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The Drama Queen of Kabini

Yellow-eyed Babbler, Kabini

What do you call someone who announces her presence with the sweetest melodies, and then underlines her arrival on the scene with a drum-roll of percussive rattles and appreciative whistles? Ornithologists call her the Yellow-eyed Babbler, but we suspect she prefers to be known as the ‘Diva’. As we shall see, this diminutive bird’s behaviour is certainly larger than life. A fantastic singer with a command over complex notes, her home is in the low grasses and scrub, but she obviously understands the need for a more public stage. Experienced birders know she just can’t resist the urge to hear her own voice, and it’s just a matter of time before she climbs up the reeds to break out into song. Even when she’s not singing, she loves to play to the gallery, and doesn’t balk at exhibiting her thespian skills to a potentially hostile audience. While logic dictates that she use her natural camouflage to skulk under the grass and escape predation, it is too low profile for our heroine. It’s almost as if she’s on camera, and when a predator threatens her nest, she’ll go into overdrive with her full arsenal of theatrical accompaniments. She will pretend to be severely wounded, tottering about with wings and tail outspread, ready to topple over any moment. While the potential predator is transfixed by the histrionics, she milks the moment by going full throttle on the melodrama, and staggers further and further away, leading him up the proverbial garden path. Just when it looks like dinner is ready to be served, the ‘prey’ recovers and flies off leaving the predator ruing the discovery that an egg in the nest was worth a bird in hand. And as the curtain goes down to loud whistles from other Babblers, you know you’ve just witnessed another virtuoso performance in Kabini.

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