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The Scent of a Woman


Common Hoopoe, Coorg -


If one were to go by the adverts we see on TV, women who use a certain brand of perfume can have it all: an alluringly fragrant presence, supreme self confidence, and unlimited male attention. In Coorg however, there’s one lady who makes her own fragrance and uses it quite liberally, both as a body spray and as a room freshener…only there’s no one around to appreciate it. Unlike most women, the Common Hoopoe is not into floral undertones or hints of citrus; she prefers perfumes with more body in them, like meat for instance, preferably with an undertone of rotten decay. If you’ve already reached for a barf bag, imagine what this smell does to potential predators and parasites. Keeps them at arm’s length, and keeps the nest safe. This, at the end of the day, is why the nesting mother’s glands produce this offensive smelling liquid which she smears onto her plumage. But while the female of the species deliberately makes herself unattractive to protect her brood, the male proves chivalry isn’t dead. He forages on the ground with his long sharp beak, and digs out larvae, pupae and small insect delicacies, and feeds his wife who can’t leave the nest. Such stories of virtuous behavior have been extolled in mythology, where the Hoopoe’s reputation is far more fragrant. Biblical stories have the Hoopoe as King Solomon’s storyteller and messenger, while Egyptian lore enshrines young Hoopoes’ tradition of feeding and caring for elder, infirm birds. All said and done, this bird reminds one of the (in)famous Durian fruit of Southeast Asia; a lot of goodness in a decidedly malodorous package, which probably explains the popular belief that the Common Hoopoe is best enjoyed when one suffers from a common cold.


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