Purple Swamphen, Coorg -
Forget the old debate about which came first. In the swamplands of Coorg, there exists a hen that knows the answer, and as if to emphasize the point, brazenly steals and eats eggs to beat the monotony of an otherwise vegetarian diet. Cannibalism? Not really, for her taste runs to duck’s eggs which she eats while standing on one leg, firmly grasping the delicacy in the other. This, by the way, is how she eats her veggies too, as picking food off the ground is beneath her dignity. Now, the Ducks’ Union may cry ‘fowl’, but the Purple Swamphen has always enjoyed an unfair advantage over birds of a similar feather. It may be the privileges of royalty, but since antiquity, this proud fowl has not just had the run of the manor, but has never had to grace the host’s dinner table. Legend has it that in ancient Greece and Rome, the nobility refrained from eating them, and as a tribute to their noble bearing and gracious plumage, allowed them to wander around as honored guests. Perhaps it is this royal pedigree that finds articulation in the elaborate courting etiquette of the Purple Swamphen. The male woos the female by bowing low and offering her a bouquet of water reeds, accompanied by a loud chuckling. The female, in turn, shows her acceptance by bowing like an arch. All this bowing and wooing is tiring work, and by the time a mating pair has babies, they turn to the local dial-a-nanny service (non-breeding hens, mostly from the previous year’s offspring) to bring up the young. And teach another generation how to deal with the eternal debate about the hen and the egg.