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Down in Jungleland: Morning Raga | The Indian Express

Down in Jungleland: Morning Raga | The Indian Express

Down in Jungleland: Morning Raga

Let the avian concert commence.

Written by Ranjit Lal | Published: March 18, 2018 12:04 am
It’s usually the gentlemen who sing for basically two reasons: to win the heart of a fair lady and to inform other gentlemen birds that the area (and girl) are taken. (Source: Ranjit Lal)

It’s that time of year again when the birds have enthusiastically started practising their scales from 5 am. While the right place to be in order to listen to a multiple-species rock concert is a forest or jungle or up in the hills and mountains, folks in big, relatively green cities like New Delhi can also listen to the dawn chorus.
Magpie robins will be turned out in shiny tuxedos first thing in the morning and will be rendering their flute concertos from the highest perch in their neighbourhood. There’s a classical artiste next door to me who does this from the top of a tall, fish-tail palm and he’d started rehearsing even before the winter chill had receded. Alas, I thought he was good until I heard (and recorded) the blue-whistling thrush up in the mountains and also the streaked babblers and the diminutive red-billed leothrix. My dulcet-voiced red-whiskered bulbul sunrise alarm is back to doing duty on the bougainvillea outside my bedroom after a winter solstice, and there are others that sing from the tops of the bushes in the gardens. Purple sunbirds — glitzy and frenetic as rock stars — are already zipping everywhere, shrilling untunefully, but with so much élan and verve it’s hard not to cheer for them. The gents are decked out in purple and midnight-blue spangles and may even flash you their scarlet armpits as they belt out their numbers.
Many years ago, at the Delhi zoo, I met a classical busker: a fizzed-up brahminy myna dressed in fashionably ethnic earth colours. He had thrown back his head, belligerently raised his crest, rolled his eyes wildly and belted out music that surely no lady brahminy myna within miles would be able to resist.
His cousin, the coffee-brown common myna, struts around parks and gardens and would prefer to spend the morning wrestling in the dirt with others of his clan, though he can produce a variety of soft, musical notes when trying to seduce a lady, accompanied by much nodding and crest-raising.
Then, there are those who can only yell. Even so, you can’t miss the joy of the brown-headed barbet as he incessantly calls “kutroo-kutroo- kutroo” all morning and afternoon — welcoming the Delhi summer in a manner no sane creature would. Up in the mountains, his big cousin, the hill barbet, yodels across the mountain valleys, like a lovelorn lunatic. That dumpy little cousin of theirs, the clown-faced coppersmith barbet, is content to stand on tip-toe and emit a series of hiccups — evidence that he knows well how to have a good time and give the same to the ladies.
The smaller they come, the louder they get. The plain prinia, the ashy prinia and the tailorbird are a trio of tiny tots which may each tilt the scales at, perhaps, five to 10 grams, yet are able to produce 100+ shrill decibels right in your ear. This is not wooing a fair lady, but electioneering to the sweaty masses! But again, there’s so much joie de vivre in their performances, you can’t help but grin and sneakily cover your ears at the same time. That other great common noisemaker, the rose-ringed parakeet, doesn’t sing but just gets down to business — French kissing — after a brief, if touching bout of flirting.
It’s usually the gentlemen birds that sing (though some couples do duet), and they do so for basically two reasons: to win the heart of a fair lady and to inform other gentlemen birds that the area (and girl) are taken. Early morning is a good time to sing because the world is generally quiet at those hours and the song can carry a long way. Even when there’s a dawn chorus in full flow, the birds sing in such a way that each passionate gentleman can be distinctly heard by she who matters most to him!
Sometimes, alas, it may cause immense unease and distress. A sweet lady crow, hearing the exultant calls of the koel, rising to a hysterical fever pitch, can only know that very soon mischief will be done and that it will have something to do with her. Of course, once the babies come, the singing tapers away. There are ravenous mouths to feed, nests to be guarded, predators to be seen off, flying lessons to be given, and taxes to be paid. So it’s best to open your ears and get your daily dose of dopamine — free every morning, while it lasts.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.
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