When the peacock spreads its brilliant plume and dances in gay abandon, you know the rain is here. But, do all birds love the shower? What about animals? And those tiny insects? Akila Kannadasan finds out
“They (birds) know naught of rheumatism or ague. Their clothes do not spoil in the rain. They wear no boots to become waterlogged. Their wings rarely become heavy or sodden. For them the rain is a huge joke. They enjoy the falling raindrops as keenly as man enjoys his morning shower-bath. There is no bath like the rain bath, and if the drops do fall very heavily there is always shelter to be taken” — An excerpt from Douglas Dewar’s Birds Of The Plains.
When rainclouds gather into a menacing grey and thunder rumbles in the faraway sky, there is new energy in the forest. Tigers, elephants, snakes, birds, ants… the inhabitants respond to this life-changing event in their own way.
Rains bring out the best in birds. They look fresh after a downpour; their feathers are smoothened out and they seem to be in a good mood. The peacock dances to glory at the very sight of dark clouds. Birds enjoy rain. Or, do they? Veteran naturalist and wildlife photographer M. Krishnan has the answer. When he sat on his “leaky veranda” one day, watching birds in the rain, he was witness to some happy birds playing about.
He writes about it under the chapter ‘Shower Bath’ in his book Of Birds And Birdsong. “An odd group of three common mynahs have been parading the gravel path outside for the past hour, wading into every puddle and splashing about, as if trying to drown themselves in the knee-high water….There are crows on exposed perches all around, determined not to miss a drop of the rain…” Krishnan, however, feels that birds are not jubilant as we assume them to be, but are rather using the opportunity to “wash away dust and water-soluble accumulations from their feathers and skins.” Their addiction to rain, he says, is an “unreasoned response”.
A bird’s instinct
S. Balpandi from Koonthakulam bird sanctuary in Tirunelveli recalls how protective a little ringed plover, a ground-nesting bird, was of her baby during a torrent. “An egg was washed off by the water. This bird hopped behind to save it, flapping its little wings,” he says. Birds have a gift, feels Balpandi. “This year, we didn’t have any visitors to Koonthakulam. Confirming our fears, the rains failed us. Birds have an instinct to predict rains.”
Sangam literature mentions a fascinating myth about the skylark. “The vaanampadi (skylark) sings away, flying higher and higher into the sky,” says birdwatcher K. Ratnam. “This, it is said, is to drink raindrops directly off the clouds.”
The mood inside a deep wood after a heavy shower is intoxicating, says K. Mohanraj, a wildlife enthusiast. “A silence follows a downpour. You can hear nothing but the sound of water falling on leaves. Then they come out, one-by-one — butterflies, frogs, birds that took shelter… Once the sun is out, drenched animals shake off water from their body and set out for a stroll; deer come out to graze, bonnet macaques come out to play, the water-birds are happy… the monsoon is magical.”
Reptiles too are sensitive to changes in the weather. “The Malabar pit viper and soft-scaled viper trap rain water in between the rough scales on top of their head,” says herpetologist Romulus Whitaker. “They let the water seep down and drip into their mouth.” Snakes require moisture when they shed their skin. Hence, rain is “very helpful” for snakes during this period.
If you thought only peacocks danced in the rain, wait till you see an elephant on a rainy day. The gentle giants enjoy a good shower, says Rom. “They splash mud about themselves, roll on the ground and play like kids. Elephants show they are having a good time.”
Mohammed Ali, editor of the magazine Kattuir and author of eight Tamil books on wildlife, adds that rain cools the bodies of elephants. “It also keeps away mosquitoes and fleas.” However, not all animals like the rain, he adds. Some become apprehensive since rains make the earth sludgy; the animals tend to leave a trail of pugmarks when they walk. This makes them easy targets for predators. “Bears never walk on wet mud. They keep to grass”, explains Mohammed. Leopards, he adds, hate rain.
But there’s a predator that is irrevocably in love with rain — the tiger. “He sits, rolls and sleeps in the rain,” says Mohammed. He recalls a sight he was blessed with one day. “It was raining. I saw a tiger come out and look up at the sky. Raindrops fell into his eyes; but he didn’t blink. He then lay upturned, feet apart, facing the rain.”