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Chicken 65 BC!

Egyptian Vulture, Kabini

Millennia before the advent of the Chicken 65, a dish worshipped in India and almost conferred the status of ‘national bird’, there lived a chicken that was venerated by Egyptian royalty. The Pharaoh’s Chicken was a rather peculiar bird, not least because it wasn’t even a hen to begin with. It was an Egyptian Vulture, the smallest of the vulture species, protected by Pharaonic decree for its ability to cleanse the land of all waste. This blue-blooded fan following caused it to be conferred its title by an indulgent populace, who were also probably amused by its culinary quirks. While its primary staple was carrion, it had a weakness for eggs, and was among the first smart-birds that used tools to eat its dinner: it’d repeatedly fling pebbles at large eggs to crack them open! Its other food habits, however, inspired more revulsion than amusement. The Egyptian Vulture is Coprophagic and feeds on mammal faeces; studies indicate this is how it absorbs the Carotenoid pigments responsible for its yellow-orange facial colouring. This rather unfortunate beauty-diet didn’t find favour with early British naturalists who considered it the ugliest avian. The Spaniards were also not as forgiving as the ancient Egyptians and gave it the name ‘churretero’ which means ‘dung-eater’, a term that’s found its way to the vernacular when describing, say, a colleague or boss who’s not known for his good taste. This vulture’s quirks, however, also extend to the bedroom. Extra-pair copulation with neighbours has been observed, and it isn’t uncommon for a female to associate with two males, and for all three adults to help in raising the brood (One spoilt Egyptian Mummy, one must say!). If you’re visiting Kabini in June, their favourite ‘roosting’ month, you could see them in the canopy, if you look hard. We, of course, fully understand that the one place you certainly won’t look for this chicken, is in our menu!

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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