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Vim, vitality and vigour, the feathered way

Prince Frederick
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Spunky fowlThe Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, found in the city’s wetlands, have the ability to ignore great obstacles and adapt, say naturalists—Photo: Special Arrangement
Spunky fowlThe Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, found in the city’s wetlands, have the ability to ignore great obstacles and adapt, say naturalists—Photo: Special Arrangement

The Pheasant-tailed Jacanas cannot win a screaming contest. At the Sholinganallur-Perumbakkam wetland, on ECR Link Road, the nasal and mewing sounds of these waders are hopelessly drowned in the full-throated cries of Large Whistling Teals.

With their boldness making up for an evident lack of vocal abilities, the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas cannot, however, be ignored. At this small wetland, they can be seen foraging within viewing distance from the busy road that links major corridors. More significantly, these birds are nonchalant about the presence of software professionals, who spend weekends at the wetland training their high-zoom cameras on the avian population.

It is this chutzpah that has proved to be the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas’ major weapon against hostile environments. K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan of The Nature Trust, who has closely studied this small wetland and its bird life, has this to say about the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas: “The birds are remarkably comfortable with human presence, and don’t shy away as easily as most other wetland birds. As a result, they are popular with weekend wildlife photographers.”

And, at this small marsh, these birds are found in great numbers. “In April last, during a bird count, we found over 700 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. In the last few years we have noticed their population staying steady. Part of the reason is their ability to adapt to unfavourable conditions,” Mr. Thirunaranan adds.

Found in good numbers at other wetlands across the city too, the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas have come under the scrutiny of many other naturalists and almost all of them agree that the bird is tough. During his active bird-watching years, octogenarian-naturalist V. Guruswami observed the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and its nearest relative, the Bronze-winged Jacana. Mr. Guruswami noticed the Pheasant-tailed Jacana ignore great obstacles, which included choking encroachments that came up around what was once a thriving jheel in Manali, and stay on.

“The Bronze-winged Jacana has lower tolerance levels, and it left the city. And there is no guarantee that ‘urban development’ will not reach such levels as to test the tolerance of the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas as well.”

That should sound a warning bell. Considering the Sholinganallur-Perumbakkam wetland is at the heart of a developing region and has not been officially recognised as a wetland, photographers have something to worry about.

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