I woke up one warm April morning to the incessant ringing of the doorbell, barking of my dog Bonny and a flurry of sounds. Rushing to the veranda I saw my gardener holding a koel in his hands, all the while scolding Bonny who was trying her best to reach the bird. The koel seemed quite alright but could not walk or put any weight on its legs. It was a beautiful bird, with glossy black feathers and ruby red bright eyes.
My daughter and I rushed the koel to a vet nearby. He showed us how to examine the bird’s wings and legs to see if any bones were broken. We were relieved to learn that the bird had no broken bones, even though it was unable to stand on its own. The vet kindly gave us a syringe to give it water and some bird seed and told us that we would find more information on the internet.
I asked my animal loving friends on Facebook for tips on koels. I was over whelmed by responses from all over. I was asked to post a picture of the bird and after people took a look, I was informed by bird lovers that it was a handsome adult male. At first I had thought it was a koel chick, fallen out of its nest while learning to fly. I was told that the summer heat takes its toll on birds and many just fall from trees. I was asked by a Homeopath Doctor to give the bird some Arnica to ease its pain. Another friend who is a Doctor and an avid bird watcher gave me the reference of his friend, a wild-life expert who has been working on tigers in Maharashtra. He called to say that many koels are affected by pesticides used on plants and trees and that a koel’s diet comprises of half his body weight in insects and fruit. We worked out that the bird should be fed about a teaspoon of mince or insects and about 20 to 50 grams of fruit up to five times a day to counteract the effect of any pesticide poisoning. I decided to care for the bird until he was able to walk and fly on his own. I was informed by a Facebook friend who has cared for many koels that this might take up to three weeks. She further told me what homeopathic medicines to give the bird to strengthen its feet.
My gardener got into the act straight away, catching small winged insects which I fed the bird. I have a lot of fruit trees in my garden and the mulberry and Chinese berry trees are planted just for the birds. Mulberry season had just come to an end but the koel seemed to like the strawberries that I got him from the supermarket and he enjoyed eating pieces of chikoo from my garden too.
I enjoyed caring for the bird, listening to the small sounds that he made, even felt happy that he was moving up the pecking order after his meals when he found the strength to try and peck the hand that fed him. I named him KK (Kala Koel) as he was jet black in colour.
I have always loved watching the various types of birds in my garden from my kitchen and dining room windows and hearing their sometimes strident bird calls. Cat fights are nothing compared to fierce koels guarding their territory, be it alphonso mangoes or mulberries. My children have always grumbled that I turn a blind eye to the birds taking the plumpest figs, biggest custard apples and gobbling all the best fruit, be it chikoo, papaya or berries. The fact is: many of the fruit trees in my garden are actually planted for the birds. If we get a few fruit to eat ourselves, I consider this a bonus!
Surfing the net, I was surprised to read that koels have lived in captivity on boiled rice for 14 years and that it is deemed the State bird in Pondicherry. Ancient Manusmriti mentions koels and protects them from harm. Koels’ birdsongs heralds in the New Year in Sri Lanka.
It was a shock to see KK listless one morning, not even perking up to eat the insects or fruit that I offered him. He died in my hands after drinking a few sips of water. I was surprised at just how upset and sad I felt. I buried him next to my late dog Kaiser, who was always chasing the birds in my garden that were too plump to fly after all the fruit they got to eat and who hopped audaciously just a few feet in front of him, shaking their tail feathers at him before perching safely on a low branch. It might be a silly thought but it somehow comforted me to think that KK and Kaiser would now keep each other company for all of eternity.