Flighty bird

Green bee eaters (Merops orientalis) flitted through the air. One came to perch on a branch so close to us that I had to zoom out to take this photo. You could have captured it with a mobile phone! It was a wonderful send-off from Bera.

These birds have what psychologists would call a theory of mind. By that they mean that the birds can make a guess at what others are thinking. When they see a nest predator on the prowl, they do not visit nests with hatchlings. This is just a response to a stimulus. But the interesting twist is that they modify their response depending on the predator’s actions. If the predator is looking in a different direction, they’ll try to steal home. Or if there is something between the predator and the nest which blocks its view, then they will fly in and out to feed their chicks.

I’ve watched this superb aerial acrobat at work very often. The two long black tail feathers extend its size by almost a quarter. I’m pretty sure that they are important to its flight. By extending them or tucking them in the birds must be changing the turning radius of their flights quite a bit. I like to see slow motion shots of divers or acrobats twisting during their time in the air: the way they extend or retract arms or legs to change direction and speed. I would love to see such videos of these birds in flight.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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