Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Have I Been Witness To An Act of Bird Compassion?

-->I am currently in the South - shooting birds and butterflies. It is raining so the days are not as productive or as enjoyable. When it is not raining, it is hot and muggy. And, when it is not raining or not hot and muggy, it is windy. So, in a nutshell, yours truly is having a shitty time.

Anyway, wallowing in self-pity is not my style. I need to think of something to keep myself occupied or I will go nuts. But what does one do in the middle of nowhere? One thing I can do - since I am camped in the vicinity of Dagana road, I can head towards Dagana and check out the place for its potential for birds and butterflies. Yes, that is what I am going to do.

As I drove up the incline after the Changchey bridge and headed towards the bend from where I would veer off to the right on the road leading to Dangana, I heard a clamor of bird calls - rather urgent kind of calls. I looked up just in time to see two Ashy Drongos zipping away wildly in all directions. I ignored them and continued to drive towards Dagana. They are always cackling mindlessly, so nothing new there.

When I returned after about two hours later, I noticed that the Drongos were still perched on the same tree where I had earlier noticed them kicking up a huge racket. They were still kicking up a ruckus. That is rather unusual behavior for Drongos; it is unusual behavior for any bird to be in the same spot for two hours, except for Herons who are known to stand motionless in one spot for upto three hours.

The Drongos were still sending out repeated shrill calls and making dashing and haphazard flights - but never leaving the tree they were perched on. Then I noticed. Perched on one of the branches was a juvenile Drongo, sitting motionless.

A terrified juvenile Drongo refuses to move

I realized that the two Drongos were his parents and they were trying to coax him out of the shadows. I got the impression that this was his first outing - a maiden training flight. The experience must have been terrifying - the infant refused to take flight. He was rooted to the branch and no amount of cajoling by the parents was going to get him to leave the branch and take to air.

Mummy Drongo cackles away helplessly

The little fellow preened; he stretched and fluffed his wings from time to time but his claws remained firmly gripped to the tree branch.

 He is obviously bored and keeps preening but not flying!

After hours of being rooted to the branch he must have been hungry because after a while, he opened his mouth wide open, signaling for food. Mom refused to feed him.

 The little bugger is hungry and wants food but mummy dear wants him to fly first

He started to peck at the leaves but his beaks were so tender and not hard enough to make a scratch on the leaves, let alone shred them.

 The little fellow was so hungry, he started to nibble at the leaves

Dusk was approaching and the parents were frantic, from the sound of their calls. I wanted to stone the tree so that I could get the little bugger to move. I know that once he overcomes his initial fright, he should be OK and flying should come to him naturally. However, I know that my intervention is not a natural process of his training. So I watched on helplessly.

Then out of the blue, a two-pronged attack was launched on the little tyke – from the left by a Red Vented Bulbul and from the right by a Black-crested Bulbul. Spontaneously, the little fellow took flight and landed on a tree close to the one where he was perched. The senior Drongos followed him and landed close to him, forming a protective shield around him. That must have jarred the little fellow out of his stupor. But now he pranced around some more, fleeting from branch to branch. After a while, the three of them flew off to directions unknown.

Bulbuls to the rescue

The show was over and as I drove off towards my camp, I wondered if the Bulbuls were carnivorous? If they were not, why would they attack a helpless little juvenile? I concluded that these two Bulbuls must have seen their chance at a meal seeing how stricken the little fellow was.

That night as I lay on my cot inside the tent, a thought occurred to me. What if that attack by the two Bulbuls was not an attack to prey on the little fellow? After all, Bulbuls are not birds of prey. If that is not true, then the only explanation is that the Bulbuls knew that the only way to get the little bugger to fly was to fake an attack on it. It sure worked.

Could it be that the two Bulbuls were seasoned parents who may have been subjected to similar truants by their own offspring? We have heard of heartwarming acts of compassion and kindness among the animals in the wild.

I wonder if I had been a witness to one such act?


  1. OMG...my heart just melted seeing the first picture! An amazing scene to have witnessed. I loved the way you described the whole thing. It is a reminder of what a precarious world these little birds live in and the hardships they go through to survive. Anon.

  2. Regarding the Bulbuls, I think they were commiserating with the Drongos and at the same time fostering good relations; you know, good neighbourliness and I suppose you could call it compassion.

  3. Yeshey,

    that was just so beautiful.

  4. Acho Yeshy,

    That was a fantastic post. I loved the narration and pictures. A video recording would have been great, but that will be too taxing for a photographer to do both.

  5. Lovely...happy ending!