'Milrus migrans govinda'
Dark crosses gliding endlessly on tireless wings
and shrill "ewe-wir-wir-wir" whistles are familiar to most
urbanites throughout India. Indian cities literally swarm with these
scavengers - New Delhi alone is said to harbour more than 2,400 breeding
pairs of pariah kites. Naturally, this species is believed to be the
world's most abundant bird of prey, being found throughout most of Europe
and Asia and some parts of Africa and Australia. (Now it is said to
be extending its range).
In the Auroville bioregion it has supplanted
the locally extinct Pondicherry vulture (another term for the Indian
black vulture 'Sarcogyps calvus).
This large, brown kite is easily distinguished by
its forked tail, a feature particularly noticeable in flight. It's adept
at avoiding pedestrians, motor traffic and overhead wires, its lightning
swoops to carry off a bit of offal from even crowded bazaars can never
fail to amaze the observer.
Both physically and psychologically well adapted
to live in the vicinity of man, it depends on the latter's artificially
created conditions for nesting. Coconut trees are the favoured site
for its 'platform' nest and often many pairs occupy the same grove;
it has also been observed to nest on overhead water tanks. Three greyish
white, brown speckled eggs are the usual clutch. The parents vigorously
defend them and their young against the ever-present house crows and
the aerial skirmishes between the two species are a treat to watch..!
discerns it to be the 'Garuda' bird, and people living in the Auroville
bioregion call it 'Krishnar paraandu' - both in association to it being
the 'vahana' (vehicle) of Lord Vishnu, one of the 3 principle deities
of the Hindu pantheon. (Krishna too is believed to be one of the Avatars
of Lord Vishnu).
In an eye-catching shade of russet, the adult with
a prominent white head, neck and breast, is a striking creature. This
impression is somewhat marred by its food habits.. Though it may hunt
the occasional fish or frog, it subsists largely on carrion (dead fish
floating on the water's surface are its special favourite) and is also
said to clumsily 'hawk' winged termites in the air.
Unfortunately its divine status does not guarantee
safety in India at large. Eroding cultural and religious values have
had repercussions on wildlife. These birds, especially the juveniles
which lack the white marking of the adults, are often stoned, their
nests destroyed and water polluted.. (This state of affairs is not confined
to this species alone, the cobra - though revered and worshipped, is
ruthlessly battered to death whenever any opportunity presents itself..)
Public awareness being the key to the long
term survival and peaceful co-existence of both animal and man, environment
education programmes (that could ideally combine cultural sentiments
with scientific knowledge) are imperative for the general understanding
of ecological precepts and cerebral evolution among human societies.
Such a far-sighted programme, that has obvious benefits for Auroville
and its Greenbelt, could be given much more attention.