We looked up in anticipation when three green darts seemed to fly from the sky into a tall tree right over our heads. We did not have to look hard or long; we saw immediately three Hanging Parrots crawling down the strangely twisted fruits hanging from top branches of the tree. The stubby green birds kept hanging upside down nonchalantly from the corkscrew beans and gnawed heartily on the seeds.
An alarmed male cried: 'tzee, tzee' when we shuffled a bit to get a clearer view of the birds. We held our breath and stood still; and did not wish the birds to be frightened and take off. One has to be lucky to stand so close to those cute and endearing but very shy Parrots of our hill-forests. The wary birds decided to stay; perhaps the lunch was too delicious to be abandoned because of a few gawkers.
Emboldened, we aimed our ungainly cameras at the birds. The male dutifully gave high-pitched alarm-calls again; but made no attempt to flee. While holding the swaying bean with one foot to hang upside down he grabbed the seeds with the other foot and chomped on. His curious black and white button-eyes unwaveringly focused on us and our cameras. He looked more like a rich green leaf on twisted grey beans.
We knew the male by its prominent red rump and bills plus a slight blue spot on its chest. The female and the juvenile generally have all green feathers and dull red bills. Of the three birds in the tree over our head only one was obviously an adult male. The other two were not as interested in revealing their gender to us; they could be females or juveniles. Hanging Parrots loved to stay enigmatic and obscure.
We have been visiting the Shatchari National Park in spring every year to watch the Hanging Parrot and other shy Parrots. They regularly visit the flowering Mandar Trees of the Park. The nectar of the Indian Coral Flower is irresistible to these Parrots. A watch-tower built near a tall Mandar Tree has turned the Park a place of springtime pilgrimage for all birdwatchers and bird-photographers.
The official name of the stubby upside-down birds of Shatchari is Vernal Hanging Parrot. Only 14 species of birds of the world are called Hanging Parrot. Vernal Hanging Parrot is the only one we have in Bangladesh. In fact, it is the only Hanging Parrot of continental Asia. The other 13 species of Hanging Parrots live in the islands of Asia and Oceania. The Vernal Hanging Parrot does not live even in Sri Lanka which has its endemic species, the Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot.
The vernacular name of Vernal Hanging Parrot in Bangladesh has been 'Lotkon' which alluded to its peculiar habits of hanging upside down. Its official Bangla name is 'Bashonti Lotkon' meaning 'springtime hanging-parrot'; an apt name indeed. Spring is the time of its courtship and a good time to spot a few of them darting through the high canopy of the hill-forests of Sylhet and Chittagong divisions.
Hanging Parrots love to hang upside down. They often sleep by hanging from branches upside down like the bats. That is why they have been named Hanging Parrot although no one has yet explained their odd behaviour fully. Hanging upside down for some time is normal in the world of Parrots; but the proposition to sleep by hanging from a branch is unacceptable to all except the Hanging Parrots.
On several occasions we saw the captive Vernal Hanging Parrots sleep upside down by hanging from their perch the whole night. In a forest once we had the godsend opportunity to photograph a male hanging upside down beside a female for quite some time. We could not tell whether the fellow was snoozing or demonstrating to the female his prodigious ability to flout the power of gravity.
Vernal Hanging Parrots do defy gravity in many ways. They fly fast and straight like arrows between the canopies of the tallest trees of the forests. They also crawl like the bats to access the clusters of berries and the seeds hidden in fruits hanging down from the branches. Often they start their lives in tree cavities at a great height and rarely ever descend to the bushes or the tangles on the ground.
Because of such 'high living' the Vernal Hanging Parrot has been the least known of the seven species of Parrots of Bangladesh. That lack of familiarity, however, has served the bird well. Very few of these cute birds had to live in the dungeons of pet-traders and the cages of bird fanciers as has been the fate of the other six species of Parrots, especially the widely popular and victimised Rose-ringed Parakeet.
Till the late twentieth century, the UK had no resident Parrot before a few Rose-ringed Parakeets escaped from the cages to make their living in the wild there. Now those escapees and their offspring are the only resident Parrots of the UK. No wonder the most popular English poet of the eighteenth century and the father of Anglican nature poetry, William Cowper, extolled the caged Parrot as 'a native of the gorgeous east'.
The hill-forest of the gorgeous east still has gems such as the Bashonti Lotkon, a petite parrot embodying our short-lived spring. We were thrilled to snap a few lovely photos of the Vernal Hanging Parrot from Shatchari forest at the outset of the spring. We recalled how a picture of its close cousin, the Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, has been on every Thousand Rupee note of Sri Lanka. Could Bangladesh do the same with the Vernal Hanging Parrot!
Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam. First Published in The Business Standard.
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