Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hornbill Saga - The End of the Days

The hornbill blogs in series are here. Click the links for the previous posts

  1. Hornbill Heights - Part 1
  2. Hornbill Heights - Part 2
  3. Hornbill Heights - Part 3
  4. Hornbill Saga - Faithfulness
8th April, 2014

I looked, and looked again. The opening of the nest was larger than it was the previous day. It only meant one thing. The female had let herself out! The male, obviously, with the fruit in its beak was going to feed the chicks. A doting and dutiful father, considering that the female was nowhere to be seen! I was about to have my first look at the little ones but that would be another day.

He was hovering around protectively. Not flying too far away or for too long. The mother, obviously, would have gone elsewhere to recover her strength and get her plumage back in order after two long months of confinement.

11th April, 2014

I did not get my look at the chicks for another three days. Then on the 11th of April I saw a tiny head reach out with the beak wide open to get it's share of fruit from papa bird.

He would regurgitate the fruit one after another, and place them lovingly into the waiting beaks of his little chicks.

Immediately after each short session of feeding the male would leave to look for more food. In his absence I was given a reminder that the turf wars were not over. Mynas, the old occupants of the hole, seemed to have been waiting for the right opportunity. The minute the father hornbill flew off the waiting myna descended to the opening.

It would peep and go away unsure of what to do. Perhaps the hornbill's formidable beak was a deterrent.

12th - 14th April, 2014

The male was suddenly very busy. He had two mouths to feed and so had to go out more frequently. The mother bird had still not made a return or I was not seeing it during the times I was there. It was always the male arriving with food and nest material. 

Even a wasp in the mud below the tree was a potential source of nutrition for his chicks. I had never seen him come to ground level when the mother bird was incarcerated.

16th - 19th April, 2014

It seemed the air was full of hornbills. There were other pair in the vicinity of my hornbill's tree and it seemed that their chicks were also growing. The pair was sitting on a casuarina tree and going through some ritual dance moves!

As I wondered where the female was, she suddenly appeared on a branch with her mate. He feathers had grown back but she looked still worn out from her experience. It had been a full week since she broke out and I hadn't seen her.

The male still was doing what he did best, feed the hungry inmates......................

........... the female was just perched above and observing him. She just did not seem to have built up her strength yet.

However, it was evident that she had passed on some of her skills in confinement to her chicks. They too were adept at shooting out their poo out of the nest with unerring accuracy!

The first few days after her reappearance she made no attempt to feed the chicks.

It was the male who was feeding the chicks who always appeared very hungry.

On occasions the male attempted to coax the female to feed the chicks by passing the stuff in his beak to the female. Perhaps he realized that she was lacking in confidence to deliver the food to the waiting beaks of her little ones.

20th April, 2014

The growing chicks and their ever hungry cries was testing the male's perseverance. 

He not only had to feed them but also had to ensure that the nest was maintained for their comfort. He was now collecting mud from directly under the tree from a track frequented by vehicles and humans.

The father bird was now ferrying clods of dry mud from the heap below the tree. There was some serious renovation going on inside. Now that the female was out the chicks would have a little more space. That would soon become uncomfortable as they started growing bigger.

It seemed that the danger he was putting himself into jolted the female out of her lethargy. She first went and tested her ability to cling at the edge of the nest.

It seemed that the mother bird had finally made up her mind about her role in bringing up her babies. She flew to a nearby tree and returned with what appeared to be some fruit. Her first attempt was very comical. It was obvious that she was woefully out of practice and she just couldn't get it right.

I wasn't sure what the problem was but after a few attempts at passing the fruit to her chicks she gave up and flew to the end of the broken branch above the nest to catch her breath. Maybe the fruit was too large or too smooth that she wasn't able to grip it properly. Perhaps she was afraid of dropping it.

After a few seconds she flew back again to  make another futile attempt.

Back again to the perch to rework her strategy. She was obviously out of practice, more used to receiving stuff than giving it. I though it should have been instinctive!

Attempt after failed attempt occurred over the next four and a half minutes. Somehow, she wasn't able to get it right. Maybe the chicks weren't ready to take something from her because they were so used to getting it from their father. He would have had time to give 20 fruits if he had 4 minutes!

The last time she tried it, I thought I saw the fruit slip out to the ground below. In any case she never made another attempt that morning!

The chicks were growing and their needs were increasing each passing day. Two hungry mouths meant that the father had to take over feeding duties again while mother did other things. 

Nest maintenance was a constant affair so the mother took over the easier chore, bringing mud and nesting material. She would bring a clog of mud and place it on the edge of the hole for the chicks to take inside.

So much more easier than trying to put a fruit in the little beak! I guess the male wasn't very confident in her abilities. He'd sit over her and fix her with a sharp look while she was at it!

2nd - 6th May, 2014

Each time I saw the beaks of the chicks through the slit the seemed to have grown slightly bigger than on the previous day. The frequency of feeding too had increased though the mother still confined her duties to nest maintenance and the father to feeding. 

It seemed that the father shared a special bond with his children. Sometimes I would see him bend over as if to listen to something that the chicks had to tell him.

9th & 10th May, 2014

By my calculation the time had come for the chicks to leave the nest and when I reached the nest on the 9th May I realized I had been been right. The opening was wider.

Initially I thought the chicks had already left but the presence of the mother on the branch above the nest reassured me that they were inside

The chicks were very much there and as hungry as ever. Now the two beaks, when they projected from the nest's opening, looked almost adult width. 

Both the parents were busy running around and there seemed to have been an exchange of duties too. I saw the male flying down to the papaya tree below to pluck leaves for lining the nest. 

That left me wondering. According to my recordings the female had exited the nest on the 57th day after incarceration. I was expecting the chicks to make their move some 30-35 days after that. It was the perfect time but the parents seemed to have other intentions.

11th May, 2014

I had my first real look at the chick(s). The hole was bigger and the chicks had started putting their heads out while begging for food.

It also seemed that the mother bird had regained her confidence. She was also feeding her children now, with assurance!

Papa bird, though, was the children's favourite. They always seemed to look forward to his arrival than their mother's!

The tidbits he carried were more colourful and interesting! Even to me, an observer! He had even carried a garden lizard to his beloved when she was in confinement. A visual, I had missed recording.

Meanwhile the little ones were now always peeking out to survey the world they had to move out into. They would learn how tough it would be to survive sooner than later! A lesson I also was to learn shortly.

The final post will come in the next few days. Things have developed, that was totally unexpected. I will update once I'm sure that the End of the Days has really come!

Watch this space..............

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