in our backyard Environment

Asian Koel, the Puducherry bird, is now breeding in Delhi

Drama of the sexes: The female Asian Koel Picture credit: Sohail Madan  

This year, with the silence on the roads and an extended spring, the distinctive song of the Asian Koel – ko-EL-ko-EL-ko-EL – has been better heard. Celebrated through history by poets and also captured for caging, this state bird of Puducherry, is now breeding across Delhi-NCR and is resident to South and South-East Asia.

Its scientific name Eudynamys scolopaceus signifies fine power, where the genus is derived from the Greek words eu meaning fine, dunamis meaning power and species scolopacea meaning long-billed.

The male Asian_Koel
Pic credit: Wikimedia Commons/ K. Hari Krishnan

The male Asian_Koel Pic credit: Wikimedia Commons/ K. Hari Krishnan  

Sexual dimorphism is evident, where males are a glossy black with a greenish sheen to their bodies and females are brown with white dots on their wings and heavy streaking on their head and throat. Both sexes have strong, long, greenish bills (beak) and captivating ruby-red eyes. In the bird world, the males are generally more pleasant looking than the females, considering they woo females. Personally, I prefer the way the female of this species looks.

Asian Koels, like crows, are omnivores, feeding on fruits, insects, lizards and eggs of birds and other animals but as adults, they largely depend on fruits (frugivores) of fig trees and certain other trees that they may defend voraciously. Considering its opportunistic omnivore diet, it thrives in varied habitats, including the degraded urban setup where fruiting trees are in abundance.

The legend of this bird dates back to the Vedas in 2000 BC, where it is referred to as the Anya-Vapa, literally translating to ‘that which was raised by others’, the earliest mention of its behaviour of brood parasitism. Females lay eggs in nests of similar-sized birds (host) like crows, mynas, jungle babblers and in times of desperation, in nests of considerably smaller birds like the Common Tailorbird, Ashy Prinia. The males distract the host parents for the females to accomplish this task. Sometimes, a small Tailorbird will feed and care for a large baby Asian Koel, though we’re not sure why other bird parents are not able to identify the different-looking bird or why they carry on even though they know they are not one of their own.

When I started birdwatching, back in 2012, I believed that the species somehow disappears in winters and magically appears as soon as spring arrives. In fact, the bird’s nature of hiding in dense foliage and not calling when not breeding, makes it difficult to spot even for the keenest of birdwatching eyes.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.


World Bee Day

May 20 was World Bee Day, a day to celebrate the invaluable contribution of the most important pollinators in the world. What can we do for them?

1. Avoid using chemical insecticides and pesticides which act as poison for beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.

2. Leave wild patches in our gardens to attract them.

3. Plant bee-friendly flowers like Coatbuttons and flowering herbs like oregano.

4. Put out water for them to drink, in shallow containers with pebbles or lillies (these help minimise the depth of the container and the leaves and stones may act as a perch).

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 8:49:17 AM |

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