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Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Tailor Bird

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A tailor is called as Darjee in Urdu / Hindi language. So a tailor bird may be called as a Darjee bird. Darjee is one who tailors clothes. Can a bird tailor clothes? Not, at all. Then why do we use the couple of words – Tailor Bird?

The tailor bird derives its name from the unique manner through which it constructs its nest.English poet Rudyard Kipling includes a couple of tailor birds in his famous classic “Rikki- Tikki – Tavi” which is one of his jungle book stories and calls them Darjee and his wife… I mean, Darjee in Kipling’s classic is a male bird with a wife of his own. A Bengali poet Upendra Kishore has included tailor bird in his classic book- “Tuntuner Boi” as its name in Bengali is “Tuntuni”.

A bird is a warm blooded double footed vertebrate which usually lays hard-celled eggs. Bony beak, hollow bones, feathers and fore limbs modified as wings are basic features of the body of a bird. Since birds are warm-blooded, their body is covered with insulating feathers to maintain an even temperature. Size of the birds can vary from the tiny flower peckers & hummingbirds, to the huge Ostrich and the Sarus Crane. In India, other than the Sarus Crane the Himalayan Bearded Vulture is the biggest bird and the tiny Tickell's Flowerpeckers is hardly bigger than a human thumb. Most birds are capable of flight but some larger birds like Penguins, Ostrich and Kiwi are flightless. Depending on different scientific classifications, as of today there are over 9000 bird species in the world out of which about 1250 species are found in India with almost 150 having become extinct due to human activities of various types.  

 A tailor bird has been named as Orthotomus sutorius in biological system of nomenclature. Common Tailorbirds are strong singers, making melodious calls that seem much louder than seems possible for such a tiny bird. Common Tailorbirds are active and restless; usually heard rather than seen. They constantly shift their perch in the understorey thickets, and make short, quick darting flights. These birds roost alone during the non-breeding season but may roost side-by-side during the breeding season, sometimes with the newly fledged juvenile sandwiched between the adults. The roost sites chosen are thin twigs on trees with cover above them and were often close to human habitation and lights. Common Tailorbirds are usually found in the forest edges, scrub and cultivated areas such as parks and gardens. They are also found in open country sides. But they are never seen in a deep forest.

Tailorbirds eat insects. Both adults and larvae, actively forage for these in the understoreys of wooded habitats. They may also snack on small fruits and berries, and sip some nectar or eat tiny seeds. They are usually found in pairs. Tailorbirds begin breeding in January, reaching a peak in February and March but continue to breed until June.The common Indian Tailor-bird breeds throughout India and Burma, alike in the plains and in the hills up to an elevation of from 3000 to 4000 feet. The breeding-season lasts from May to August, but in the plains more nests are to be found in July, and in the hills more, in June, than during the other months. The nest has been often described and figured, and, as is well known, is a deep soft cup enclosed in leaves, which the bird sews together to form a receptacle for it. It is placed at all elevations, and I have as often found it high upon a mango-tree as low down amongst the leaves of the edible egg-plant (Solanum esculentum).Tailor birds are also called Long-tailed because the male's breeding plumage features highly extended central tail feathers; up to 3cm longer. Seemingly tireless, the common tailorbird hops actively among bushes, hedges and trees in its ceaseless search for tiny insects, its tail cocked high above its back and wagging from side to side.

The bird’s weak, erratic flight makes it an easy target for flying predators. Therefore, it flits swiftly from one patch of undergrowth to another; avoiding open areas. A tailorbird pair forms a long-term bond and lives within a static territory all through a year. The birds remain in constant contact with each other, uttering a surprisingly loud, monotonous call: chee-up, chee-up.When danger threatens, such as the appearance of the common small sparrow hawk of southern Asia — the pair makes noisy alarm calls of pit-pit-pit until the danger has passed.

Tailor birds are rare now a day. It is due to habitat destruction, large scale application of agro-chemicals by farmers and the changing climate. Large scale use of fire crackers during religious and political functions is another serious reason behind the reducing number of tailor birds in India.

Key Words: tailor,darzee, egg plant, sparrow, hawk

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