"It is good to have an end to journey toward;
But it is the journey that matters, in the end"
Trust the Arctic tern to take Hemingway literally. This spunky red-billed bird dons its black captain's cap and flies from pole-to-pole in a display of reckless valor and fantastic spirit producing one of the most extraordinary annual migrations on this planet. Flying an unbelievable 90,000km from their Arctic breeding grounds to Antartica and back again (Whew!), Arctic terns depend on nourishment from mostly marine invertebrates and insects that they hawk on the wing.
Barn Swallows are cosmopolitan birds and like the new-age Indian have either established societies or favorite holiday haunts across most of the world. They make solid cup-shaped nests of mud pellets that jut out from mundane walls of human construction. A non-breeding migrant population visits the subcontinent every winter, their chirping calls resonating across the agricultural landscape. A small population is resident in the Himalayas.
Pied Cuckoos are partial migrants (and no, they don’t change their minds halfway through the migration). Partial migration merely implies that some populations are resident, while others migrate, in this case, all the way from eastern Africa. The bird is immortalized in Indian mythology as 'Chaatak' and the tale of how it sits with its beak open waiting for the first rains features in most school-level Sanskrit textbooks.
The Rosy Pastor (Rosy Starling) is a winter visitor to India, its highly gregarious flocks often outnumbering resident myna species. They are wonderful pest control agents, and Chinese farmers breed them through artificial nests on farms to control destructive locust swarms.
Summer in Mumbai is akin to a ripe crate of mangoes- an assault on all senses that has the potential to drive even a seasoned sophisticated denizen to the brink of insanity. The sweltering heat and incessant honking aside, the city is filled with musical notes and anyone with a keen ear is welcome to the orchestra. The day starts with the crescendos of the Asian Koel, a nondescript black colored bird with a striking red eye that you cant miss. Complimenting the koel's song as 'melodious', 'sweet', 'beautiful' was probably the handiwork of a respectfully deaf poet, as anyone wanting to catch those five extra winks of beauty sleep will interject.
Noon belongs to the Coppersmith Barbet. It is a delightful bird of the royal family, replete with an emerald coat, bedecked with a ruby crown and a ruby-red necklace lined with gold along the throat and breast. The 'tuk tuk tuk' call of the barbet reverbates through the city like the clarion gong of an omnipresent temple. The sound resembles the strike of a hammer against metal sheets at a coppersmith's, which explains the rather humble choice of name for such a regal bird.
The drab-looking White-throated Fantail is in charge of evening entertainment. His is the numero uno performance of the day. With his pretty Japanese fan-shaped tail held erect, a twitch in his gait and a melodious song that would put the vain koel to shame, the fantail is an expert at winning over hearts of curious window-peepers. His own heart is made of steel and he doesn’t hesitate before mobbing and driving away even scrawny Large-billed crows.
The Eurasian Golden Oriole is another avianizen, who comes down to the city over winter break. The male is rather striking, with his deep mango body and jet black wings. He is accompanied by his greenish-yellow harem of 5-6 wives on these trips, who spend a greater part of their time chasing each other off their perches, as all females are wont to do.
The Pheasant-tailed Jacana is one of those enchanting hosts, with his black coat-tail trailing him as he walks gingerly over lotus-leaves. He can often be encountered on his evening walks in the dense reeds navigating the obnoxious invasive water hyacinths at Powai lake.
The Eurasian Oystercatcher is a bitter bird- once welcomed all over the city, he has now been pushed to the remote Datiware beach. Holding on to what's left of their pride, flocks of upto 40 birds (a rather rare site admittedly) can be seen on a good day feeding on the wader-rich shores.
Ramblings on wildlife sharing spaces with non-wild humans