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The Tuneful Thief of Coorg


Scaly-breasted Munia, Coorg -


He’s small, cheerful, and is known to be a good singer, often humming a gentle tune under his breath as he goes about his business. What stands out, however, is the audience reaction to his songs, which varies from frustrated sighs, to strangulated oaths and the odd expletive tossed his way. For the paddy farmers of Coorg, their grain is their fortune, and the arrival of these feathered minstrels is definitely not good news. The favourite food of the Munias is grass seeds or grain, and they prefer to forage on the open grasslands or cultivated paddy fields. The Munia may be small, but he’s a gregarious bird who hates dining alone. Every time he feeds, he brings along his friends, and when a flock of more than a hundred guests descend, uninvited, for dinner, you can be forgiven for expressing yourself in vocabulary that’d put a sailor to shame. While the smaller flocks feed rather haphazardly, the larger flocks have an established pattern: first a few birds move forward to feed, followed by another group and another… or else the group at the back leapfrogs the group in front, and so on, till the paddy patch has been thoroughly worked over. And the fuming farmer, thoroughly worked up! At the end of a successful paddy heist, several flocks gather on a treetop and exchange calls. This is often the time when a contented Munia decides to woo his woman with a trademarked jingle with several high notes ending in a slurred whistle. Whether this works or not, the song often draws other males who perch close to the singer and peer intently at his bill. Such close scrutiny by ‘peering’ Toms, however, doesn’t faze him. For there’s a song on his bill and he’s eaten his fill, and what more could a Munia want?


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