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The Chuckling Assassin of Coorg!

White-throated Kingfisher, Coorg -

He’s very successful at his vocation, but the White-throated Kingfisher of Coorg is definitely not one of those brooding, silent killers so beloved of Hitchcock fans; he prefers to announce his presence with a loud chuckle or a staccato laugh that suggests he’s not short of gallows humour, even if the joke’s lost on his audience. Also, in a highly specialized marketplace, he’s a happy exception. He may be a Kingfisher, but he’s an equal opportunities assassin who’s egalitarian in the species he chooses to knock off. The bulk of his prey consists of beetles, rats, small snakes, lizards, scorpions, centipedes and anybody small enough to be disposed with a sharp thrust of his heavy blade. He’s also known to give chase to small birds like Muniyas, Sparrows and Oriental White-eyes, though there have been occasions when White-throated Kingfishers have been found dead with their beaks impaled in a tree, suggesting that the winged prey was too swift, and our villain was hoist with his own petard. When he’s bored with being a landlubber (usually in the wet season), he takes up the assassin’s version of water sports by diving headlong into the deep or plunging feet-first into shallow waters to seize and stab aquatic prey blissfully unaware of the threat from the skies. Some of his unfortunate victims can be forgiven for feeling upset as he doesn’t just skewer them but also bludgeons them against his perch if he suspects they’ve stashed any venomous ‘stinger’ missiles to be unleashed at an opportune moment. If they were but alive to press charges, they’d have included ‘assault and battery’ to that of premeditated murder. And, adding insult to injury would definitely be the assault on their finer sensibilities as they are serenaded to their doom by the ghoulish chuckling of a contented assassin.

Photograph: Kiran Poonacha Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy

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