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Koel: herald of the New Year


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Author Topic: Koel: herald of the New Year  (Read 814 times)
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« on: April 24, 2010, 12:28:10 pm »

Nobody who has ever resided in a rural area could have failed to notice that towards the end of March and early April, the first bird to greet the dawn of day is the local koel or Avurudu Koha as it is popularly known. From any time between 4.00 and 4.30 a.m., it begins its sunrise song, which is immediately picked up by other koels in the neighbourhood. After the sun has risen the koel song reaches its crescendo.

A couple of months ago, one hardly saw a koel, but now they are everywhere, flying about in pairs, often with crows in hot pursuit. While this sudden abundance is magical enough to be felt by all and sundry, it is doubtful whether even five persons in a hundred ever stop to fathom what brings about this abundance and why.

The koel or Gomara Koha belongs to an order of birds called Cuculiformes or cuckoos. Delegating their parental duties to other birds is the custom prevalent among all true cuckoos. Thus, in Sri Lanka, the nesting period of the koel coincides with that of the local black crow and the house crow, which annually falls between April and August. The koel's incessant calling around the Sinhala and Hindu New Year season is a sign that it has commenced its breeding activities.

Tactful business

The process of introducing the eggs to the crow's nest is a most tactful activity in which the female and male koels take part. The male koel starts pestering the crows with shrieks and yelps to lure them away from the nest, while the hen koel creeps into lay her eggs. It is known that she first destroys one of the crow's eggs by pushing it over the side of the nest and then inserts one of her own in its place. This is done as stealthily as possible before the crows return after chasing the male koel. It takes less than 30 seconds to accomplish this task.

A Lankan ornithologist has however observed that the hen koel lays her eggs on the ground and then carries them one by one in her beak to the chosen nests. It is also believed that a single hen lays as many as 20 eggs in a season. An Indian scientist once found 13 koel eggs in a single crow's nest.

This could, however, be the work of many hens, he has suggested. Though they prefer to operate in a particular locality and victimise a particular species, as a rule the koels do not lay eggs twice in the same nest.

Once the young koel are hatched - which invariably takes place before the hatching of the foster parents' chicks - a strange provision of nature comes in to operation. By instinct, the baby koel proceeds to eject the other occupants of the nest, one by one. This is achieved by gradually lifting them on the back and then heaving them overboard.

It is said that the adult koels stealthily feed the young ones until they are fully fledged and ready to leave the nest of the foster parents. Regardless of how it may happen,credit should go to the koel as the only living creature which gets the better of that clever scoundrel - the crow.

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