Urbanization has its evils. Destruction of patches of green that causes habitat loss for creatures living in it and displaces them. But, it also proves that Nature can take over an heal the damages wrought by man. This is the tale of one such green patch in Palakkad, my hometown in Kerala, and its inhabitants. The main characters in this tale are the Indian grey hornbills, a very common bird seen in our urban areas. They are true survivors and they pair up for life. This is their story.
In the heart of my town, Palakkad there is a bit of land on which stands the Palakkad town railway station. In the old days this was the junction for the meter gauge track from the Palani-Madurai route. There used to be a depot of the Indian Oil Corporation Corporation (IOCL) on the western side of the tracks and we had, and still have, a retail outlet of IOC on the eastern side opposite the Municipal bus stand.
|The green belt in the middle is the railway land. Click the link above to go to Google Maps|
The railway's yard already had huge trees in it's premises. With the stoppage of rail traffic the goods yard was shut down and human activity came to a standstill. Once the IOCL depot too was dismantled the rear approach to the railway station became an abandoned area. The only activity now is after 9 PM when passengers bound for Thiruvanathapuram come directly to the platform from that side. The IOCL depot is a wild unkempt area now with anti-social elements prowling around within its crumbling walls and poor people using it as a large open air lavatory! The trees grew with gay abandon, till some were cut recently for widening of the tracks. (The photos were clicked with my cellphone camera)
|This tree still stands and our story plays out on it|
This tree has a hole in a strategic location some 30 feet up on its trunk. For any self respecting bird that would be the hole to which he would bring his mate to! It has been a prized nesting location for a generation of Indian grey hornbills. Come the breeding season, they make a beeline for it and there is serious competition. Of course, only one pair will have the privilege of occupying that cozy little hole!
Of course, such a strategically placed tree hole would have attracted the attention of 'encroachers' when the hornbills were away. This hole was no exception. I noticed a pair of mynas flying around agitatedly. Obviously they had occupied it and now they were about to get 'evicted'!
When the season arrived, as usual, the annual 'house hunting' started in earnest. It was in late October that I noticed the first pair. They were the earliest to stake claim and inspection went on in earnest. I'm not sure if they are the same pair that nested there last year. Technically this is not the breeding season for the Indian grey hornbill. That comes later between March to June. However, courtship, pair feeding, mating and nest searching starts in November or December.
30th October, 2013
For the next few days they were the main pair, identifiable by a single white tipped black feather on the right side of the male's tail.
8th November, 2013
Then there was a flow of 'couples' to inspect the new 'apartments' on this tree. I counted nine pairs on one morning. They were sitting on different branches of the tree and would patiently wait for one pair to finish their inspection before moving in for their turn.
|"Ok. The doorway is fine...."|
|".......and the inside looks cozy, except for those darned myna's poo!"|
While they waited, some of them would go around looking for other tree holes with potential to be their next home.
|"No hole here."|
|"Hmmm.....this place has potential."|
|"Hey! There is a hole here!"|
|"Darn it! My beak barely fits!"|
|"Nice hole here baby!"|
|".....and a nice view too."|
Eventually it dwindled down to two pairs. The second pair has found another hole on a branch on the same tree but I'm unable to get a clear view because photography is not allowed in railway land! I have one distinct advantage though, my retail outlet lies adjacent to this green patch so I have an unhindered view of the tree and the activity that goes on around it.
Every year the pair that got the right for this tree hole would occupy it for the rest of the season. I have seen the nesting pair go in and out setting it up for living but the mynas too were not giving up. Every opportunity they got they'd also get inside and stake claim.
|"Ok! They've gone!"|
|Even if the female left the vicinity of the hole the male would hang around a little longer.|
|Then he too would move off after her.....|
|...hopping and flying in short spurts..|
|...to bask in the morning's sunshine.|
He would take it in his bill gently......
.... then return it to her without swallowing it.
Sometimes he'd take it again, chomp on it.....
......hold on for a few seconds.....
....before returning it to her lovingly again! I thought romancing was old fashioned! After all romance nowdays, is confined to social networking sites and is usually very brief and eminently forgettable! Paired for life seems very strange term as far as us humans are concerned. Perhaps we can take a leaf out of the hornbill's life story.