Mirror, mirror on the wall
Tricity householders would have certainly heard this call crooning from the secret confines of green cover, kor-r-r, kutroo-kutroo-kutroo. It is the Brown-headed barbet belting out love songs at the first feel of warm weather. Little wonder then that it is known as the 'bard of spring'. But ask Bhanu Sareen of Sector 19A, Chandigarh, and his family would snort at such a poetic title. Fact is that the barbet has nested in a tree behind their house. That’s okay. The problem is that the male barbet gazes into the reflective windows on the house's first floor and mistakes his own reflection for a Don Juan who has entered his territory with an eye for his pretty wife. So, this male barbet goes hammer and tongs at the window with his powerful bill, calls incessantly and has dented the window to the point it may break. Not only this, the barbet has shed his shy behaviour and sits openly on the electricity wire shouting abuses at his own reflection. A mango tree, right next to the window with its green leaves and brown blossoms, provides a perfect camouflage hut for the barbet to vent his ire.
The Sareens, fed up with this racket, have papered over the windows but the wily barbet tears the covers away and burrows under them to pounce on his reflection! The Sareens now plan to paint the bottom half of the windows to keep away the barbet! The same windows also host Rose-ringed parakeets gazing at themselves but these birds do not create "trouble". Blue-rock pigeons sit on the Sareen window sills but scarcely bother about their reflections! Bhanu's paternal cousin, Gaurav, faces a similar predicament. Jungle babblers can't get over the rear view mirrors on his new Honda Amaze, and peck at these every morning with their typical, none-too-serene air about them!
I asked eminent zoologist and birder Dr Surya Prakash to explain this inverse avian narcissism. "Not only barbets but all birds would do the same after seeing their reflections and presume it a stranger and defend their territory by hitting it. Males during breeding season are loaded with 'elevated levels of testosterone', hence they become more aggressive. I have seen babblers, orioles, sparrows etc., hurting themselves badly after hitting mirrors. Their mandibles break and bleed and they eventually die. Male would see male and female would see female in the reflection. The same sex wouldn't tolerate any intruder in his/her territory especially during breeding season,'' said Dr Prakash, adding that it was not a case of a male mistakenly seeing a female in his reflection and getting attracted, and vice-versa."Birds use only two senses (hearing and seeing) for their self-defense and usually never commit any mistakes. Therefore, there is hardly any possibility that that male would see or presume a female in his reflection as its 'visual sense' is very powerful,'' said Dr Prakash.
HUMAN RIGHTS & WRONGS
PHOTO:VIKRAMJIT SINGHI stumbled upon this mighty serpent in a sandy rivulet that leads deep into the Shivaliks from Choti-Badi Nagal village, 15km from Chandigarh. It was lying across tractor tracks and I thought the sand mafia had run it over in their blind lust. It stank to the high heavens. While examining the decaying body, I held a wild flower laced with a mild, sweet scent close to my nostrils. Thousands of maggots swarmed the decaying python like grains of rice. The maggots moved slowly, like a sea of pilgrims at a Kumbh mela, or a mass of white mourners. But there was no stampede, so well ordered was the scavengers' feast. Hundreds of exotic, carrion flies buzzed around like flecks of ashes happily escaping the cremation pyre.
Later, as I sipped tea brewed on smoky lantana wood with a farmer, Bhag Chand, the true story of the python's death unfolded. Chand's friend, Della, dropped in for tea and told me that woodcutters had savaged the python with their axes and dumped it in the rivulet. They feared the serpent as a predator of goat kids that graze in the jungles. The irony was deep indeed. Here was a serpent delivered capital punishment in its own domain, and on a trumped up charge. Grazing is prohibited in the jungles. Pythons preying on goat kids are a rare event in these parts even though this perception is ingrained in villagers' minds. What chance does this jungle might have against human rights?