Coucals prowl in a desolate Purbachal

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A fearless Greater Coucal in Purbachal. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

We have been reasonably good at planting and caring for the ‘trees’ but not so much at saving, nurturing and planting non-tree vegetation like creepers, climbers and other types of green groundcovers

It was pretty exciting to see a Greater Coucal calmly walking across the street of Purbachal we have been ambling on. The bird crossed the street at a leisurely pace and stood on a rampart unafraid of us or our ungainly gears. But, that was not all!

Another coucal struck its head out of a patch of vegetable nearby to briefly look at us with its intrepid red eyes and then carried on with its business quite unperturbed.

We knew that the urgent business of the hungry coucals in the morning was nothing other than killing some snails, caterpillars, lizards, frogs or snakes for their breakfast.

An endless field of vegetable un-soaked in some poisonous pesticides has made Purbachal a very welcome haunt of the coucals. Moreover there were no humans there, except a few like us, to worry about.

The coucals did begin to worry about us after we aimed our enormous cameras at them for too long. One of them took off by flapping its beautiful red wings noisily and flew into a leafy fig tree close by.

From its high perch the bird looked down upon us with its ruby-red eyes as we gently sauntered to the fig-tree. The brave coucal did not fly out of the tree but simply jumped from branch to branch to avoid our menacing camera.

We got a rare view of the coucal's flashy tail-feathers and the long, beautifully carved, knife-like hind-toes. Those adornments of coucals usually remain hidden because they spend most of their lives on the ground and in the undergrowth.

The other coucal continued to stay in the vegetable-patch, perhaps, judging that the large pumpkin leaves were cover enough from the low grade threats we and our cameras posed.

The two coucals seemed to have known much greater calamities in their lives and were not disturbed too much by the brief attention we were paying them.

The Greater Coucal has always known how to live in the human neighbourhood without getting into too much trouble. It has been living close to the Homo sapiens since they took to farming some ten thousand years ago.

In Bangladesh the coucal has always been a welcome resident of the villages. Most homestead gardens, ponds, scrublands and beels hosted the coucals. Coucal are not known to be persecuted by any Bangali.

People of this country generally considered the coucal a harmless neighbour; many termed it a beneficial bird. Its cavernous call 'coop-coop-coop' is often considered a good omen in many villages.

There is a very good reason for this enviable status of the coucal in the villages. The wise coucal always killed the creatures like snake or scorpion that people feared and frogs or snails that they called pests.

The coucal was once called the Crow Pheasant because it has this crazy mix-up of features from the crows as well as the pheasants. Its blackish head and beak give it the impression of a crow, when its rusty-red wings and flamboyant tail-feathers make it look like a pheasant.

The coucal, however, is a relative of neither the crow, nor the pheasant. It belongs to the family of Cuckoo although unlike the other Cuckoos it lives mostly on the ground, practices monogamy, makes its own nest and has no desire to force other birds raise its chicks.

We were thrilled to see the coucals on the prowl in Purbachal because we do not get to see any of them in the other parts of the city. We have lost them from our slices of the city for quite a while. Around here we can see all the crows we want; but no Crow Pheasant.

The coucals lived in Gulshan and Banani areas several decades earlier. That was before we cleared all hedges, shrubberies and all other types of groundcovers from our parks and the banks of the lakes.

We have been reasonably good at planting and caring for the 'trees' but not so much at saving, nurturing and planting non-tree vegetation like creepers, climbers and other types of green groundcovers.

We like the monoculture of trees in the city because of its convenience; but nature happens to be mixed up and greatly loves diversity. If we keep only one kind of plant in our neighbourhood, we cannot hope to see a great variety of butterflies and birds.

Trees serve well as the nesting sites for the crows; not the coucals. Coucal favours vines, lianas and other climbers to build their nests in.

In the same way, the trashcan is a great feeding place for the crows; not the coucals. Coucals prefer to hunt living insects, amphibians and reptiles crawling on the ground.

The coucals still prowl in Purbachal today because people are yet to move in there and mar the vegetable patches, fig trees and scrublands. It will probably be more like our part of the city or worse once the people pour in.

Our town-planners seem to be determined to cover Purbachal completely in tar and concrete. Being branded as a mega-city it may well become the least liveable part of our capital. But it need not be so.

Purbachal is crafted out of a mighty flood-plain, and has the potential to be a liveable residential area sprinkled with a great deal of wild-spaces. The inhabitants of tomorrow may like to see the Crow Pheasant, not only the crows in their megacity!

Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam.

From The Business Standard

  • Purbachal
  • Prowl
  • Coucals
  • Coucals prowl in a desolate Purbachal

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