A short boat-ride in Choruil Beel of Rohanpur took us close to a tall bird robed strikingly in black and white. It was a male Black-winged Stilt meditating on one very long pink leg. As we came nearer, the nimble bird opened its beautiful pink eye to peer at us without changing its half-lotus posture.
Like all shorebirds the Black-winged Stilt slumbers by standing on one leg and folding the other limb close to its body. Because of its very long and rickety leg, a slumbering Stilt's posture looks perilous and a bit flippant indeed. We stayed still and silent while our cameras clanked on feverishly.
Our boat stayed at a distance so that the Black-winged Stilt could continue to do whatever it was doing and not fly off in needless apprehension. We were also covered by a thick curtain of fog. Before long the Stilt gently untucked its folded leg and started walking leisurely to the edge of the water.
A female Black-winged Stilt was resting on one leg at the water's edge. The feathers on a female's back usually are not deep black like those of a male. The female opened its cute pink eyes but continued to rest on one leg. She was clearly more interested in resting rather than feeding.
The male apparently had rested enough and was interested in wading through the shallow water of Choruil Beel in search of food. Black-winged Stilt feeds on small insects and crustaceans in sand, mud and water. Its stilt-like legs make wading through foot-deep water quite effortless.
The Choruil, Muleer and few other small beels of Chapainawabganj are the floodplains of Punarbhaba River. Being right next to the Indian border these beels are less molested by people through overfishing, hunting etc. Migratory birds like the Black-winged Stilt can still find their food there.
We were delighted to watch the female Black-winged Stilt shake off her slumber and begin stretching her legs. Soon she joined the male in the shallow water. Their graceful ballerina-like gaits were truly a pleasure to watch. We wondered whether their legs were fashioned more to wade in water or walk on catwalks!
The wading Black-winged Stilts looked elegant and adorable beyond the limits of anyone's narrative power. We felt perhaps as poet Pablo Neruda did while looking at a few endearing birds. In a poem titled 'Ode To Bird Watching' the Nobel Laureate wrote:
I only want
to caress them,
to see them resplendent.
These splendid Black-winged Stilts used to visit all the beels and water-holes of Bangladesh only a few decades before. They are no longer as widespread here although doing pretty well at other places in five continents. Here we have to travel to remote places like Choruil beel to meet them.
Two Black-winged Stilts flying over us called 'pit pit pit pit' to let others know that they wish to have company. The two Stilts wading before us promptly responded and took off to join them. The four Stilts soon landed on the bank where a few more Stilts were resting. The Stilts simply love company.
In flight, the Black-winged Stilt looked pretty distinctive because of its slender white body with the long trailing pink legs energetically propelled by two pointed black wings. Those very acutely angled wings were designed for long-distance migration flights, although many Stilts do not travel very far.
At many places the Black-winged Stilts have become sedentary, living in one place round the year. They nest on the ground near water bodies. They need company even at the breeding places and very often nest colonially. They are, however, not above some noisy disputes with neighbours next door.
Black-winged Stilt hatchlings feed on their own leaving their parents to do only the guard duty. That may be one of the reasons for their success. The Stilts have been doing pretty well while the populations of many other shorebirds are declining precipitously all over the world.
Another possible reason for the proliferation of the Black-winged Stilt may well be its spectacular, noble and innocent looks. It is difficult for the cruellest of men to look at this bird and think what it would taste like as a table meat. No wonder no famed cookbook writer has a recipe for the Stilt.
The Black-winged Stilt, however, is not safe in Bangladesh since the shorebirds are often poisoned; not shot or trapped here. And the poison cannot discriminate between the beautiful and not so beautiful birds. Also, we have been poisoning its food through the overuse of insecticides and pesticides.
Moreover, much of the banks of our water bodies are littered and polluted to the extent that no self-respecting Black-winged Stilt would like to step on it.
Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam. First Published in The Business Standard.
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