Monday, March 03, 2014

A Tragic Tale of a Little Flowerpecker

My house, though built in the middle of the town, has the fortune to be set in the midst of a garden with a variety of fruiting trees. Sometimes I feel I'm like Gerald Durrell, surrounded by a menagerie of creatures of all sizes and shapes. Among the many birds that adorn the trees and bushes in my garden, the three smallest are the tailor birds, the sunbirds and the pale-billed flower peckers.

I find the tailor birds flitting about on the ground and the sunbirds and flowerpecker on low bushes, always busy rushing about as if that was the last day of their lives. Most often, they would be off even before I could line my camera lenses on them. It was under very tragic circumstances that I finally managed to get them within shooting distance.

15th February, 2014
I was returning for lunch from my clinic and I heard the agitated calls of a flower pecker from a bush next to  my verandah. I knew they had a nest on the mango tree that spread its branches over my lawn. I used to see them hopping around the branches all day.

Today they were sounding very upset about something, and I realized why as soon as I set my eyes on a fledgling sitting on the ground, looking very weak.

It had obviously been dislodged from its nest, probably by a marauding crow.Since it had fallen the ground from such great height, it would have been in a complete shock. And when I looked closely I realized that the poor little creature was being eaten alive by the fire ants.

The mother bird was anxiously trying to get its little one to move. It was an obviously futile exercise. The little bird was in no shape to respond or move anywhere in its condition. I had to intervene, though it was against my policy to get involved in Nature's, sometimes cruel, ways.

I picked it up, all the while followed by an anxious mother bird, pulled out some seven ants from the little bird's body and placed it inside a half portion of coconut husk. This I placed on an old tea bush so it would be visible to the mother.

This little bird gave me some of my best close up shots I have ever got of a feathered creature. Perhaps it knew I was helping it. It had such a trusting look in its deep dark eyes.

I knew it was not destined to survive. It's right wing seemed broken and was devoid of feathers at the joint. Maybe the crow that attacked it was responsible for that. Even the leg seemed oddly twisted.

The mother bird was circling overhead and calling to it's baby but was refusing to come down to this artificial nest.

I then decided it would be better to move it to a place where the mother could have more access to it's little one. There was an old birdbath that I wasn't using because it had developed a leak that would never stop despite patching it many times. I shifted the bird to the pot with the 'nest' I had made for it. It was placed between a neem tree and some palms whose fronds were arching over this pot.

It was almost as if the mother bird had been waiting for this. She came flying down to a low branch on the neem tree and kept calling to the baby bird, as if encouraging it to fly. 

The little one, which had already hopped out of the coconut 'nest' onto the edge of the pot, appeared to go to sleep. Perhaps the toxins from the bites of the fire ants were kicking in. One bit to us is so painful; I could imagine the effect of seven or more ants biting in tandem.

A few moments later the mother appeared on the stem of the palm frond with a neem fruit in its beak. 

Despite its best efforts the little one was not looking in her direction and seemed to have slipped into a stupor. The mother bird then popped the fruit down her own throat when she realized that her baby was not interested, or maybe she'd regurgitate it later when the little one cried for food.

A few minutes later Papa bird too appeared on the scene and joined his mate in trying to coax their baby into doing something. 

I was wondering if they were telling it to fly and join them but their effort didn't seem to have any influence on the little bird that continued to be in some sort of daze. I was worried it would fall off the edge of the pot though it seemed to have a strong grip on it.

I had to go off to a hospital where I was a visiting consultant. I was in a dilemma whether I should take the little bird inside and keep it in some shoe box till I could get some information on how to nurse it back to health. However, I wasn't too keen on interfering with Mother Nature's plans so I left the little chick in the care of it's parents till I could return.

I left them sitting guard over their precious offspring. That was the last I saw of it.

When I came back an hour later the chick was gone. The parents were somewhere in the palms. Perhaps the chick had jumped or fallen off and they had managed to take it somewhere safe, though I doubted it. I did not have much hope for it. It was too tiny to withstand a concerted assault, first probably by a crow and later by an army of deadly ants. In any case I did not want to think something unfortunate had befallen the little chick. 

I hoped Nature found a way........