The Oriental Magpie-Robin: Melodic Maestro
Photographs: Manmath Acharjya & Bidisha Ganguly, Residents of Malhar.
As you leisurely stroll through the Malhar Eco-Village, you may be treated to a fleeting glimpse of the Oriental Magpie-Robin, adorned in its natural dark blue-black and white tuxedo, its tail upright as it forages gracefully on the ground. Yet, what truly captures the heart is not just its visual elegance but the enchanting symphony that emanates from this remarkable bird.
Unlike many of its feathered counterparts, this medium sized robin (~19cm) reveals itself as a virtuoso mimic. Picture a bird that effortlessly emulates not only the calls of fellow avians but also mimics the ambient sounds of daily life. It becomes a living symphony, seamlessly blending the rustling leaves, distant calls, and even the hum of human activity into its melodious repertoire. The bird’s vocal range spans a broad spectrum of notes and trills, each serving a distinct purpose in the intricate dance of communication. Whether beckoning potential mates or delineating territories, its singing becomes a multi-faceted expression that transcends the conventional boundaries of mere bird calls.
Interestingly, it is this very virtue for which the Oriental Magpie-Robin, a common sight in Southeast Asia and across the Indian subcontinent, was once popular as a cage bird. These birds were among the top three common garden birds in the 1920s. However, by the late 1970s, magpie robin populations became virtually extinct in Singapore and were only seen on some offshore islands due to illegal trapping for the pet trade. Fortunately, conservation efforts and legal protections have since allowed their populations to rebound, and today, the Oriental Magpie-Robin is once again a common and thriving bird in the urban grasslands and gardens.
Breeding Season: March to July in India
During the breeding season, male magpie-robins undergo a remarkable transformation. Exhibiting a newfound hostility, they fiercely defend their territory against intruders. The males respond vigorously to the songs of trespassers and even react to their own reflections. Nest protection becomes a priority, and studies of their bird song reveal distinct dialects with neighbouring robins differing in their tunes. In this season, males elevate their voices, singing loudly from the tops of trees or other elevated perches.
Nesting spots: Thick shrubs, palm trees, hollow trees, forks of branches, human habitation
Magpie robins are versatile nest builders, crafting their homes almost anywhere. From thick shrubs and palm trees to hollows and forks of branches, these birds display adaptability in choosing nesting spots. Surprisingly, they can even nest in close proximity to human habitation, utilising spaces like patios, holes in walls, old tin cans, and reservoirs.
The nests of magpie robins are large, shallow, and loosely composed, these nests are crafted from a mix of natural materials – grass, dried leaves, twigs, roots, and moss.
Doyel: The National Pride of Bangladesh
This remarkable bird holds a special place in the heart of Bangladesh, where it is proudly designated as the national bird. Known as “Doyel” or “Doel,” it extends its significance beyond the realms of nature, making appearances on the country’s currency notes.