Our discreet walk through a quiet trail of Shatchari forest was interrupted by a very loud scream, 'Cheeeongg'! We knew immediately that the screamer was a Hill Myna, not an uncommon bird to come across in this little forest in late spring.
Soon we spotted the Myna in a tree and understood why its call seemed a lot louder than usual. The bird was sitting smack on the gaping mouth of a cavity in the trunk of a large tree. It was the hollow trunk that bounced back the call and made it so much louder and way richer.
We recalled how the male woodpeckers often peck on the hollow tree trunks or bamboo in breeding seasons because their discerning females happen to like those resounding drum beats. We felt very privileged to witness the Hill Myna make similar use of a tree-cavity in the Shatchari forest!
The Hill Myna tore off a leaf from the vines clinging to the tree and, with the leaf in its beak, continued to sit there engagingly. We presumed that the bird was a charming young male, although the male and the female Hill Mynas look alike. The Myna in glossy black coat there looked every bit like an excited youth with a bouquet of flowers awaiting the arrival of a pretty female.
We took cover in the undergrowth, hoping to witness a bird-world version of the 'will-you-marry-me' episode soon. But no female turned up. The male continued to crane its shiny neck from side to side and appealingly offered the green leaf to an imaginary paramour.
To initiate courtship in the world of wild birds, the male must call, sing, drum, dance and exhibit an aptitude in nest-building and chick-feeding. The male routines are not for amusement; those are essential in triggering the flow of hormones in a female that lead to the development of priceless eggs.
Soon our patience paid off as we spotted another Hill Myna in a Pitraj Tree at a distance, closely watching the fascinating leaf-offering ballet of the gleaming male. We had no doubt that the second Myna was an observant female, carefully evaluating the male and not yet ready to give him her final nod.
The male Hill Myna eventually dropped the leaf to open its bills wide and called intensely 'Cheeeongg'. Then he flew off through the thickets deep into the forest. We stayed in the bush for some more time since we could continue to watch the other Hill Myna, very likely a female, still sitting upright and alert.
The presumptive female Hill Myna soon emitted a high-pitched whistling call and lowered her body to rest on the branch comfortably. Unlike other starlings, every individual Myna has a dozen of calls that are its own and understood only by the neighbourhood Mynas.
As a fledgling, every Hill Myna creates and learns a few exclusive calls of its own and uses those only among relatives. That exclusive dialect somewhat restricts the ability of Mynas of one forest to readily mix with and be understood by the Mynas of a different forest.
However, the ability to learn and imitate new sounds is what makes a pet Myna able to accurately reproduce the sounds we make in our concrete jungle. Sadly, that wonderful capacity called mimicry did not serve the Hill Mynas very well in Bangladesh. Its population crashed precipitously because of persistent nest robbery by the pet traders.
Probably to distract us from the gloomy thoughts about the vanishing Mynas of Bangladesh, the male Hill Myna returned to where we were hiding. The dazzling black bird landed pompously on the top branch of a leafless tree, proudly holding a supple auburn twig in his waxy crimson beak. If that did not attest his aptitude for home-making to the female watching him from the Pitraj Tree, nothing else would!
However, the wily female exhibited no sign of appreciation or approval of any kind. Casually she flew off the Pitraj Tree and sat on a horizontal branch of a leafy sapling. The male quickly dropped the twig and winged in to take a seat by her side there. Obviously, more discourses were going on between them than met our eyes!
The leaf-offering and the twig-swaying of the male were probably the preliminary parts of courtship rituals of the Hill Myna. Going through the entire forest to look for the available nest holes and carefully choosing the best would be the later steps.
Like most starlings, the Hill Myna must nest in a tree hole although quite incapable of making a hole in any tree. To nest the Myna depends on natural cavities in the trees and the disused holes the woodpeckers and barbets make every year for their own use.
Several nest boxes were attached to the tall trees of Shatchari to ease the housing problems of the Hill Myna, and we were delighted to see a few of those boxes used in the past breeding seasons. Indeed the new couple would soon go inspecting a few nest boxes after visiting all available tree cavities in their neighbourhood.
We hope the long arm of the pet traders will not reach wherever the new pair of Hill Myna might nest in Shatchari National Park this summer.