Holi is usually when the curtain drops for winter and rises for spring. The wintering waterfowl have finalized flight plans and many squadrons have already upped and left. And now it’s time for the spring birds to get into their act—which some have been rehearsing right since January.
On the Ridge, a month ago, I heard the magpie-robin practising softly, trying out a few syllables of song over and over again. Their major concerts will start in March and we will be hugely entertained, not only by their mellifluous flute concertos, but by their aggressive racing and chasing through the trees, as they settle their disputes over territories and girls.
On a later visit to the Ridge, I saw two Indian robins, dark blue and glossy, stuck out their chests and hopped belligerently towards each other, as if about to indulge in some macho chest-thumping: They too were settling territorial matters.
The wonderfully oafish brown-faced barbets, those hard-to-see grass-green birds hidden amongst the peepul trees, have already set the parks and woodlands ringing with their incessant “kutroo-kutroo” calls, a major signature tune for Delhi’s spring and summer.
At the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, a pair of coppersmith barbets has put finishing touches to its “hole-in-the-wall” residence, each bird taking its turn to chisel and plane the entrance. On my last visit, I could spot only one bird; perhaps the female is already incubating.
The shabby grey hornbills, too, are squealing and mewling as they flap about in their antediluvian way, seeking holes and hollows in which to bring up their families. It has to be comfortable, for the female will be sealed inside the hole until the chicks hatch, and their appetites grow beyond what the harassed father can provide.But it’s wonderful to see the male delicately feed the female while she’s inside—he’ll regurgitate drupe after drupe after drupe and, holding each one delicately at the end of that huge sickle bill, feed her through the slit in the hollow made for the purpose.
The purple sunbirds (so often called hummingbirds), too, are zipping about cheerfully, seeking out the odd confused bottlebrush bloom that has flowered prematurely. The males are still patchy and haven’t quiet completed the changeover from winter casuals to their resplendent pop-star spangles in midnight blue and purple. The red-whiskered bulbuls, too, appear to have got off the mark quite early—a couple of weeks ago, I saw one pull out nesting material from a creeper and whiz off time and again. This year, it appears, there will be no sparrow soap opera in the balcony as has been in the past, but the rabble is around; mobs of maybe 25 to 50 birds hold shrill democratic debates in the bougainvillea creeper just outside the drawing room every day.
As for the parakeets; they’ve taken to hanging upside down on the cable wires strung between houses and will blissfully neck and French kiss no matter who watches (or photographs), or against whose culture that may be!
Ranjit Lal is an author of books on nature and wildlife.