Monday, February 10, 2014

Hornbill Heights (Part 2) - February Frolic

The first part of this blog is here

It has to be something to do with the season. Every bird pair I lay my eyes upon seem to be in a very raunchy mood. February still has a nip in the air and the days still comes a tad late making you want to turn over and snuggle under a warm blanket long after the alarm clocks have gone off.

My hornbill pairs have been busy over the last few months setting up their nest to receive the incoming packages the storks would bring later in the season, that is, if the hornbills too believed that storks carried good tidings like us humans do! There has been a spurt in the stork population too but that story is for another time.

1st February, 2014

Turf wars were still not over. The myna pair has been relentless. I noted with surprise that if one of the hornbills were alone the mynas had no qualms about dive bombing it and chasing it off. They know that their tree hole is gone but they are not giving up without a fight. Feisty little birds; the mynas.

Pair 1 looked a little lost and confused at time when the mynas were at their aggressive best. They'd sit on a branch, a little away, watching as the mynas frantically tried to reassert their claim.

7th February, 2014

While Pair 1 was waging their war it seemed Pair 2 had no such problems; or so I thought. They were going about setting up the nest in earnest. Most often, it was the female that was hanging about and cleaning up the nest while the male would forage in the vicinity and bring food for her.

The female would hang on to the edge of the hole, push her head inside and scoop out stuff lying inside the cavity with her long beak.

She would then proceed to spit it out before repeating it many times. After a while she'd fly off to a nearby branch to rest while her mate would inspect the nest.

I have observed this in the morning hours till  around 9 AM after that they'd fly off somewhere together. I too would have to leave for office.

In between cleanings and inspections they would continue their game of  'pass-me-the-fig'. The male would fly off (and it was always the male) and return with a fruit or some such thing for his partner and they would keep passing it to each other without swallowing it with twisting and turning of their necks. (See previous post here for photos of this game)

I read that there was a method to this madness. It is not only a behaviour adopted to coax the female to enter the nesting hole, but also to 'train' her to grasp the offering without dropping it. Once incarcerated, only the beak and sometimes only its tip, can be put out of the small opening in the hollow. If the female drops it there is every chance that their hatchlings may not survive because the male has to go out far to find food again. It is also meant to reassure the female that he'd be around to feed her while she is incarcerated.

Meanwhile, on the main trunk, Pair 1 was also going through their nest inspection process. The male would inspect the inside and then go and sit next to his mate and coax her to do that same.

She would then swoop down and do her inspection.

All this was happening under the watchful eyes of the myna pair who had an expression of righteous indignation. After all they had lost a prime piece of real estate to a larger bird!

This 'pass-me-the-fig' game was also being performed by Pair 1 around their nest but I noticed they were doing something else too. The male had acquired a fruit from somewhere and had it in his beak.

He then flew down to his mate and started the game. Contorting himself over her and around the opening of the nest he handed over the fruit. What he did next was astonishing!

He presented his butt to her! From his posture, at first, it appeared that he was trying to push her head into the nest with his tail and butt.

Then I realized that the female was sort of rubbing the fruit on his behind and then passing it back to him.

Then she buried her face under his tail feathers again and this went on for a while!

It appeared that he was squirting his feces onto the opening of the hole to help create a seal for the nest. Sometimes, he would fly up and observe her progress, then break off a bit of bark from the tree and go back to give it to her.

She was very busy, meanwhile, giving finishing touches to the opening. She'd chip away in on one corner, rub her beak on another then try to squeeze herself inside.

The male would occasionally fly down and help her and probably trying to also coax her to settle inside. It appeared that she wasn't quite ready yet.

She would keep scratching the edges of the hole and induce the male to do the same for her.

Then she'd try again to pull herself inside but would withdraw after reaching half way inside. Indeed; a frustrating time for her mate!

He'd fly off, leaving her to her work and watch from another branch.

He wouldn't go far away because the mynas were always waiting for an opportunity to fly back into what, for them, was their nest. So he would have one eye fixed on them always!

This post isn't quite complete yet. There is more to come. Meanwhile enjoy the tale till now...............

11th February, 2014 UPDATE @ 9.00AM
Very important day in my Hornbill Story. She has been INCARCERATED!!
I saw her struggling to squeeze out of her hole on 9th February evening. She mated with her partner so I had an inkling of what is to come over the next few day. Today I saw the female inside with the opening narrowed to a slit! She must have sealed herself in in the last 36 hours. Now it will be 90 days of masterly inactivity for the male and I!


R Niranjan Das said...

Nice captures and an interesting narration of your encounter with the hornbills.

cappuccino said...

imagine if the female bird had claustrophobia!!! I guess all these phobias are reserved for us humans...