Friday 25 February 2022

Koel, koel, koel...


The Chinese New Year is a festive time indeed. There are a few sounds that comes to mind during this time of the year like firecrackers, lion dances and, the territorial call of the Asian Koel. The breeding season of this parasitic cuckoo usually coincides and outlasts the celebrations and that is when they really let it rip. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the vocal abilities of the Asian Koel, the call is loud and unbelievably persistent. Since it parasites on House Crows, it occurs in residential areas where the hosts thrive. It is not unknown for overly enthusiastic males to call right into the dead night to the extend of being labelled a public nuisance. But for me, the Asian Koel’s call (did I mentioned it was loud) and how it is delivered is something to marvel at.

For the past week, I noticed one of the resident male Asian Koels frequenting a young tree just outside the perimeter fencing of my humble residence. He was not exactly being discreet about his location as his territorial call echoed in the vicinity throughout the day. 

His presence gradually got me going against my better judgement and I found myself braving the usual stares when birding near or around other humans. Anyway once the neighbours finally figured out what I was after, I could then document this handsome Asian Koel in peace.

Over the weekend, my casual observation revealed some interesting behaviour. The tree was used as his regular calling point and he guarded this commodity with much aggression. Any bird so much as look in the direction of the tree will taste his wrath and lucky for me, it does not apply to birders. I have seen him chasing off Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Black-naped Orioles and Asian Glossy Starlings that did not know any better.

Like any story, there will always be a girl. All the effort and determination exhibited by the male Asian Koel is to attract a mate for the breeding season. And one finally gave in to his resounding vocals. As soon as she alighted on the tree, he started his game plan.

He repeatedly flew to an adjacent plant, plucked a fruit and offered it to his lady love. All this in one swift and smooth motion. I am quite sure he must have planned this all along. The calling point next to a food source was a good strategy. Heck, he may have even practiced the execution when not bursting out his territorial call. Anyway, I now have even greater admiration for this common but intriguing garden bird.

This male Asian Koel’s courtship was near perfect. I left the love birds to themselves when the evening light began to fail. The next day, he was back at the calling point – alone. I could not be certain now if the outcome was in his favour. At the time of writing, I could still hear his persistent territorial call and occasionally, a female’s as well. Although there is no closure to this tale, I am elated to be given the chance to momentarily wander into the life of these Asian Koels and further enrich my own with the experience.