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Out of Anaikatti: Birds on my brain

A crow with an attitude

A crow with an attitude  

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Whether it’s peacocks or crows, birdwatching can be great fun

“Eeeooo; eeeooo”. The lovely peacock’s unlovely cry cuts through my concentration. I looked pleadingly at my long-suffering yoga master. He heaved a resigned sigh and stopped. I rushed to see if I could spot the bird through the deepening gloom of the evening. No such luck. It never fails to surprise me that such a conspicuous bird manages to hide himself when he wants.

Watching the peacock fly is a never-ending source of amusement. He’ll flap his wings madly and then launch himself into the air with a desperate do-or-die air. Just as I think his heavy tail is going force him to crash land, he’ll clear the obstacle and land on the roof. On the road, this can get a bit scary when it looks as if he is going to crash against your windscreen. Time and again, I’ve braced myself for the crash or ducked only to have him fly over the car roof.

The peahens, meanwhile, get on with their lives, rather uninterested in their mate’s flying difficulties. On the road to Coimbatore, they’re a familiar sight, often with little brown balls scuttling along in their wake. I watch as they blend into the underbrush and wonder again at the quirk of Nature that will see some of them at least grow into the beautiful bird we know so well.

Birds are aplenty at Anaikatti. Crows and mynahs apart, we have bulbuls, sunbirds, tailor birds, kingfishers, owls, Indian robins and more. You don’t have to be a scientific birdwatcher to be entranced by their antics.

The tailor bird with his perky upright tail is noisier than the peacock. He hops around the hedge shrieking rather hysterically. I wonder if he’s spotted a snake; of which we have quite a variety. I heave myself out of my comfortable spot and try to see what’s upsetting him. After an hour of futile searching, I glare rather disgustedly at him. What is he yelling about? Having heard and read about the bird’s remarkable nest, I’m keeping a close watch on the hedge he seems to favour. I haven’t given up hope of spotting the nest.

One morning, I spot something black fluttering around a peachy-orange flower. It seems quite unafraid when I go close. It’s a tiny bird but something didn’t seem quite right. A few minutes of close observation helped me figure out that it was hovering upside down. Well, the flower’s head was hanging down, so perhaps this was the only way the bird could reach the nectar. After some asking around we identified it as a purple-rumped sunbird. The bigger surprise was the flower: it was the efflorescence of the aloe vera plant. Though I had seen the aloe plant and used its gel from childhood, this was the first time I had seen its flower.

In the evening, a sudden flash of black and white signals the arrival of the robin. At first he struts around, cheeping and pecking at the ground in a desultory manner. Suddenly the tenor of his call changes — it’s sharper and more insistent. He also ruffles up his feathers and spreads his tail feathers. After two or three such calls, another bird appears on the scene. The first — the male, I presume — is a glossy black with white splashes under his wings. The second is a dull black. They dart around picking up bits of straw and leaves. I try to follow them around, wondering if they’re building a nest somewhere but they’re too fast to keep pace with.

Of all the birds here, it was the crow that led us a merry dance. At the dining hall, it would watch for a chance to steal some food. No matter how often we shooed it away, it’d come back, perch on the overhead beams and announce its arrival with a series of raucous caws. “Why can’t you people drive that crow away?” asked an exasperated uncle from the US. “Nothing seems to work,” we replied indignantly.

“Hang something shiny from the beams,” he suggested. “When they reflect the light, it’ll scare away the crow.”

We were not convinced. “Your American birds may be scared of light, our crows won’t worry,” said one sceptical child. After much discussion, it was decided to hang useless CDs from the beams and fill in the intervening space with strips of aluminium foil. By the time we got things ready, the day was over.

The next morning, we hurried down to see if the crow had truly been scared away. As we watched, the crow came, sat on the outer edge for a while and watched the CDs sway in the breeze. The aluminium foil rustled threateningly. After a couple of caws, the crow flew away and the uncle gloated. But he had rejoiced too soon.

The next morning, the crow was back in its place. As we watched, it bent over, admired itself in the CD’s shiny surface, cleaned its beak on the beam and looked at us triumphantly. It was simpler to just feed it every day.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 1:47:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Out-of-Anaikatti-Birds-on-my-brain/article14630761.ece

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