Social Interactions in birds

Written By Amol Kokane on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 | 4:34 PM

Recently I had been to "God's own country", Kerala for birding excursion with one of my usual partners in all such similar crimes. The place we visited was Thattekad, near Kochi. Apart from spotting numerous bird species, we witnessed two of many social interactions that birds have in their day-to-day lives.

The first one was, courtship display. We were sitting at 1 hide and were capturing photos of birds like Racket-tailed Drongos, Malabar hornbills, Flame-throated Bulbuls, treepies (Rufous and White-bellied), etc. I heard a different call coming from vegetation on one side of the hide. What I saw was, there was a pair of Rufous Treepies doing courtship displays in the vegetation. In case of Rufous Treepies, it is difficult to differentiate gender as both male/female look similar. But during courtship display, male bobs up and down by lifting his feet off the branch and sings for female. Luckily, I managed to take a video of the same.

The second was, brood parasitism. During our trip, we were sitting at another hide, frankly I was not at all excited about this hide because the expected birds at this hide were Philippine Shrike and few fowls & babblers. We went to that hide early morning with slightly cloudy conditions and hence low light. To begin with, some doves, Common Mynas, Coucals, Grey Junglefowls, Red Spurfowls, Jungle Babblers showed up. After few minutes Philippine Shrike also appeared and we got good shots of Shrike. With that we were in the mood of "pack-up" and head back to the resort & rest. Suddenly, we heard loud grating calls made by some bird from the tree above where we were sitting.

We raised our cameras to see what it is. It was a chick of Common Hawk-cuckoo. The chick was continuously making those grating calls and we were not sure what's happening. Just as we were observing that chick, an adult jungle babbler came and started feeding the chick. It happened for a very short span of time, that I could just manage to get a single frame.

What this frame explains is a classic example of brood parasitism, where a chick of Common Hawk-cuckoo (a bigger bird on the left) was being fed by Jungle Babbler (a smaller bird on the right). Like many other cuckoos, female Common Hawk-cuckoo lays a single egg in babbler's nest. The egg color matches to that of babbler, because of which babbler can't differentiate between its own eggs & cuckoo's egg and continues to take responsibility of raising & feeding Common Hawk-cuckoo's chick. The other cuckoo that we all know is, Asian Koel. Female Asian Koel lays its egg in Crow's nest.

During our entire Thattekad trip, we saw many bird species, including some endemic species to major attractions like Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Malabar Trogon, the above two incidents were main highlights for me.

About Amol Kokane