Wild ride Children

Oh, what fun

All of us like to have some fun, to have a good laugh that puts us in good spirits. But what about animals? Do they also like to enjoy themselves? I do believe that mammals and birds too have their bouts of merriment every now and then.

We have seen monkeys teasing each other, leaping and swinging among tree branches without a thought. And yes, we have all seen puppies and kittens at play, rolling, dodging and jumping, never tiring.

On a jungle safari you may have been lucky enough to even witness tiger or lion cubs playing — frolicking, prancing, tugging at their mothers’ tails, playing tag, even mock charging. Biologists think this kind of play is essential for them; it helps them develop skills for hunting when they are grown.

Watching sparrows relishing their dip in a bowl of water is a relaxing passtime. A flock of them first perches on the edge of the bowl. Then, one after another, they repeatedly splash into the water, shake themselves and ruffle their feathers, sending up fountains and sprays of water. It is their way of expressing relief at the respite from the summer heat.

Strategic play

There are times, however, when animals seem to be having fun, but there is a definite reason behind the ‘fun’. Like the time I was lucky enough to watch rosy starlings ‘murmuring’ in Jamnagar. As if on cue, whole armies of these birds arrived out of nowhere and invaded the evening sky. They kept flying around in perfect sync and with such ease, making the most spectacular formations and shapes — a balloon, a swinging pendulum, then a heart — better than any of our military air shows. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves with their mastery at flight until the sky finally darkened and they had to settle on the trees in the vicinity for the night.

But this seemingly fun-filled aerial display had a reason behind it. Strength in numbers is the name of the game. Raptors such as the peregrine falcon, looking for their evening meal, would never be able to single out their prey and hunt down the individual starlings if they moved about in unison like a large army. This is indeed a clever strategy.

There could also be another reason for the murmuring. As the evening gets cooler, the birds instinctively move closer to each other to share their body warmth. Whatever may be the reason, murmuring exhibits the most remarkable skill at flight. The birds never collide into each other. And how they receive so quickly the signal for the various formations is simply mind-boggling.

Group work

On another occasion, I came upon pelicans that seemed to be having the time of their life, using their wings to splash about in the sea, just like toddlers would, if put in a bath tub or a shallow pool. But the birds were standing in a semicircle and gradually moving shoreward. Why would they do that if they were just having fun? This, again, is a clever fishing tactic that they have developed. By splashing about in a semicircle and closing in, they drive fish towards the centre so that they can then easily scoop up vast numbers in their enormous expandable bills.

We can go on and on, as the list of fun-loving species is long — whether it is fun for the sake of fun or fun with good reason. Can you think of more such fun-loving animal species?

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 3:24:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/oh-what-fun/article24563130.ece

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