Quietly we stood huddled behind the shacks of a village named Bheduria, expecting to see a pair of Changeable Hawk-Eagles bring some twigs to their nest high up in a Rain Tree. We were visiting the village in Bhola implicitly to observe that a remarkable pair of rare raptors start a family.
A lonely Hawk-Eagle has been living in Bheduria for nearly a decade. We were delighted to learn that the forlorn bird found a mate and started to build a nest there in December last year. We decided to visit the village in March this year, by which time we expected the newlyweds to complete the unhurried work of nest-building.
We intended to observe the just-married couple of Hawk-Eagles at Bheduria over a full day. The good people of the hamlet did not seem to mind our protracted presence in their backyard, even though it interfered with some of the chores of the housewives.
To the youngsters of Bheduria, we were as much the VIPs as the Changeable Hawk-Eagles were to us. To them, the Eagles were just a couple of regular birds of the village, and we were the unfamiliar visitors. Only to us, it was worthwhile to see a pair of nesting birds the whole day.
The last nest of the Changeable Hawk-Eagle we monitored was in the Sal Forest at Sreepur some 15 years ago. Sadly, the chick did not fledge successfully out of that nest. Unfortunately, the population of Hawk-Eagle has been dropping very fast in Bangladesh ever since.
Changeable Hawk-Eagle is not doing too well in most of the countries of the Orient that are the bird's only home. The growing scarcity and poisoning of its prey, such as snakes, lizards, frogs, rats, squirrels, shrews and birds, seem to be the main reasons for its decline.
Sadly, four of the ten species of Hawk-Eagles of the world are in serious trouble: one has been termed critical, and three are dubbed endangered. The two species we have in our country, the Changeable Hawk-Eagle and the Mountain Hawk-Eagle, are both doing poorly here, although not yet of serious concern elsewhere.
We waited patiently in vain for quite some time in the grove; no Hawk-Eagle showed up. The nest on the fork of the Rain Tree lacked a lining of green leaves and looked incomplete. The Hawk-Eagle usually adds a pad of green leaves on top of the piles of sticks before laying its single egg.
We decided to walk through the village, and the paddy fields hoping to spot the Hawk-Eagles come swooping down on their prey somewhere. We also expected to hear the high-pitched calls and the piercing screams of the male sooner or later.
The Hawk-Eagles of Bheduria had quite a different game-plan. They came and alighted on the nesting tree as soon as we left the grove, and the jamboree of the curious villagers dispersed. But the birds did not evade us very long; we were soon informed of their arrival, thanks to the omnipresent mobile phones.
We were obliged to race on the bumpy borders of the paddy field to return to the grove we departed from only an hour before. We saw a stern Changeable Hawk-Eagle sitting on the Rain Tree and staring at the small crowd gathering on the ground.
The Hawk-Eagle sat upright, gripping an ample branch assertively as if the bird owned not only the tree but the entire grove. We were reminded of the fusion of ferocity and grace of raptors superbly expressed by Ted Hughes in a few unforgettable lines of his celebrated poem titled Hawk Roosting.
The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
While enchanted by the elegance of its streaked white feathers shining in the sun, we knew that the bird would moult and look dark chocolate very soon. Every year it abandons its graceful white dress and dons a sinister dark garb for a few months. That is why it is called Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
We returned to the grove of Bheduria several times that day to see how often the Hawk-Eagles visited their nest. We saw the birds enter the grove once more but not go near the nest. No stick or leaf was added to the nest. The birds did not seem to be in a hurry to complete the nest and use it soon.
Changeable Hawk-Eagle undertakes procreation at a leisurely pace. It commences its first courtship at four years of age that lasts for months. The female incubates her single egg for seven long weeks when the male has to feed her. After the egg hatches, the chick has to be fed for ten weeks before it fledges.
During the seven weeks of incubation, the male Hawk-Eagle has to feed two mouths; and in the subsequent ten weeks, the pair must feed three, including a ravenous chick. It is bound to be hard for the hunters like them to find daily sustenance when we are determined to eliminate their prey from our country.
It is dreadful but conceivable for the just-married Hawk-Eagles of Bheduria to fail to garner enough energy over the next five months to complete their nest, lay an egg, incubate and raise the chick. We do not know how many bad days they will have in the coming months when they will find nothing to hunt.
Changeable Hawk-Eagles are able to change their colours periodically, but not their menu. No Hawk-Eagle should be tempted to hunt the domestic chickens or ducklings of Bheduria. It is better for the Eagle to spend a few hungry days and even miss a breeding season than to face persecution or eviction from the last piece of land at the edge of the Bay of Bengal.