The Parachuting Bushlarks
What comes to mind when you see a sparrow-like brown bird? You would ignore it and move on. But if you do that for this bird, you miss this bird frolicking.
They are mostly sparrow-like birds but with a hint of rust on their wings.
There are four kinds of bushlarks in India, varying mildly in their colour, size and markings.
What makes these birds really noticeable and a delight to watch? It is their “parachuting” abilities. If you have tried paragliding or skydiving, you would have an idea of what it is like.
Really a bird watchers’ delight – it has to be experienced first-hand. Amazing descent control – this is all nature. (The video below is at 30% of the actual speed. You can imagine how difficult it is to capture it in the act…).
What is this special ability?
The male selects a perch, usually an electric cable. He flies off, takes an upward direction; this part looks like a regular take-off but then, he suddenly stops, opens his wings and tail and slowly starts to descend without moving a muscle, legs hanging down; this makes him look like a mini-parachute. All this while, he sings a keeee-keeee song and then, makes a soft landing on the perch. This behavior may be repeated after a few minutes. Safety first, of course. The lady is nowhere to be seen but she may be watching secretly.
At other times, they keep themselves busy eating grass seeds, searching for food under gravel near grassy areas. They are known to dust-bathe.
Since Bushlarks are dependent on grasses, grasslands are the most important habitat for them.
We humans don’t leave grasses and grasslands alone. We mow, plough and cut off the flowery part and often, the whole plants because they seem too ‘long’ and overgrown. In short, we treat grasses like weeds and tend to consider grasslands as wastelands.
Grasslands and grasses are also important for other birds and animals ranging from grasshoppers and hares to deer, bison, wild sheep and not to forget, pandas and elephants. Why? Because, all of them eat grasses.
The place where I took the video above is now gone even though it was part of a protected area. It overgrew a bit and so it was ploughed down. Habitat gone, so has the bird.
I will be writing about more grassland birds in my future posts.