Courting Koels

A wonderful event occurred outside my window, some minutes ago. The sound of a heavy bird settling on what we call a ‘cherry’ tree, just two yards from me, drew my attention.  It was a lady koel. And soon thereafter came a gentleman koel. It hopped on to a branch near the lady and she responded by lowering herself submissively.  The gentleman flitted from twig to twig, I thought looking for leverage to mount her. And all of the lady’s posturings indicated to my non-koel eyes that she wanted him to proceed with things. But after a few moves, he left her to pick an inviting red cherry fruit. The lure of food, I imagined, had proven stronger than that of sex.

In a few seconds he was back, with the fruit in his beak. And he offered the juicy little delicacy to the lady, who happily accepted the gift. It was so reminiscent of birds feeding their nestlings that I imagined for a moment that the gentleman was a parent feeding a young one. With another species, this possibility could not have been easily discounted. But not with koels, who hand over child upbringing to crows. So this was clearly a prelude to sex, a post-coital gift or simply an expression of love. I had never seen or heard of such gift-giving.

All too soon, the romantic interaction was interrupted by two screeching bulbuls, who kept diving at the couple. Koels aren’t particularly worried about bulbul attacks and usually ravage their nests even as the parents shriek and dive. But in this instance, the couple flew away – probably because the bulbul insistence was too strong a distraction from intimacy. The whole episode was over in less than two minutes. But it left me relieved that even our few remaining birds are able to provide such magnificent spectacle.

I am so glad I don’t have a camera on my phone.

Dr. Diyanath Samarasinghe