A pair of courting mynas showed how little the non-human world was troubled by the march of Coronavirus

We have been wondering if the birds looked at us pitifully through the window as the lockdown and rain confined us indoors. A handsome male Jungle Myna stood on our windowsill and sang a spirited song, probably to cheer us up besides his other purposes.

His vigorous and protracted song did not go in vain. A dainty female myna flew in to sit by his side cheerily and our spirits lifted up a great deal all at once.

The pair of courting mynas showed us how little the non-human world was troubled by the march of Coronavirus. Those two sprightly little birds just brought a lungful breath of wilderness to us, wretched prisoners of corona-stricken city! That was what Henry David Thoreau termed the 'tonic of the wilderness' in his unforgettable book titled Walden.

Tonic or not, the Jungle Myna did enliven all but dead spirits. Suddenly we felt that we would never be utterly severed from nature so long as we have guests like those birds, our 'brute neighbours' as Thoreau fondly called the birds, rodents, ants and such around him in the wood named Walden. Like Thoreau many of us live alone; but need not be lonely so long as we have a few 'brute neighbours.'

We saw the mynas clearly through the windowpane; but they did not seem to notice us so much as to feel ill at ease. The shallow frame of the window was not a respectable place for the mynas to go through their elaborate rituals of courtship.

They moved to a nearby cable and spent much of the day sharing affections between them with flamboyant exchanges of bowings and greetings. The windowpane sheltered us from rain but did not prevent the fervour of mynas' courtship from warming up our hearts.

When the first wave of Covid-19 had driven people indoors a year before we saw a pair of mynas prospecting for their nesting site in our neighbourhood. It was an unusually happy time for them - the mynas, not the people.

The people were not done with arguing whether the virus was airborne or not and hardly ever opened the windows. The mynas took that 'godsend' shut-down to have a leisurely pace of courtship, nest-building, incubation and chick-rearing outside our windows.

The mynas at our windows this year could be the veterans of the previous year, their offspring or complete strangers in our neighbourhood. We could not tell the difference; they all looked alike to us.

That ambiguity for us was one of the charms of the wild creatures. We had not managed to label them or pigeon-hole them and take them to the vets or the animal-psychologists. They were wild, our 'brute neighbours.'

Although the male Jungle Myna appeared pretty confident and assertive, the female was quite cautious and hesitant at taking hold of our window, cable perch and the nest-hole on the wall. The female did not seem to know the neighbourhood well. We conjectured that the male was the veteran of the previous year while the female was a newcomer. We were observing the formation of a new pair-bond!

We wondered how the pair-bond of the previous year could have come to an end. Death of the female was a big possibility. Incubation and chick-rearing are very arduous chores; and the female often grows feeble by taking on a greater share of those tasks after laying a large clutch of eggs. A weak mom can be an easy prey for the Shikra, hawks and falcons.

Another reason for break-ups in the world of birds is botched breeding. Breeding attempts may fail because of bad choice of nesting site, bad eggs, inadequate incubation, poor food supply for the cheeks and, finally, nest-raiding by birds, animals or people.

After a terrible failure at breeding the mynas may break-up and form new pair-bonds to try afresh. Their lives are too short; and they do not think it is wise to do the same thing again and expect a different result. So, they move on and change a few things starting with the mate.

The veteran male at our window seemed to know all about the neighbourhood, the nesting place and the courtship rituals. He was a great songster and sang stridently to show that there were no challengers in the neighbourhood.

He dived into the nest-hole repeatedly to show the ease with which the nest could be accessed. Then he collected a twig and placed it on the ledge for the female to appreciate his taste in nesting material.

Finally the male picked up the twig and with it dived into the nest-hole. After that no one could say that he was just playing around and not serious.

Enam Ul Haque is the current Chairman of WildTeam.

From The Business Standard

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