CHERRY PICKING KOELS

 

Another magical spectacle, right outside my window pane. A koel couple today provided a different take on their cherry-tree antics. In a post some two years ago I wrote about a koel man feeding ripe red cherries to a koel woman. (I paste that story below).

Off and on, from there on, they’ve repeated the ritual – for my delight while I write. And I wonder idly, do koels marry for life? Is this tender deed – in what’s a cruel species – a manifestation of sweet nothings that bind a koel husband to his wife? What do other birds that are known to marry for life, do to make their marriage last? Monoandry coupled with monogamy is mostly a birdly thing – though not the thing of most birds by far. No amphibians, no reptiles ever marry for life. (Little do I know?) Marital fidelity is not a mammalian instinct at all – which is why humans need such abundant manipulation and enforced legal knots to make their marriages last.

Married or not, a koel couple reappeared today. The red inviting cherry fruits appeared not to interest the woman. She sat decorously, while the man hopped about branches, looking for the best cherry to pick. Having found one to his taste, he picked it off and flew over to where the woman-koel sat. And today’s event was on a branch right before my eyes. My previous observation, through intervening leaves and twigs, had not been as clear as this. The fond offering I had presumed took place, did not match at all what the koel man did.  The procedure followed was quite unlike how gaping mouths of nestlings are fed. The man did not sit at a convenient spot opposite, all the easier to feed the woman. Rather, he perched parallel – and offered his cherry sideways. And she had almost to wrench it off his beak. Having managed, she proceeded cheerily to gobble it down in one gulp. The practice among koels, I noted, is for the woman eat the man’s cherry. Could any bird custom be more starkly different from those of humans, we should ponder.

Having lost his cherry, the man returned soon with a second fruit. This time round, he was more careful not to let her yank it of too easily off his beak. Holding the cherry right out in front, with head well positioned to make her reach far out, he tried cunningly to mount her while she was struggling to get the cherry off his beak. But he wasn’t quite deft enough. She quickly let go the fruit and flew immediately off. The man followed eagerly behind, cherry still firmly in beak. The outcome was out of my sight.

And what’s with cherries – to be so attentively eaten, bitten and picked?

 

That previous post:  of  15 July 2015

Courting koels

A wonderful event occurred outside my window, some minutes ago. The sound of a heavy bird settling on a ‘cherry’ tree, just two yards from me, drew my attention.  It was a lady koel. And soon thereafter came a gentleman koel. It hopped on to a branch near the lady and she responded by lowering herself submissively.  The gentleman flitted from twig to twig, I thought looking for leverage to mount her. And all of the lady’s posturings indicated to my non-koel eyes that she wanted him to proceed with things. But after a few moves, he left her to pick an inviting red cherry fruit. The lure of food, I imagined, had proven stronger than that of sex.

In a few seconds he was back, with the fruit in his beak. And he offered the juicy little delicacy to the lady, who happily accepted the gift. It was so reminiscent of birds feeding their nestlings that I imagined for a moment that the gentleman was a parent feeding a young one. With another species, this possibility could not have been easily discounted. But not with koels, who hand over child upbringing to crows. So this was clearly a prelude to sex, a post-coital gift or simply an expression of love. I had never seen or heard of such gift-giving.

All too soon, the romantic interaction was interrupted by two screeching bulbuls, who kept diving at the couple. Koels aren’t particularly worried about bulbul attacks and usually ravage their nests even as the parents shriek and dive. But in this instance, the couple flew away – probably because the bulbul insistence was too strong a deterrence to intimacy. The whole episode was over in less than two minutes. But it left me relieved that even our few remaining birds are able to provide unmatched spectacle.

I am so glad I don’t have a camera on my phone.

 

samara-singhe@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

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