A tweet from the other side of the globe ~Purple Sunbird~ By Tahir Khan Arzani

Quest Writer  -: Tahir Khan Arzani from Lahore, Pakistan.

This was the first tweet I got about thirty five years ago and then onwards I started getting them every day early in the morning from about one and half feet from my window. What am I talking about? I am sure you would ask me how I could get these tweets thirty five years ago when twitter was not yet even born.

It was the early eighties and I was in my early twenties. My room was on the outer side of our house in Model Town, one of the serenest and the greenest locality in the historic city of Lahore, Pakistan. It is an old mansion built in the year 1936 even before the partition of India and Pakistan.

My room had a typical colonial four and a half feet, two laired vertical wooden window. Inside it was a two door opening with four milky rosette patterned foggy glass on each side and front part a typical mesh fitted double door. Outside the window there was an old bougainvillea mixed with an orange bell flower creeper covering half of the window and moving stealthily up to the roof. The months of March and April it is all spring in this part of the world and the bell flowers are at full bloom. After hard winters of four months the weather becomes very pleasant in springs here and we start sleeping with open doors only mesh doors are closed as a measure of protection from mosquitoes.

So, coming back to the earliest tweet. My bed was just next to the window. Early one morning while I was in a deep slumber I had to get up on account of a noisy shrilling tweet tweet. It was a constant call repeated several times in a minute that woke me up. Though it was pretty disturbing, I got up angrily but when I looked out side the window where this loud call was coming from my anger turned into shear amusement and enjoyment. It was truly a mesmerizing scene, an ideal setting for a painting in reality with lush green background of bougainvillea leaves with a crumbling and twisting old branch on one side and vibrant orange bellflowers in foreground. At the bellflowers was this stunningly beautiful metallic, purplish-black bird acrobatically clinging up side down to the hanging flower and making these loud tweets. The little beauty couldn’t see me because of the mesh. So, this was the first tweet I ever received and also my formal introduction with the Purple Sunbird which turned into an affair later on.

I was so amused with this happening that I wanted to see this little gorgeous creature more closely. Next day I took a thin jute rope, tide it to the nearest branch and pulled it closer to the mesh window. And from that day onwards this bird started to wake me up in the mornings for many years to come and I still enjoy this spell binding beauty from a kissing distance.

The strange fact of the animal Kingdom is that in animal world males of most of the animals and birds are much more beautiful then that of their female partners. This might sound like a male chauvinistic statement but actually it is so. It can be witnessed from the lions in the African jungles to this tiny Purple Sunbird of my region. Nectar Eatting Sunbird

Lets talk about some technical details that are very important to know for a bird watcher.

This bird is commonly known as “Purple Sunbird” and its scientific name is (Nactarinia asiatica)

It is normally about 7-10 CM (4 inches) in length but I have seen slightly bigger then these about 12-14 cm as well but rarely.  

Males are of striking metallic shiny blackish-purple often misunderstood to be black at the first sight but it is metallic purple. Females have from grey to olive greenish upper coat and paler yellowish to off white under parts. Both male and female have probe type bill which is slightly longish cervical with long tubular tongue ideal to penetrate into the long bell flowers and other tube flowers to suck nectar from.

Habits

Purple Sunbird can be seen in gardens, parks and house lawns where greenery is found in urban areas of Lahore during the spring and summer months. It hovers from flower to flower penetrating its beak into the flowers while staying still in the air with its wings fluttering up and down for hundreds of time in a minute like a still helicopter in midair. This fluttering causes a humming sound that pushes a common bird watcher to think that it might be a hummingbird when technically its not. These sunbirds can be seen in pairs and some times in small groups of three to five.

Flitting from one flower to another often clinging upside down to probe with its slender curved bill for the nectar which is its basic diet.  They also catch and eat small spiders and insects especially to feed their young to cover the requirements of protein in their diet but, it is not a major portion of their feed.

Call

Males are very noisy. I have seen the them sitting restlessly on the top of a medium height tree (20 to 25 feet) max or on a nearby wire making regular calls of tweet tweet.. tweet tweet from 2 to 7 times for good half an hour in the mornings but they also do it in other hours of the day as well.

Migration

These Purple Sunbirds are locally nomadic and are found from Thatta in the south near the Arabian Sea to the Himalayan foothills (1200m) in the north.They are also found in desert areas when flora is in abundance. They are absent from dry mountainous regions. In Lahore they are seen till mid October to maximum end November before the hard winter begins and then they return in early spring.

Nesting

I have noticed over the years that the purple sunbird returns in the month of March and the mating and nesting months are from March to May.  They make their nest in bushes, small trees and dense creepers on the garden walls at a height of 3 to 10 feet max. Female makes the nest.. She remains busy finding the right material. The nests are made of soft grass, at times rubbish thin cuttings of cloth. Mostly in longish pouch type close at the bottom and hanging from a tree branch (not necessarily very strong). Normally a sunbirds nest is not very neat from outside but she keeps a neat round opening on the outer side slightly below the branch with which it is hanging. She gives enough cover shade to the opening so that direct rain doesn’t affect the new born chicks. On average there are 2 to 3 pale greyish or greenish eggs with white marks on them. From two to three eggs are hatched but mostly there are 1 to 2 survivors

While going through my field notes of the year 2013 about sunbirds that I just found. I think that some details can be very informative and of some interest to our readers.

It was the March 2013 I noticed that these Sunbirds arrived back in my garden on 15th of March after an absence of three and a half months. Extensive loud calling of the male and dance could be seen for good 15 to 20 days. Both male searched and selected the appropriate place to make a nest. The female started making nest on 2nd of April. The work was completed in 14 -15 days and the female started sitting in the nest from 16th of April. Only female incubates the eggs. Incubation lasts about 14-17 days. Male does help in raising the young. Two featherless naked chicks were hatched. I with the help of my daughter 13 and my younger son 8 years kept a close eye on the nest but from a safe distance and It was the tenth day one of the new born was found dead in the nest and the other one was rescued by my daughter that jumped out of the nest three times in two days. we put her back each time but now fully feathered and very active lone survivor was ready to take its chances and wanted to take its first jump to explore the new world. My son marked the chick with some washable colour to recognize it in the field. It took its first flight after two days. The family remained a regular visitor of our garden the whole summer and we could identify the younger one easily.

So readers, this was my story and the Purple Sunbird for you from my side of the globe. I am sure all of you must have a story of your own to tell. We must share them with each other especially with our children so that, in this way we can transfer these positive habits to them because children are our future but they seem to be so busy while using their laptops and cell phones that they don’t realize what they are missing and how far away they have gone from the natural world. This is our responsibility to convey all this to them in order to bring them back to real world.

1 reply
  1. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    Great blog, Tahir Khan! You make an important point— not just for children but we all need to remember that laptops and cell phones are tools for us to use. They can be really interesting and fun but they are no substitute for real life.

    Sunbirds are one of my favorite birds! I saw them nesting when I was in Kenya working. So fun to watch.
    Thanks for posting this… tweet, tweet ~~( : >

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