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For four days in the third week of March, gusty winds lashed
the city of Bhopal, the capital city of 
the central Indian state of
Madhya Pradesh . The storm was so strong
that branches were broken off from trees. At many places, even the trees were
uprooted by the impact. Amidst all this, two 
delicate chicks of Laughing Dove, barely about
14-days
old, were left alone by their mother. The small chicks actually weathered the
storm – not one but  four consecutive
nights. Clutched to the branch of a Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), the small
birds were braving the thundershowers.

Iron Grip,
Nature’s  Gift

Spending time in quarantine after recovering from Covid19,
one morning we spotted some hectic activities at our rooftop garden where two
petite  chicks were hopping from one pot
to another. They would take small flights and sit inside the pot for hours till
their mom arrived, fed them by regurgitation –feeding in an unusual way of
interlocking her beak with those of chicks as if sparring like wrestlers . The
mom actually first swallows the grains and then takes out to feed the chicks .
The dove chicks are known for leaving the nest 12-13 days after hatching.
However, they do not  take long flights.
They fledge at 15-17 days of age.  My
family has spent over a fortnight protecting Tony-Mony –yes we named them -from
the local predator birds and  cats and
also making available  feed for them.
But  on the very first day when  we noticed the  pair of small birds , a powerful storm
approached at dusk. As the clouds thunder and lightning forced the people to
stay indoors,  the two chicks  were all alone . Their mom and dad were
missing.  We saw them taking a small
flight as they disappeared in the Neem tree. While its branches were blowing
precariously, we spotted them perched over a stem that also continued to be
swayed by the strong winds. Soon it started raining cats and dogs. It was pitch
-dark. As I went to sleep, there was another spell of squall. The lightning in
the night and the thunder that followed sounded even more ominous. We waited
for the storm to be over and prayed for their safety At the crack of the dawn,
we rushed  out and looked for the  fragile birds at the Neem tree.

Also read: Cry to Save Panna from Ken Betwa Project Gets Louder

As we learnt more
about the birds from the Handbook of the Birds of the World , we found them to
have special tendons called flexor digitorum longus and flexor halluciss longus
which are connected to flexor muscles in the leg. The digitorum branches
control the first three toes in front while the halluciss works the back toe,
known as the hallux. This enables the bird to have a locked tight grip to
ensure it does not become a part of the flying branches. When birds land on a
tree, their toes automatically tighten around the branches on which they are
perched. When the leg is bent, the tendons and then the muscles stretch tight
and pull the toes around the branch. “This holds them in place during high
winds or when they sleep. Birds must make an effort to unclench their toes in
order to take off. They may sway with the branch and wobble in high winds, but
they won’t let go of the branch”, we learnt.

 

Life Lessons from the
Petite Bird

Thanks to the wonderful mechanism of nature,  the next morning , we found the two chicks
again , hale and hearty , hopping at our roof top garden waiting for their
parents. But the lazy mother was  still
missing. Around 9 am, there was the first sign of the presence of their
parents. They made an inimitable laughing sound as they sat on the rooftop. We
could notice a wave of energy  in the two
chicks as they responded to the whistling sound. The grains spread by us on the
floor attracted the  mom  and she made a sharp flight and landed on the
roof. Without any delay,  she started
picking them with  her beak for the first
meal to the chicks after the storm . The dad was still nowhere around. 
For the
past over 15 days, the roof top garden continues to host Tony-Mony. They have
been camouflaging well in the pot soil and the Champa (Plumeria) branches. They
also know how to keep a safe distance from us and wait for their mom for the
next meal.  Very common in  concrete jungles , the Laughing Dove can be
spotted in urban Indian gardens. They make a distinctive call .Its peculiar
features, make it different from other dove  species. This dove has the feathers used in
displays on the foreneck, instead of the hindneck. The Laughing Dove is present
in Africa and Asia. Its African range includes the most part of the continent
except the Sahara and some western regions.

The Lazy Mom

This dove has a pinkish head and is monogamous, solitary and
territorial. The pair-bonds are for life. The nest is a flimsy platform built
by the female, made with roots, twigs and stems often brought by the male. The
same nest can be used several times, and some doves use old abandoned nests of
other birds’ species. The female lays two glossy white eggs. The incubation
lasts about two weeks mainly by the female, but the male may replace her
sometimes.  And the chicks come out only
to be abandoned by the lazy mom. After they grow to the age of 14 days, they
are never taken back to the nest , not even during the  night storms . The chicks are left out and
they learn life lessons to survive.

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