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Blue Whistling Thrush

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Knowing birds in the close vicinity:

By Rajashekhar Pant

As school going children we would know her by her vernacular title -‘Kalchunia’, probably a corruption of ‘Kali Chidiya’. Appearing somewhat black from a distance and a little smaller than the house crow, this bird, called Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) has shades of dark violet blue all-over and a yellow beak. These days, the bluish tone has become rather darker. During the rains and summer the same becomes lighter and when her plumage glints in the morning sun she looks quite fascinating.

The whistling thrush is sighted round the year in the Central Himalayan region. They are in a sizable number all around our house at Bhimtal; probably due to the abundance of spring water and aqueducts. Thrush love wet grounds, water channels, rills and ponds and keep on moving in quick spurts in the close vicinity of water bodies. Berries, fruits, earthworms, small crabs, snails, etc., constitute her main diet. Picking up crabs from shallow rills, she beats them against some rock to kill them before consuming the same sprightly.

In the hills, she is known as the bird that heralds the new day and also bids it a good-bye. She wakes up well before the dawn cracks and goes back to her nest quite late after the sun is gone, asserting her presence by the sonorous whistle that is characteristic of her and has been instrumental in earning her the name – Whistling Thrush. Her warbling indeed has a preternatural human quality.

More than the arbours, she loves the ground, where one may see her foraging for insects, dousing herself at times in puddled water and fluttering her feathers. It is not much disturbed by the presence of human beings. Whenever apprehensive or suspicious of anything she spreads her tail and drops it. Her nest is more like a small bowl made of moss. In our garden, we have a small model of my hometown i.e. Bhimtal. To give the impact of greenery to the mountain overlooking the lake, its surface has been covered with the thickets of green moss that is kept wet by an artificial rill flowing from the top. Ignoring the labour involved in collecting the moss from the oak forest, around 20 kms away – the whistling thrush, happy with the availability of moss, blithely shifts the required amount to her nest leaving a completely disheveled slope of the tiny mountain behind. Spotting her nest is always not that easy. It may be there in crevices of a stone wall, in a ledge or orifices in rocks. It has been noticed misleading onlookers by entering her nest from different directions each time.

How nice would it be if in place of Bollywood tunes or ditties we have the unaffected warbling as caller tune on our phones!