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Some Ornithological observations of Sri K Poornachandra Tejaswi depicted in his literary works

posted Feb 22, 2012, 4:23 AM by Sharath Adavanne   [ updated Jan 10, 2013, 6:17 AM ]

 ‘Birds are part of my life.  They appear in my narration as any other human character.  Similarly human presence could be felt in my birding recounting.  Birds have been portrayed as having intellect and character as they are, in my writings.  I haven’t perceived bird watching as an amateur or ornithologist pursuit.  Nature is always portrayed as main character in my novels and short-stories’. These words of Sri. K Poornachandra Tejaswi, renowned author in Kannada language, a language practiced by some 50 million people, mostly in Southern India, aptly represents his inquisitiveness on birds and nature. 


Unlike many educated Indians, Tejaswi settled in Western Ghats (Chikkamagalur district, Karnataka) in the guise of farming to continue his foremost love - exploration. He was a person of multifaceted interest - Creative writing, Farming, Painting, Music, Photography, Fishing, Technology, Publishing, etc. He eagerly responded to the problems faced by the nature, humans and actively involved in many populist movements.  His father’s (Kuvempu) love of nature, influenced him at an early age, and inspired him to enter into the infinite field of nature. His five decades of nature observations is reflected in most of his popular science books, short stories and novels.  Here is an attempt to compile some rare ones, especially bird related instances, as all are unique in nature and many are recorded nowhere else.

  Fig: Sri K Poornachandra Tejaswi (Center).

COURTSHIP & BREEDING


Small Blue Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

 Paired male and female Small Blue Kingfishers Alcedo atthis shares the nest building, incubation and rearing activity. While preparing a nest hole, one bird excavates, shifts the mud to midway, the other collects and dumps far away.  Nests are very dirty.  Chicks consume fleshy part of fishes, and bone remains, produce stinking smell in the nest.  The chicks defecate by ejecting out of the nest hole in order to keep the nest clean, however the fish bones are not cleared by parents. The growing chicks are infested with lice and ticks.  On each sortie after providing feed, adults bathe with many dipping in the water to get rid of pests passed on from chicks.  Depending on the direction of fish head in its bill, one can visualize whether the feed is for self or for the brood; fish head facing kingfisher means food for self and away means for the brood.


                                                                                                                    Fig: Small Blue Kingfisher

White-breasted Water-hen Amaurornis phoenicurus


Chicks of White-breasted Water-hen, black in colour emerged from the eggs during parents absence. At that moment, Tejaswi was in hide to photograph the nesting birds.  Not finding their parents nearby, both the chicks uttered a call ‘pick … pick’.  From a distance beyond the water body where nest was located, adult answered the call.  Communication continued for a while.  New born chicks started traveling towards their parent on water surface like a floating flower (true to Precocial(=Nidifugous) nestlings behaviour).

                                              Fig: White-breasted Water-hen

Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus

Nesting of Rufous Woodpecker Celeus brachyurus is entirely different from that of other Woodpeckers. The nest constructed by arboreal ant Crematogaster dohmi accommodates the breeding Woodpecker. Crematogasters don’t harm the adults or fledglings. The predatory ants protect the host plant by driving away many pests.  Farmers pick up the nest in dark hours and place it in their kitchen garden to safeguard the vegetable crop from rats and squirrels. Insecticides used in Coffee plantations are harmful to these ants intern affecting Rufous Woodpeckers reproduction.


Woodpeckers

During courtship male Woodpeckers attracts the females by a different chiseling pattern, heard as drumming than customary feeding habit. In music, drummers produce different talas like eka tala, aadi tala, tri tala!, same way Woodpeckers produces rhythm.


FORAGING


Small Blue Kingfisher Alcedo atthis & Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis

On introduction of smaller sized fingerlings to a newly constructed small pond within in a farm, very next day, a pair of Small Blue Kingfishers appeared for fishing.  Really it is surprising, how did the kingfisher get the message of fingerlings’ release?  Tejaswi opines that, it is not that we humans observe them, it is other way round, in fact other living beings do study us. In next few days Toads appeared, together with kingfishers they completely cleared off the fingerlings released.  Subsequently, bigger fingerlings were introduced so that they can withstand the assault of natural predators. On the third day a hefty Stork-billed Kingfisher Halcyon capensis appeared. It caught a fish bigger than its head, smashed and swallowed it. It’s amazing to notice the chain of actions and reactions taking place when one tries to introduce new species, whether local or exotic, to a new area.


Lesser Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis

A Lesser Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis can fish in deeper water than a Small Blue Kingfisher that can fish comfortably in very shallow and narrow streams.

                                                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                    Fig: Stork-billed Kingfisher

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis & White-breasted Water-hen Amaurornis phoenicurus

An attempt was made to convert a marshy area adjoining a stream into paddy field. The moment seeds were sown, it attracted many Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis eagerly devouring all the seeds spread, and hardly very few sprouted.  Consequently, the seedling plot was covered with meshes and succeeded in growing seedling defeating Dove. Then seedlings were transplanted in to the prepared field.  Aquatic weeds’ thriving well on the upper part of the stream is a good breeding ground for many White-breasted Water-hens Amaurornis phoenicurus. Consequently, the transplanted paddy-field was more or less completely devoured by these Water-hens. Paddy cultivation was abandoned for ever in the marshes.

                                                                    Fig: Spotted Dove

Baya weaver bird Ploceus philippinus

Congenial habitat with ever-available food is conducive to all types of population increase.  In the last 4-5 decades, after the construction of Lakkavalli and Gajanur dams in Shimoga district, vast area came under irrigation; and, crops are grown throughout the year.  Prolific increase in Baya weaver bird Ploceus philippinus population could be attributed to the phenomenon.  Sugar cane provided nesting material and Rice, helped to increase the population many fold.


Vernal hanging Parrot Loriculus vernalis

Vernal hanging Parrot Loriculus vernalis are fond of Hibiscus spp buds.  These birds pluck and drop the flowers after sucking nectar and pollen consumed. With in the foliage they walk and forage, but never take to wings while moving within the foliage.


Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus

A female Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus without any feathers on its body was found in a hollow cavity of a large fallen tree. Female Hornbills shed their feathers during breeding as they are concealed inside a dark cavity for a minimum 40 days.

Note: Detailed breeding biology is not reported on Malabar Pied Hornbill.  However, on the basis of Malabar Grey Hornbill Ocyceros birostris (Mudappa 2000) has total nesting period of 86 days including post hatching phase of 46 days, it is assumed that Malabar Pied incubates 40 days almost equal to studied bird.

At one stage, he questions himself –all the living beings are most energy efficient, evolved during the evolutionary process spread over millions of years, then why did heavy and large bills (Casques) adorned by Hornbills have not changed?  

Known answer is large bills of Hornbills (Ocyceros, Anthracoceros & Buceros spp in India and many other species of world.) are useful to amplify the calls and effectively communicate in the thick forests. Calls are languages used to perform a variety of functions like establishment and maintenance of territory through advertisement or could be for attracting a male. Hornbills breed in crevices in larger trees. The bills of Hornbill are effective tools used for transferring food to female and chicks during incubation and rearing.

Note: It is believed that this structure acts as a vibrating chamber to make the hornbill's voice louder. The calls made by the bird range from the deep booming sounds they make as they begin foraging to brays, toots, bellows, and cackles. The bill and casque of juvenile birds are underdeveloped, and females often have much smaller casques than males. This may be because males also use their casques to attract mates and display their health and strength to other males. 

                  Fig: Malabar Grey Hornbill


Blue-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis athertoni

Blue-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis athertoni strikes the combs of social wasps (spp?). An enormous papery comb hanging from trees opens up due to the impact and spills the residents. Disturbed and enraged wasps retaliates the attacking birds. After striking the wasp comb, opportunistic Bee-eaters perch on a branch nearby and gulp down the retaliating wasps.  If retaliators are more in number bee-eaters move slightly away and continue to gulp.  Foraging pattern followed by other three common Bee-eaters found, Small Green, Blue tailed and Chestnut headed (Merops orientalis, M. philippinus, M. leschenaultia) is different; they select a place where wasps and bees are active in search of food and position themselves to predate.


Little Spider Hunter Arachnothera longirostra

Little Spider Hunter Arachnothera longirostra is the only bird that can sip nectar of Banana flowers because of its lengthy curved beak.


SURVIVAL


Lesser Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis & Little Egret Egretta garzetta

A Lesser Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis was trying to fish in the river Hemavathi for almost an hour; but didn’t succeed. It rested on a small heap on the bank facing deep water. A larger fish, like a black shadow was moving towards the water-edge where bird was resting.  Since the observer was on an elevated location above the river, he was able to visualize the happenings. It was a big Ophiocephalus marulius fish (Avalu in Kannada). Predatory and carnivorous Ophiocephalus marulius (Avalu), Wallago attu (Bale) and Haddu fishes (Spp?) are found in rivers. Although the bird was observing the movement of the fish, it didn’t perceive any danger and neglected it. The dorsal fin of the fish was exposed out of water as it neared the bird. The fish came very close to the bird and straight away jumped out of water in the direction of perching kingfisher but missed the target and landed on the sand bank.  The bird dashed off in a lightning speed. After the futile attempt, the fish jumped back into water, in contrast to Tejaswi’s guess that it would move like a snake. After sometime, a Little Egret Egretta garzetta arrived into the shallow part of the river water for foraging.  The hunter fish reappeared within few minutes and started moving towards the egret.  Sensing the danger, the egret moved fast to a safe distance.  The fish was circling in the water for prey.  Foraging egret continued walking along the river, with predator fish following it. Sensing danger, Egret left the foraging ground. 


Bulbuls & Drongos

Many snakes feed on eggs, chicks and adult birds. On some occasions, a group of birds attack the snake on prowl and successfully drive it out and save the clutch. Most of the time, Bulbuls give advance alarm and Drongos’ lead the attacking team.


BEHAVIOUR


Woodpecker

Woodpeckers comfortably climb a tree with the help of their toes and tail combination. Same combination hinders the movement while descending, moving on parallel branches and on ground, it looks like hopping.




ROOSTING



Malabar Trogon Harpactes fasciatus

Trogons make nest in dead wood.  Some time they occupy smaller nests used by other birds. However the nests are modified to suit its size.


Barbet Megalaima spp

In difference to other forest birds, Barbets Megalaima spp roost at night in tree holes.


Munia Lonchura spp

White-throated, White-backed and Black-throated Munias Lonchura malabarica, Lonchura striata, Lonchura Malacca construct dormitories for family stay, using coarse grass in globular shape of the size of a football a height of 2 m in thick shrubs.  Rarely birds up to thirty, roost in these nests. 

                                                             


                                                                                                      
                                                                                                           Fig: White cheeked Barbet


THREATS


Never befriend wild animals

Usually all wild birds are afraid of human beings; our slightest movement against, drives them away. A Sandpiper (Actitis/Tringa spp?) used to be present on the riverbank where Tejaswi and his friends were fishing.  Once they offered a very tiny fish to the Sandpiper.  Astonishingly, after a few minutes of dilemma, overcoming its immense fear imbibed by the evolutionary intuition of not accepting offered food, the bird accepted the fish and ate it.  Over a period, it became an avid follower. It was so habituated that even an act of throwing, used to attract the sandpiper from far off distance.  At this stage, Tejaswi and his friends had a feeling that friendship might pose a danger to the bird if it approaches a stranger. They try to keep a distance but it was too late. Tragically, the Sandpiper met a sad end. It swallowed the fishing hook with a bite, assuming it as a morsel of food offered to it and died instantly in front of their eyes. A point was proven again that human friendship would always spell a doom to the wild creatures.  So, never befriend wild animals, it will definitely harm them.



Magpie Robins Copsychus saularis

Some time Magpie Robins Copsychus saularis build their nests in the crevice of tailed roof houses in Western Ghats. This leads to water leakage during rainy days. As a precautionary measure, people are destroying the nests in the initial stage.


Green Pigeon Treron spp

Dwindling population of Green Pigeon Treron spp could be attributed to disappearance of Ficus trees. Planting and nursing of these trees has come to standstill as there is no timber or economical value. Hence no one - neither villagers nor department is interested to propagate the Ficus trees.


Mountain Imperial Pigeon Ducula badia

Mountain Imperial Pigeon Ducula badia swallows fruits of Vateria indica (Dhoopa) larger than its head with the help of extendable gullet and gape.  It feeds on very few selected thurchi, ugani (kannada names of trees) fruits of moist and evergreen forests. Drastic reduction in their population is observed in the recent years due to absence of these fruiting trees in the forests and coffee plantations. These soft wooded trees have been selectively                                       Fig: Green Pigeon

cleared by forest department and plantation owners to augment the supplies to Plywood and Match factories.


Poultry disease

A dreaded disease that blinds the eyes first, wipes out the village poultry. And it also attacks wild birds.  Gradually swelling eyes of Magpie Robins Copsychus saularis deters foraging and the bird dies within a week.   A few Grey Jungle Fowls Gallus sonneratii were also found dead due to the disease.



PEST CONTROL

Woodpecker & Barbet

Woodpeckers & Barbets help in pest control and protect the trees. They make a nest hole in a dead tree but never in a living tree.  Clearing dead trees from forests and farms will be detrimental to these birds.


ECONOMICS


Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

Increase in population of Spotted Doves Streptopelia chinensis could be attributed to decrease in hunting. Drastic increase in the bullet cost has brought down the intense of hunting small birds like Doves, after all its economics!




FOLK STORY


Woodpecker

A folk story on Woodpeckers - A folk story about woodpeckers goes like this; Once Lord Shiva was dancing to the beat of ‘damaruga’, his favorite typical drum. During the course, it fell and he requested the woodpecker to give background music to his dance.  Woodpecker obliged and dancing continued. After some time, it turned into a competition between Lard Shiva and woodpecker. Unable to dance to the tune of Woodpecker, Lord Shiva slipped and strained his leg, and desecrated the Woodpecker to continue drumming for ever.  So, we find them always drumming.


ON SALIM ALI

On the splendid work of Salim Ali, Tejaswi opines that finding new bird species other than listed by him in Indian sub-continent would be Hercules task.  Even in the present tech-savy scenario, with so many individuals interested in birds, NGOs and Government institutions, we are unable to update/recheck the birding status of area where Salim Ali had once conducted earliest surveys.




Reference and further reading:

  • http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-hornbill.html

  • Mudappa, D. 2000: Breeding biology of Malabar Grey Hornbill. JBNHS 97(1):15-24

  • Poornachandra Tejaswi, K. Parisarada kathegalu, 1991 (Nature stories); Kannada nadina hakkigalu, 1996 (Birds of Karnataka - part 1 & 2); Maya loka, 2006 (Magic world): Publishers - Pustaka prakashana, Mysore 570 009


Photo Acknowledgement:

  • Sri Kulashekara CS

  • Vismaya Pratishtana