written by Ranjit Lal |
Updated: October 5, 2014 1:01:01 am
bird-main Wise and wacky: Parrots and parakeets (Source: Ranjit Lal)

Some birds (famously, owls) look wise, some, like pelicans, look wacky. Few look both at the same time.

Parrots and parakeets have that honour. The ancient Romans were so impressed by the birds’ domed foreheads — that bespoke great intellect — that they cut them off and ate them, hoping to imbibe some of the birds’ wisdom. Seriously. But by far, the piece de resistance as far as this clan of birds is concerned is that they can be taught to talk, and any bird that can drawl a husky, “good morning daaarling,” has got to be a genius. Major point of contention, does it even know or understand what it’s saying (well most of us don’t, so what’s the big deal, eh?). Alex, that Einstein amongst talking parrots (he was an African grey, the best talkers in the family), apparently thought before he talked, something so few of us do. Parrot owners everywhere will swear they can hold intellectual discussions with their birds.

Most scientists, ever the spoilers, claim that parrots don’t have a clue about what they’re saying. Left to themselves, the birds would never talk to each other in English, Sanskrit or Mandarin, preferring their own lexicon of raucous shrieks, screams, and squawks (like so many TV talk shows). They only learn our languages because they’re hugely social birds and when they’re kept in solitary captivity, they have no choice but to “learn” our language.

India has just 15 species of the exuberant Psittacula family as compared to a world total of 315-320. We have parakeets, not parrots; the formers are usually slimmer, sleeker than the latter, and the standard colour is green.

For farmers and orchard owners, a flock of wheeling parakeets brings bad news. The birds love cereal, fruit, nuts, chillies; like us, they feed like wastrel princelings. Complete radio silence is maintained when an orchard is being raided and they destroy far more than they consume.
But for the birder, they are a delight to watch. The three commonest species in India are the Rose-ringed (now settling down in the UK, that too without valid visas heh-heh!), the Plum Headed and the big Alexandrine. Watch them court from July through December, and you’ll know exactly who to send the film clip you sneakily shot.

First, the gentleman will land beside his lady friend and eye her askance. He’ll sidle up closer, raising himself to his maximum height as she glances back at him. He’ll raise a claw as if offering her a bunch of red roses he forgot to bring (or ate in a peckish moment) and roll his eyes. And then they’ll be kissing passionately, French style — children please look away now — as he feeds her regurgitated pap. Afterwards, he’ll fly around to her other side and repeat the procedure.

Eggs will be laid in the boles or holes of big branches or tree trunks, but it’s best to beat a hasty retreat if you see a parakeet’s head poking out of one — don’t stop to stand and stare. You’ll catch the attention of ubiquitous little boys or unprepossessing youths lurking in the bushes and they will lose no time in raiding the nest and taking the fledglings (It’s illegal to keep them as pets). Just watch them screech across a sunset sky like hot, green chilli missiles on a madcap mission of exuberance and sheer joie-de-vivre.

Makes your day, doesn’t it?

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