A friend shared this picture the other day. At first glance I thought it was a bunch of flowers. Beautiful flowers. But then something caught me eye, since they didn't quite look like any of the flowers I had seen so far - in real time or in pictures. And so my curiosity piqued, I decided to take a closer look. What I saw made my eyes open wide in wonder. I marveled at Mother Nature, still do, she never ceases to surprise.
What yours truly thought she had seen then and what you probably think you are seeing now - aren't flowers at all. They are birds! Parrots actually, Blue-headed parrots to be precise.
My tryst with parrots so far has generally been with the green-bodied red-beaked variety that is found in abundance. Correction: was found in abundance until a few years ago (before that relentless monster called "development" made this too a rarity). I am referring to the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri), also known as the Ring-necked Parakeet or the Indian Ringneck.
As a child, I would happily spend many a day of my summer vacations - climbing up and then making myself comfortable on one of the lower branches of the big and sturdy guava tree in our backyard. Then I'd proceed to pluck (as gently as I could) two or three perfectly ripe fruits from this wonderful tree, then lazily munch on them (while admiring it's neighbours - the plum tree, the neem tree or the bel tree). A few times I have even read that Emperor of non-sense rhymes, Sukumar Ray's Abol Tabol (Hatti Matim Tim, Gonf Churi, Kumro Patas, et al). Soon enough, a parrot or two would swoop down and occupy the higher branches. Unlike me, they would instinctively know which guavas they wanted to feast on (while somehow also managing to give me company). In between pecking on the guavas they never failed to cock their heads, give me the classic one-eyed look and squawk, as if asking: how I had been and whether I liked the guavas. I always responded with a smile. They never felt threatened by my presence and we happily managed to relish the guavas - in perfect harmony. The tree did not protest; she was our friend. Nor did the butterflies that flitted amidst her branches playing hide-n-seek, occasionally sitting on one of the many beautiful off-white guava flowers and having their fill of nectar, seemed to mind. And my two dogs sat contentedly - half-dozing underneath the tree. As you know, dogs don't eat guavas.
I grew up and moved on, those parrots and my two dogs have bid Adieu to this world a long time ago, but I will always remember that guava tree whenever I have a guava fruit in my hand.
These green-bodied red-beaked birds were all tiya pakhi to me (tiya pakhi = parrot in Bangla). Tiya pakhi sounded so nice to my ears that I did not feel like calling them by any other name. Here is a childhood favourite, "Bulbul Pakhi Moyna Tiye" sung by Antara Chowdhury (elder daughter of the legendary Salil Chowdhury and the renowned singer Sabita Chowdhury; music by Salil Chowdhury): LINK.
The other variety of parrots that I have made my acquaintance with in due course are an assortment of macaws, beautiful birds with bright colourful plumage and sharp beaks. I did not meet them daily, like I met their other red-beaked guava-pecking cousins. Once in a while, during my visit to the zoo, I got to see these macaws. They were a riot of colours - always.
The first time I went to the zoo (at the age of five), I made my acquaintance with a baby elephant - Appu. And so enthralled was yours truly that she refused to leave his company (meaning: I refused to budge and go anywhere else). Appu too let his delight known by promptly giving me a nice sand-bath, followed by an even nicer shower of water. But li'l me did not mind at all, instead happily spent a lot of time fascinatedly watching him and talking to him. Baby elephants are such a joy!
Then, one fine day, during my visit to the zoo, someone asked me: "Good morning. How are you?" I looked around but found no one - at least, no one that seemed to be saying anything to me. Following this, "Good morning. How are you?" - was repeated (with increasing vigour) a couple of more times, before I looked up and came face-to-face with the one saying it - a very sage-looking macaw.
I responded with a: "Good morning. I am fine. How are you?"
The until-now talkitive bird did not respond, only cocked it's head. I interpreted this as undivided attention - on the bird's part ... and feeling very chuffed, proceeded to carry on a conversation with the bird and it's other cage-mates (to which they responded sporadically). Suddenly, a cockatoo (Kakatua in Bangla) decided to join in and greeted me. This being the first time ever that I had seen or heard talking birds, I was happy, excited and couldn't wait to tell my friends all about them. I came away after saying hello to some rabbits and making my acquaintance with several small-sized tortoise (maybe: star tortoise).
The macaws of course saw me off with high-pitched but polite: "Thank you."
[Note: Though the picture above shows a yellow-combed cockatoo, the one I saw was a red-combed one. Here is another childhood favourite, "Lal jhuti kakatua dhorechhe je baina" from the film, "Badshah" - a Kali Banerjee-Bikas Roy classic. This popular children's rhyme is rendered by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay's daughter - Ranu Mukherjee: LINK.
The relevant clip from the film "Badshah": LINK. Tinku Thakur, elder sister of Sharmila Thakur, played the role of the small boy in this film.]
I have been to the zoo a few more times and read some books on our avian friends too, however, until now, I never knew that parrots were also blue-headed. One never ceases to learn. QED.
The Blue-headed parrot is such a handsome bird. For some reason, it reminds me of Shri Krishna. Do have a look:
The Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus) - also known as the Blue-headed Pionus, Blue-head Amazon or Red-vented Parrot, is endemic to tropical Central and South America, from Costa Rica and Trinidad south to Bolivia and South to Central Brazil (except for the Andes). Blue-Headed Parrots, not surprisingly, are recognized by their bright blue heads, which stand out from their almost uniformly green bodies. They also have some pink throat feathers. These birds do not have their characteristic blue heads until they gain their adult plumage at about one year of age.
It is a medium-large parrot. They grow to be about 28 cm (11 inches) in length and weigh between 230 and 250 grams (a little over a half-pound). Must say: I did not quite like any of their bhalo naam (official names) and Latin is the most unimaginative of all languages. Have been wondering what they are called in one of our many languages or even in Sanskrit; no clue as yet.
Blue-headed Pionus Parrots are increasingly popular as pets. They are very affectionate and although they are not birds that particularly enjoy being cuddled, they do love a head scratch. They also communicate their happiness and enjoyment by blinking their eyes in affection to holding your finger and doing the famous Pionus Strut!
They are quite independent birds, happy to amuse themselves with toys and food without constant attention from the owner. Well-socialized pionus parrots really enjoy interacting with people. They can be noisy with light, high-pitched squeaking calls. However, compared to other parrot species (conures or amazons), they are relatively quiet. Their talking ability is generally considered "poor" - although some say they are the best talkers in the Pionus family. They are appreciated for their sweet and fun disposition, easy-going personality and intelligence. They are less apt to bite than other parrots species. These qualities make this parrot a good choice for first-time parrot owners and a wonderful family pet.
Blue-Headed Parrots make their nests in hollow trees and generally forage in the lower canopy. They are very social birds and are usually seen in small flocks. Loud vocalizations between members of the same flock are common rainforest sounds. These birds are instrumental in the dispersal of rainforest seeds, which they commonly feed on in addition to nuts, fruit fibers, berries and blossom. They have larger beaks than other parrot species, and their powerful beaks allow them to crack hard nut shells.
Females lay between one to six eggs, which hatch in about 70 days. Both parents participate in raising the young, as do older offspring. These young mature within one to two years. Blue-headed parrots usually live about 25 years, but can live to be as old as 40! Sadly though, they often live only 3 or 10 years due to accidents and poor nutrition. This bird and it's sub-species are classified as endangered species - due to de-forestation.
The Dutch call it: Zwartoorpapegaai, Zwartkoppapegaai or Blauwkoppapegaai. It is: Schwartzohrpapagei in German and Perroquet à tête bleu in French.
... Umm, give me tiya pakhi any day !!
Sub species: 1. Paler Blue Headed Parrot / Pionus and 2. Reichenow's Blue-Headed Parrot. More on them: HERE.
More info: HERE.
Note: Blue Fronted Amazon parrot: LINK.
A Crimson-backed Sunbird from the Western Ghats of India:
See the vibrant colors, fine feathers and sparkling eyes of some free unchained birds (in the wild): HERE.