Regurgitate !

Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others – Benjamin Franklin

Our Chemistry lecturer in college was quoting this line quite often. I forget why this was one of his favorites, but I sure do remember it every time I come across an extremely ‘generous’ host. I had visited a friend’s home for some work, on a summer afternoon, after a heavy weekend lunch. His mother offered me a plate of ‘thaTTe’ idlis, the b.i.g kind. I politely refused, stating nothing but the truth that I had just had my fill. She returned my refusal, equally politely. The plate remained with me. I could feel my eyes swelling up – I am not used to having 2 big meals, one right after the other. How I wished I never had to go there. How I wished she wasn’t such a ‘nice’ lady. How I wished I had the powers of a bird of prey! I could’ve just regurgitated a pellet then, and be done with this traumatic experience 😉

But then, many birds of prey regurgitate – for a different reason and not because they are force-fed. Birds don’t have teeth and they swallow their food, either all of it shortEaredOwlLookingAroundor in parts. In some cases, predators would tear their prey into pieces and swallow them, one by one. In go the skull, hair, feathers, bones, fur; some of these are undigested or partially digested. After digesting the rest of the meal, the birds would regurgitate undigested or partially digested material in the form of pellets. Neat!

And how cool it is to see a

Mascara-lined captivating eyes of the Short Eared Owl

Mascara-lined captivating eyes of the Short Eared Owl

bird actually do that! At the Little Rann of Kutch, India, Rana and I headed to a grassland and saw a group of Short Eared Owls. The group was distributed across the land, with each owl choosing to rest under a different tree. They were just beautiful, with eyes so captivating that we couldn’t take our eyes off them. Wikipedia has given a very interesting description about the black rings around the eyes. They look like Mascara! Sigh, some creatures seem to have everything nice, and for free ! They have tufts of feathers that resemble ‘ears’ and hence, they get their name.

Click on the images for a larger version.

One such owl sat oreadyToRegurgitaten the ground, looked up and down, and suddenly opened its mouth wide. Out popped a neatly packed pellet and the owl went about its routine. How many things can you appreciate about one moment – the bird itself, its Mascara-lined eyes, the fact that it chose that very moment to regurgitate? 🙂

Short Eared Owl regurgitating a pellet

Short Eared Owl regurgitating a pellet

Pellet on the ground

These pellets are not just cute-looking packages, but also a wealth of information. Researchers gather pellets and other tell-tale signs around roosting sites of birds. A roosting site is where a bird would perch on or rest at, during night. The bones, hair and other items found in a pellet would help in finding out what the prey was, and in turn, give clues about the birds roosting there. In addition to this, there maybe feathers or other signs to add to the findings.shortEaredOwlHabitat

It is a pity that such beautiful creatures are being traded, abused, killed. Here are some reports related to the illegal owl trade in India, including having them as pets. I quote a line from one of the links: Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the Tigers or any other better known charismatic species. The least we can do is just let them be.

I am so fascinated by owls, I just got myself one, legally – here is an image of my new acquisition. I do hope that we get to continue to see and hear owls being free, being in the wild, rather than in these forms.

owlPendant

Sugandhi

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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