By: Rabin Prasad Kalita
As the ground became rock hard dry, it was not easy to find forage for them. I made a habit of keeping a large tray of water, bread crumbs, and food grains daily for my visiting birds. The crazy birds played in the water with elation because there was no freshwater or open marsh nearby. I stood noiseless daily at a fixed time, to look upon the flocks of birds pecking grains. It pleased me seeing their shrieking at each other and also got entertained looking at their fights silently. They were trying to dominate over one another. A pair of waterhen scavenging from dawn to dusk was always in my notice. Both kept on moving around my courtyard over and over again until their crops were full. During the entire winter, I made my backyard as a feeding ground for various birds, especially white-breasted waterhens. For not finding any nearby water body, a pair of waterhens started roosting in a bamboo sack close to my house. Otherwise, they love to relax perching on a low tree or shrubs. Their high pitched croaking sound woke up all my neighborhoods. One way, it was a kind of signal for me to provide food for them.
Even at night, their towering metallic sounds like “quack-quack” go high when they get startled from any other animals. “It is always darkest before the dawn”. Now it’s down pouring heavily almost for a fortnight after a prolonged interlude of low rainfall around. Standing on my terrace, roughly Isaw many pools of water all over. Still tends to inflate the level of water due to the never-ending threads of rain. After a couple of days, the continuous croaking uproars of frogs and toads, the noisy buzzing of cicadas, chirping of various birds became ear soothing gradually. Varieties of jubilant insects came out easily by breaking its tender soil for fresh air. Gray field turned green became a refuge for those insects. Happy days arrived once again for scavenger birds to catch them easily. My old gray and depressed by-lane rose with blocks this time. All potholes got repaired and made smooth as bridal face lifted. Like any other day, I was walking back and forth along with my wife through our hundred and ten meters long jogging track in the first daylight. Suddenly I was overjoyed seeing six little cute chicks of waterhen roaming confidently with their petite tail held up along with their proud parents. A petty cup-shaped nest was built in the middle of the floating vegetation of the puddle. As soon as I saw them, they got alarmed and went inside the nest in no time. It was like they had been trained shortly after coming out of their shells. Parents were busy foraging worms for them happily keeping a continuous vigil on predatory birds. Seeing their family growing, my mind was filled with happiness. Last night they were sounding high with mixed tone for a long time. Certainly, the croaking made by them was not a normal sound. It was akin to a displeasing call. Though I tried closing my eyes once again, my attention was mostly on the wellbeing of their young ones.
On my way in the morning, I was shocked to spot only four chicks out of six, with their disheartened parents. So, it didn’t take much time for me to realize why they were crying their heart out last night. That saddened me too, therefore; I kept on observing them time and again. Parents were looking for insects staying closest to their chicks. The chicks were getting trained running behind their parents. They seemed like fluffy black balls with their tiny legs. Though it was a matter of amusement I was more concerned about their safety. Before sundown, they changed the place of their night halt on a weed mass in a different location. They may be doing so sneakily for fear of losing their chicks once again. As the night progressed, they began to settle down. The night went by with no much high pitched sound created by them. The next day morning, my mind was rushing to know about the wellbeing of the residual chicks. Suddenly my sight stared on a weed mound. Oh no! There were only two chicks remained scared in between their parents. They might be crying their heart out for their missing members. The grief of losing four chicks in two consecutive days and the fear of saving the remaining two were harassing their parents. I thought of a plan to catch both chicks before they go missing that night. But it was a hard task to grab hold of them easily because they could sprint fast. I called upon a village fisherman with his throw fishnet. We were waiting for an opportunity when they go inside their nest so that the net could be thrown around them to grab. Exactly at one point of time, they went inside for roosting. Soon they were in; both got caught by the net. Brought them home and initially, I kept in a cardboard box for a day. The next day, a protective cage was made on priority to keep them there. During the day, the cage was kept in the backyard, so that their parents can see them alive.
As far as possible, regardless of all the trouble I had, I tried to provide them with their favourite forage. In a couple of weeks, they developed with an ashy coloured body. Thereafter a patch of white feathers covered along the neck to the belly. Later on, a hue of the greenish beak with a feathery tail tinted with rusty red was seen notably. Finally, their long yellowish legs along with long toes made them more graceful. What a change I could witness being with them for weeks! I saw them transforming from furry black balls to almost full-grown waterhen with so much of amazing change throughout. Now they are strong enough to protect themselves from predators and become adequately capable to manage their forage. Hence with great sadness, I decided to open the door of the cage once for all for letting them free to join their parents. I did it in front of their parents while they were hunting their prey nearby. It was simply an aesthetic sight to witness. This union was not less than a pilgrimage for me. After letting they go, though it pained me, but was equally glad that they got their parents back physically after a long time. Yes, the wretched parents got their chicks back with hale and hearty. Now they all started perching together in the same bamboo sack. They all walk around quivering their tail held up in the vicinity of my backyard. Love to see them enjoy the fun of hunting together.