Wild Buzz: Return of colour
Oft mistaken as a hummingbird by adoring householders, this purple pixie of our gardens is currently revelling in a new, waltzing wardrobe. The male purple sunbird has also found his Elvis Presley voice, which had been stilled by icy winter. In February, as the weather warmed, the male commenced his forays to exposed perches such as electricity poles from where he excitedly belted out his songs of yearning that went ‘cheewit-cheewit-cheewit’, thus heralding the breeding season. The dowdy female would listen quietly to her suitor’s arias while she diligently sucked nectar and gobbled insects in anticipation of the maternal burden.
Last winter, the male in eclipse or non-breeding plumage was drab and coloured like the olive and yellow female but distinguished by a black, necktie-like stripe running down his wintering chest and a hangover of black and purple on the wings. As spring came and flowers unfurled like lips offering sweet nectar, the necktie filled out and the male was blushed over by dark colours highlighted by a filigree of purple iridescence.
How could a female miss this swashbuckling colour spot so vividly described by Dr Salim Ali: “The breeding male raises and lowers his wings displaying the brilliant yellow and scarlet tufts of feathers under the ‘armpits’ (or the male’s pectoral tufts).”
Holi hai bhai, Holi hai
Large carpenter bees can be seen visiting lush, flowering gardens across the tricity. These bees burrow deep into petals while seeking pollen and nectar and come off smeared with pollen like hues of Holi rubbed liberally onto humans in festive joy.
These pollinators evoke both fear and fascination but, in truth, despite their loud buzzing sounds and intimidating look, they are next to harmless. The female bee seldom uses her sting. The carpenter bee is coy and wary and prefers to buzz off when approached by humans.
Unlike honey bees, carpenter bees neither make honey nor do they live in hives. Often mixed with bumblebees, carpenter bees differ from the former as they do not have hairy abdomens. Carpenter bees nest by drilling holes in dead wood, bamboo or structural timbers. Their carpenter sounds can be mistaken for birds performing similar functions so much so that these bees have come to be quaintly known as ‘woodpecker bees’! Their nests are used to store nectar and pollen for the brood and for winter hibernation. Over 500 species of carpenter bees are found across the globe. They are solitary in their nesting habits, though in some species the female will co-habit a nest with her sisters and daughters.
With a flourish of sounds, wheeling aerobatics and a dazzle of metallic blue, green and purple, the carpenter bee announces its arrival in spring’s carnival. The sounds of these large bees so charmed the acoustic imagination of Russian composer N Rimsky-Korsakov that he wrote the orchestral interlude ‘Flight of the bumble bee’ in 1899-1900. The flurry and dizzying pace of the interlude’s notes evoke the bee’s seemingly chaotic and varying flight movements. A popular ‘distraction’ in the rarefied repertoire of the European classical tradition, the interlude is a ‘must hear’ for lovers of music and of creatures less glitzy than tigers!