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’Tis summer, says the koel

MARIANNE DE NAZARETH
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BIRDS Here’s reminiscing the koel’s story, as the summer heat and the bird’s calls rise to a crescendo

It’s that time of year when we wake up to the familiar ko-oooo, koo-oooo call of the male Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), in the neighbour’s mango tree.

This is the mating season for the bird and its call for a mate is often agitated and rises in pitch. But we humans believe it’s calling out plaintively for the rain. The bird has been the muse of umpteen songs and poems, and the koel features in our romantic literature and is perennially linked to love and romance.

Guess who’s frugivorous?

Scratch a little deeper and actually the Asian koel is a brood parasite laying its eggs in the nests of crows, mynahs and other birds, who raise its young. Frugivorous, the Asian koel is a rather large bird with glossy bluish-black plumage, and frightening crimson eyes.

Apparently the male distracts the hosts of the chosen nest, while the female quickly lays her single egg and sometimes even gets rid of an egg or two of the host birds.

“The Asian koel is a frequent visitor to my home, where we have three curry leaf trees. Koels love the ripe fruit of the tree. But we also put out some grain and rice for them to feed on, as we really like the sound of the bird,” says Prabu T., a software engineer. Koels are frugivores and feast especially on ripening figs in trees across the city.

Aishwarya Belliappa who lives in Cooke Town says, “The koel is a bird I associate with my childhood. When I was a kid I have heard it calling in the neighbourhood, and my mom would tell me about how it lays eggs in a crow’s nest. Until recently I didn’t know that the male and female looked completely different and their calls were also different.”

Speckled beauty

The female is heavily speckled with creamy white spots and if you are lucky enough to find a feather, keep it. Chandrakantha Ursu who has taken the accompanying picture, works with Delphi Automotives.

He has an ivy gourd creeper just outside his window and says, “When the koels come for the fruit, they make calls, which could be territorial or a mating call. But, for me, it is a photographic call,” he says. “My mother always ensures that there are enough ripened, red fruit left for birds, so I can enjoy my passion of capturing them with my camera,” he reveals.

But not all birds are passive and allow the Asian koel to get away lightly with their parasitic ways. Bopanna Pattada, from Indiranagar says, “I noticed a male Asian koel landing on the branch of a mango tree outside my window. It was soon mobbed by a pair of red-whiskered bulbuls who kept flying at it to chase it away. But, the Koel hissed in defiance and succeeded in chasing away the smaller birds before disappearing into the depths of the tree.”

So when you hear the call of the Asian koel, it’s not really longing for the rain like we are in the sweltering heat.

It’s more likely, plaintively calling and hoping to get a speckled mate with its call!

MARIANNE DE NAZARETH

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