The Laughing Bird

I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven

– Emily Dickinson

The tranquil water, the cool morning breeze and the bamboo made us feel that we were in heaven,  on a Sunday near the Mangala dam in Bandipura. Being quite new to jungle safaris, we had carried nothing more than a point-and-shoot camera. Our eyes were tuned to the more-than-occasional elephant(s)  and anything else was a bonus.  The only birds we were ‘seeing’ during those days were peacocks and peahen!

This time we felt we had a bit more luck. We saw a snake bird (darter), wonderfully perched on a branch in the lake. That excitement of having seen something other than peafowl must’ve done something to our vision. We saw another bird, a small one, running around on the banks. ‘What’s that’, I asked the guy who drove the jeep.  He turned towards Rana and said, “Laughing bird, Sir”. I have never been able to understand why the drivers feel shy to talk to me 😉 I took the “Sir’ with a pinch of salt, and promptly wrote down the name in my tiny notebook – ‘laughing bird’.

After quite a few days of searching, we got no information of any laughing bird that walked on the ground. It took a few more trips into the forest, a few more encounters with the laughing-bird-that-never-laughed and somebody else to interpret it for us that it was the ‘lapwing bird’. This was the ‘did-he-do-it’ bird, called so because that’s how its loud and clear alarm call sounds. It took me back to the days when Mr. Raghotham Rao (SEEK foundation) had taken us on a nature trail in Bannerghatta National Park. He was telling us about the call, and how the bird maybe asking us, humans, if we did it – the task of slowly destroying its home.

Here’s one of Rana’s and my favorite images of the Red Wattled Lapwing along with its young ones. One of this totally adorable fluff-balls was carried away by a crow, before we could even say ‘crow’.  Obviously, the adult was taken aback. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we couldn’t read what was going on its mind at that moment. The Red Wattled Lapwing, known as the Rudhira TiTTibha in Kannada, is known for its passion to protect its young. It has been observed that this lapwing sleeps on its back at night, with its legs pointed upwards. Many parts of India carry a story around this behavior, that it does so to prevent the sky from falling on its nest and young ones.  In Hindi, the saying goes “Tithiri se asman thama jayega“. 🙂

Another one of the lapwing family that we have had the joy of seeing is the Yellow Wattled Lapwing (“HaLadi TiTTibha“).  On a trip to Maidanhalli, one of the villagers told us about the local belief that the call of the red or yellow lapwings is bad omen; that it is invariably the death call for someone. It probably is, but only for the prey that the predator is looking out for, and about which the lapwing is calling out.

Such superstitions are those that need to be removed from society, in the best interest of these birds. After all, it is also believed in parts of Rajasthan and other places, that they signal the onset of rains when they lay eggs 🙂

The other lapwings that Rana & I are yet to see are the Northern Lapwing, Grey-Headed Lapwing, River Lapwing, White-Tailed Lapwing and the Sociable Lapwing. It surely does save a trip to heaven, watching these slender-legged waders and their antics.



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