We were reinvigorated both by a pleasant birdsong and a few cups of strong black tea at a roadside shop after wandering through an unusually quiet and unexciting Shatchari National Park for the best part of a Saturday.
The bird went on repeating a mellow and lingering repertoire of its song 'wheeeeeee-ti'. We did not see the singer but knew it was a Common Iora. It is this song that gave the bird its common Bangla name: Fatikjal. The transliteration of its song in the villages of Bangladesh has always been 'fateeeeeek-jal'.
When other birds were taking their siesta, the male Common Iora was busy repeating its lovely repertoire in the woodland we had entered to sip our afternoon tea. Our delight did not diminish by the fact that we knew the bird was singing his passionate refrain for his mate, not for us.
The protracted song of the Iora persisted as we finished our sneaky drinks and emerged out of the shop that was fully curtained to hide us from the fasting passersby. We were sure we would find the singer if his song continued for some more time.
We did not have to look far. The singer was sitting on a thorny branch of the roadside Indian Coral Tree, popularly called 'Mandar-gach'. A Common Iora usually rests on its belly for a prolonged singing session, and sure enough, our good singer was sitting on his belly, being oblivious of the sharp thorns of Mandar.
We recalled Oscar Wilde's fairy tale about a nightingale pressing its heart against a thorn to turn a rose red for a love-sick young man. Our Iora surely was doing nothing like that; the female Iora he was singing to would not appreciate such a gory routine.
The following lines from the Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats would indeed better describe what we felt about the blissful rendition of that cheerful Iora:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
Common Iora is truly a happy bird and one of the most accomplished vocalists of the resident songbirds of Bangladesh. It has many multi-syllable calls for everyday use and several repertoires of trilling songs for the summer. It can also mimic the calls of several common birds such as Drongo, Monarch and Tit.
Common Iora, however, does not mimic the manmade sounds as the Hill Mynas readily do. Consequently, this sweet songster – while openly living in the human neighbourhood all over Bangladesh – has managed to stay well away from the pet market.
We get to see the Common Ioras and listen to their protracted song wherever there are a few bushy trees because they forage in the foliage for small spiders, insects and worms. That non-vegetarian diet is another reason why pet traders do not target these pretty songsters.
Before exiting the wood, we found another smart Common Iora sitting on a branch of the roadside Jackfruit Tree. The glowing yellow bird had a fine hair-like fibre in its beak – a prized construction material to build its nest.
Common Ioras make their cup-nest on a cleft in a leafy tree by wrapping a lot of reedy fibres with cobwebs. They collect a great quantity of derelict spider-web to fasten the scaffolding of fibres and to plaster the nest wall. However, the white wall does a poor job of camouflaging the nest among green foliage.
The tiny Iora has to worry about quite a few small nest-robbers such as Garden Lizard, Gecko, Tree Viper, Treepie, Coucal and House Crow. As soon as those little predators locate a nest, they happily snack on the tiny eggs and chicks of the struggling Ioras.
House Crow happens to pose the biggest threat to the eggs and nestlings of the Ioras nesting in our villages, towns and cities. When the numbers of all the other nest-robbers fall persistently, the population of House Crow grows continuously, thanks to the increasing amount of garbage we produce.
Although a Common Iora may sing for months and engage in elaborate courtship flights for some more time, the time it needs to incubate eggs and feed nestlings is relatively short, four weeks all told. Both parents share the household chores and rarely leave the nest unattended. Moreover, they move about their nest very stealthily.
The diligent Ioras may build a second nest and make a second attempt at raising a family if the first fails. Their ability to moult and get a fresh supply of shiny new feathers more than once every year helps them start afresh after an unfortunate failure.
No wonder the Common Iora is the most widespread bird in the very small family of Ioras named Aegithalidae. The Common Iora lives in most of East Asia and some parts of the Far East. The other three members of the tiny Iora family survive in much smaller regions.
We are happy to see the Common Iora do well in Bangladesh in spite of the prowling crows and the other non-human predators. We cannot say the same for many other small birds such as Munias. The population of six species of Munias have crashed in Bangladesh mainly because of human predation.
The Common Iora is doing well principally because human beings do not yet make the long list of their predators. The non-human predation waxes and wanes, whereas the human predation persists to the very bitter end.