COUNTRY NOTEBOOK: Freebooters of the air:M.Krishnan The Sunday Statesman19August2012
Looting KITES are quite a feature of our bazaars and city markets and I know a restaurant in a park, in the heart of a big city, where these birds have grown in so audaciously slick and habitutes prefer the dull tiled-roofed varandah to the charm of repast in the open with colourful shrubs around and grass underfoot. These freebooters of the air come a close second after crows in the list of urban fauna, but there are KITES in the country, too.
There, with no meat stalls and crowded eating-houses, kites work harder for their living and are far less offensively familiar. They take to scavenging for their food, a more strenuous and less fashionable profession than picking pockets in cities. And in the remote countryside I have known kites actually hunts their prey.
I know a lake in such a place where I have seen kites fishing. They sail low over the water and clutch at the slippery prey on the surface with their talons, often without success. Here they are awkward apprentices in comparison to the many expert fishermen around, birds equipped with long stabbing beaks or long, wading legs, other specialised features or at least the boldness to plunge headlong into the water. Elsewhere I have seen kites chasing maimed quarry or flapping heavily among swarming termites, which they seized ponderously in their grappling-hook feet.
Once I saw a crowd of kites on the ground, in a forest glade. They had feasted with vultures and were preening themselves after the glut, before roosting. And once I saw a kite hopping along the grass gawkily in the wake of grazing cattle. Hunger had driven that bird into a fresh inroad on the path of degradation, but apparently a kite on terra firma can only lose its balance when when it tries to clutch with one foot at ebullient grasshoppers.
That is just as well, for these birds have sunk sufficiently low. They are so common that we do not notice them, and we do the occasion is often too annoying for us to appreciate their air mastery. Swifts and falcons are faster and more dashing, vultures more effortless in their soaring, but for sheer manoeuvre on spread wings the kite is unbeatable. No other bird has its slick skill in theft- its noiseless descent on the unsuspecting victim and grabbing with a comprehensive foot. The kite has a strong hooked beak and a powerful build- it is surprising that it has not developed, beyond petty theft, to thuggery and murder, with its equipment.
But perhaps that, too, is just as well. Those who raise poultry has no love for this bird as it is, and if it took to a more adventurous and violent way of life, the hand of everyone must be against it, in city and in village. And that would be no small waste of national energy considering the kite population of our country."- M.Krishnan
This was first published on 2 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman
*First two paragraphs not reproduced.
*The sketch of the bird not reproduced.
After a few days, the Article may be shifted to Page1 and placed before the article titled 'Mixed diet' dated 26 August 2012 to maintain Chronological order.
Mixed diet :M.Krisnan The Sunday Statesman 26 August 2012
"DURING the past month I have again observed koels eating the poisonous fruit of the Thevetia, quite half a dozen times.I can add little to my earlier report (3 February) on this strange addiction, but they seem to to choose ripe fruit invariably, fruit that get detatched from their stalks easily, after two or three pecks.Ripening is a process that involves chemical changes and it is possible that this alters the proportion of the poison, Thevetin, in the pulp; but this cannot quite explain koels consuming these drupes with avid desire, and no subsequent regrets.
I have not seen any other bird or beast evincing the slightest interest in the fruit of the Thevetia during this month, when I watched the trees more narrowly than usual, but an observer (whose interest was stimulated by my record of koels eating the drupes) tells me that he saw a Common Mynah pecking at one of these fruit on the ground. The fruit was brought to me, and showed beak-gouged holes, but since koel-pecked fruit fall to the ground with similar marks, it was not conclusive proof.
However, the observer tells me that he saw his mynah peck at the drupe several times, and eat pieces from it. I intend no sort of scepticism, but would like verification of this instance; perhaps some readers can provide it.
The Squirrel's diet is a topic that goes to my childhood.This was a smug squirrel, sitting up with a fruit in its forepaws, the primer from which I learned my Tamil; it stood for the first letter of the alphabet, and its successors, I learned that that the squirrel (I mean the common, striped squirrel* that enters our homes and lives so freely) is a harmless, lovable vegetarian that lives on fruits and nuts.Nurtured on this sort of natural history, I received a rude shock when I discovered (in my boyhood) that sqiurrels would eat eggs with relish.I need not have felt so perturbed over this unnatural lapse from vegetarianism: there is a large section of humanity that considers eggs vegetable.
Years later, while trying to grow maize in my backyard, I found out the truth about the squirrels. They have a fiendish passion for sprouting corn, and will dig up and savage several rows in no time. Enthusiastic horticulturists can provide a list of rare buds and growing tips especially fancied by these vandals.
However, I recently noticed a redeeming feature in the diet of these rodents.Some weeks ago a long patch of earth made its appearance in the brickwork of my verandah wall. I resolved at once to demolish it the next day for white ants a menace where I live. That evening I saw two squirrels feeding off the new-formed store.They broke the crust of earth with repeated shoves of their noses and licked up the termites as they tumbled out of their roofless homes.There was a methodical lack of haste, almost a rhythm, in the termite-eating of those squirrels-they demolished a few square inches of the crust, then stopped to feed, then extended the breach.But after a while they seemed to tire of this slow repast and scampered away. I saw them the next day at the termite-crust, and again a few days later.In a week they almost demolished the entire patch, but there were tunnels and thick areas beyond their noses, and I left nothing to chance.One cannot afford to where I live.
Incidentally I heard squirrels calling at noon-a long, sustained "cheep-cheep-cheep"-to one another in the first week of March, and also heard the monotonous, ceaseless "tonk" of the Coppersmith that day. Summer has officially arrived in these parts somewhat prematurely, as it has in many other places."-M.Krishnan
*Sketch of a Common striped squirrel
This was first published on 16 March 1952 in The Sunday Statesman.
Republished on 26 August 2012.