Field Notes Environment

What godwits teach us about table manners

Gulls dive-bomb in a joint feeding exercise at the Muttukaddu backwaters in Kundrukadu, Covelong.

Gulls dive-bomb in a joint feeding exercise at the Muttukaddu backwaters in Kundrukadu, Covelong.   | Photo Credit: Prince Frederick

When it comes to birds, the basic act of feeding can be a sight to behold. We explore these ‘banquet halls’

A wetland in winter, following a productive monsoon, is analogous to a banquet hall with a surfeiting buffet on offer. Migratory and resident, guests come in all sizes of appetite and a diversity of table manners. With various displays of how mouthfuls can be gobbled, the guests vivify the banquet hall.

As we have been discussing this year, the banquet hall is less than hall-full. However, in recent weeks, there are signs that some of the vacant seats are being taken.

Godwits now show up on a section of the southern end of the Wetland, lined by Classic Farms Main Road in Sholinganallur. Around ten days ago, when this writer visited this section, flocks of black-tailed godwits made a presentation, feeding gregariously, with characteristic frenzy.

Black-tailed Godwits in a feeding frenzy at the Perumbakkam Wetland

Black-tailed Godwits in a feeding frenzy at the Perumbakkam Wetland   | Photo Credit: Prince Frederick

If the probes of these birds’ food-hungry beaks can be compared to cricket runs, godwits are the hit-men of the avian world. As they look for worms and molluscs, godwits reportedly manage around 30 probes in a minute — a really impressive strike rate in the avian world. If the avian world ever evolves to organise a “feeding super-over”, the waders’ team can send godwits in, without a squawk of discussion.

Now, you have to contrast that with the herons, especially the purple heron and the grey heron, which can be seen fishing in these Perumbakkam waters frequently. They will strike a pose of stillness, which may appear to last an eon, before they proceed to spear a fish.

Shifting to an estuarine ecosystem, in Covelong, in the Muttukadu backwaters, where one can see gulls display an almost child-like boisterousness as they look for fish.

A purple heron is a picture of concentration, as it trains its eyes on the fish in the water waiting for the opportune moment to spear one, at the Perumbakkam wetland.

A purple heron is a picture of concentration, as it trains its eyes on the fish in the water waiting for the opportune moment to spear one, at the Perumbakkam wetland.   | Photo Credit: Prince Frederick

In a small section of the backwaters in Kundrukadu in Covelong, the brown-headed and black-headed gulls — which can sometimes be found in mixed groups — would make the waters look like an entertainment park. They would resemble noisy children tumbling down slides — making a racket, these birds would plunge into the water repeatedly, from short heights.

Speed, calculation and elaborate displays are based on the nature of the prey and also the biological features of the hunter. It may be just nature at work; but for the onlooker, it will come across as a craft to be admired.

This is a fortnightly column on the resident and visiting birds of Chennai

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 5:18:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/table-manners/article30903246.ece

Next Story