The tiniest bird I had ever seen

The 'frog' across the road

…. was dead.

It was a rather hot afternoon in June, 2012. Savouring a cup of yummy mango-flavoured  yogurt, I was on our customary post-lunch, grab-some-Vitamin-D walk with Rana and two of our colleagues, Dileep & Amit. I thought I spotted something on the ground and stopped to see. A few cars were zipping past, headed out from the basement towards the gate. I waited to get across and have a closer look. It looked like a frog, and it seemed rather unusual, as Bangalore was desperately waiting for rains.

I bent down and saw that it was a tiny bird. It was so frail, I could almost see what was behind its skin. There were ants all over its body, trying to transport it elsewhere. I had seen ants carrying dead moths, bugs, cockroaches, geckos/lizards – but never had I seen them carrying a dead bird. I know that the bird was just bigger than a Rs. 5 coin, but that’s big for an ant ! It was as long as my thumb, and that was fascinating (while you look at the image, please ignore the colour on the nail :D)

I called out to my walk-mates, who seemed to have forgotten me, and were admiring other kinds of life around them 😉 We couldn’t identify which bird it was – although, going by the slightly yellow-ish beak and the little black patch, we guessed it might be the little one of a Common Myna. The campus has Common Mynas aplenty. They roost on the ledges and start singing, almost every time we walk below the ledge.

This dead bird and the ants got me googling a bit. I found more questions – people around the world asking why we don’t see so many naturally-dead birds. That was a dandy thought. The highways show us many dead birds, killed by road accidents. Even this one we found would either have been blown away from its nest by a strong wind, or it could be possible that a predator had picked up its little snack and dropped it en-route to its home.

The various answers to that question indicated that if a bird feels sick, it usually retreats into a hideout (a hole in a tree, maybe). Thus, it protects itself from being somebody’s meal, since the sickness will not allow it to escape soon enough. If it does get better, it will fly back to its normal life. If not, it will die there and some scavenger will ultimately find it. Or, they may fall into bushes where the scavengers find them sooner than humans do, by virtue of their superior sense of smell.

The other question was about the ants. I stumbled upon a thought / quote:

When a bird is alive, it eats ants.
When a bird is dead, ants eat the bird.
So, time can turn at any time, don’t devalue anyone in life.
You may be powerful but time is more powerful than you.
“One tree makes one thousand of match sticks,
but one match stick can burn one thousand trees”.
Do good & Good will follow you

–Anonymous

Ant colonies have well-defined responsibilities. These ants that I found were probably the ‘worker’ ants, who have this duty to search for food. When they set out from home, they leave a scent trail (pheromones) behind them. The ant that finds the food returns on its own trail, leaving behind a stronger scent. Others are likely to stop searching when they find this stronger scent, and they get onto the same trail. They may pick pieces of food and carry them back, one piece each. Or, in cases like these, when the food is ‘big’, the worker ants ‘recruit’ others to help them. They form a team and carry all of the food in one go. And that is what we saw, that afternoon in June.

It was just a short walk around the campus. It taught us the behaviour of birds. It gave us an insight into the life of ants. We headed back, thinking life is beautiful.

 

Sugandhi

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