Brahminy Swimming Pool

It was getting to be summer and the sun was beating down on Kanpur. As I was entering my compound at hottest lunchtime, I saw that the garden was being watered and some water had accumulated in the depression at the base of an ashok tree. A few babblers were wandering around the edges, sipping the water.

So I decided to eat my lunch on the balcony: fortunately, I have a fan installed on my balcony!

As I was sitting there, a bulbul came to the ashok tree and sang for a while. It was a red-whiskered bulbul, the ones that have a red patch on the side of the cheek like a Rajasthani man's whisker. (Click on the image to see another picture where you can see the "whiskers" more clearly.) The bulbul's song, though, I can assure you, is quite different from that of a Rajasthani military man!

A brahminy myna also showed up on the kachnar tree on the other side of the fence. Brahminy mynas are very common birds - but they behave so much like normal mynas that we may miss their special orange colour and the brilliant tinge of blue on their bill. (Click on that image to see a clearer picture of a brahminy myna).

Pool Inauguration

Just then a bunch of common babblers come along, jostling and scrambling till the edge of the water. I can't vouch for this, but I am pretty sure that a couple of babblers pushed a third chappie into the water. Babblers are such bullies... Anyhow in this picture you can see the birdy in the water splashing water on the rest with her wings.

But just as quickly, they were gone. And then I was trying to finish my lunch (I had a meeting at 3 PM), and I didn't quite notice how and when this Brahminy myna - probably the same one who was looking down earlier - had gotten down and entered the water. Suddenly I saw him splashing around, jumping from one side of the pool to the other!

I wondered then, and I wonder still, if all birds know how to swim. How else do they so fearlessly throw themselves into the water? What if the water were much deeper? But then, I guess a) they have air trapped inside their feathers which makes them a good bit lighter than water, and b) they can always fly off - usually the water doesn't adhere to their feathers much.

I got onto the lawn to get a good view of his bath, and he was having such a good time he didn't bother with me. (By the way, in birding lingo, birds who don't run away from humans are called "confiding". Mostly, mynas are confiding; they're not scared of you!)

The Brahminy Myna was busily splashing away. It would jump around on one side, and then the other. To me, it seemed he was more than cooling off - he was just having fun!

Ousted from the pool!

Suddenly, a babbler approached the pool. I didn't seen him earlier, but the way he's standing, it's clear that he wants the myna to go away.

But the Brahminy was splashing away as if he is quite unaware of the babbler, and the babbler steps a notch closer to make his presence felt.

I doubt very much that the brahminy can be unaware of such a close presence - birds are at all times extremely sensitive to the slightest changes in their environment. My hunch is that the Brahminy is saying: "Boo to you!" or some such rude remark; among birds, it's their actions that do all the talking. So, by splashing water despite her close presence, the Brahminy is just saying: "Go jump in the lake!" (It's besides the point that the Babbler may just want to do that! )

You see, there is a hierarchy among birds, and I suspect that babblers are not very high up on this ladder, particularly because they are such poor fliers - they can fly better than your average chicken, but that's not saying much. On the other hand, the mynas are excellent in flight, very quick and agile - so the babblers know they can't touch a myna. Like all bullies, they will go after the weaker, like squirrels that can't fly, but they will be careful of the myna.

So the myna is just being cheeky and splashing water. If you click on the middle image - not a very sharp image, I'm afraid, but I think you still should be able to see the water droplets scattering everywhere, some on the babbler as well.

At this point, some other babblers were also coming, and although the myna didn't look that side, he knew about them, and he decided that discretion is the better part of valour. So here you can see him flying off:

Drying on the tree

Then he dried himself sitting on the amal-tas tree, looking like a rock star with hair dyed in mohawk fashion. (I am using "he" here as a gender-neutral English pronoun, please don't think I know anything about bird gender).

Meanwhile, the Babbler gang came back to the pool. But they didn't jump around with quite the abandon of the myna!

Now look at this picture, and tell me if he isn't picking his nose at the babblers!

And now, don't you think the Brahminy is looking to see what came out of the nose?

You may think that I am perhaps carrying things too far, and that I have fallen in love with this creature... but then what can I do, he's such a lovable truant, don't you think?

Ousted from the tree

The story of the babblers and the brahminy isn't quite finished yet. As the brahminy was sitting on the branch, vigourously shaking her wings dry, some babblers had also come up from the pool on to the same tree.

Normally trees have a lot of space for many birds, but one of the babblers - I think it was the same one, started moving along the very branch where our brahminy was sitting. If you look carefully in the branches at the left of this picture you should see him coming.

The Brahminy did not look once towards the babbler, but he knew what was coming. Not wanting to have another babbler encounter, he just flew off, away from my garden for the day...

The Brahmini Myna as a wandering ascetic

In ancient India, this saffron-coloured bird was thought of as a sannyasin. The ancient Sanskrit poet scholar and yoga guru Patanjali, in his MahabhAshya, says of the Brahminy Maynah:
ShaMkarA nAma parivrAjikA shaMkarA nAma
shakunikA tachchhIlA cha tasyaM ubhayaM prApnoti

'Shankara' , an ancient name of this ochre colored bird, the wanderer 'Parivrajika' amongst birds, a pious 'Sanyasini'.
The origin of the name "brahminy," however, may have more to do with the "choti" - i.e. the way the black crown has a longer strand going back, brahminic style.

Don't you think this wandering sannyasini is someone you should look after, whenever she shows up in your garden?