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  • Writer's pictureDr. Farrukh Chishtie

Matchless Winged Fisherman

Efficiency and grace are the hallmarks of this amazing bird that manages to outlast most of its peers through use of skills that are matchless.

Although the winged community all over the globe is endowed with curious and at times, odd, or quizzical behavior, like the lyre bird of Australia where the mama buries her eggs in sand, instead of incubating them under her wings, the Fisherman is a unique bird altogether.

In the case I wish to talk about, our jovial aquatic paraglide shields her precious lot in a crudely built nest by spreading her wings, at times for hours, so that the naked chic will not feel uncomfortable.That is remarkable for anyso-called creature with lower intellect level, than the higher mammals such as the monkey group in which the mother, that dotes on the baby, does not spread her arms to protect the infant from the rigors of the scorching summer heat, but here the loving mama spreads her wings which have the width of around six feet in some species.

The readers may have seen this huge bird in ponds of zoological garden where they love to float effortlesslywhile it keeps them in good company of the flock for infusing confidence to each neighbor and to join in the fishing campaign by scaring the slimy, slithering prey in the water by beating their wings on the surface to scurry them on towards a corner where they huddle. The bands of birds dip their ‘pouchy’ beaks and scoop them up. The water spills out from the sides and the slithering prey flip flops inside the very sensitive pouch.

The birdthenraises the head for the fingerling to slide down into the crop at the base of the neck where the digestion processstarts immediately.

That is an important process because each mama must feed the hungry chic by slightly touching it to make it aware that the lunch is ready. The chic will open its beak chirping at the same time to let mama know it is hungry and the mama will drop half-digested fishy gravy into the throat of the baby and return to water for more fish.

When she has fed all the chicks – there maybe still three or four more`yearning for the choicest morsel from the mama – she returns to spread her wings so that the chicks may also fall into a snoring slumber for two to three hours after which theywake up and start chirping for more.

The chic usuallyemerges from the confines of the opaque shell in which it has developed in the last four to five weeks. When it is time to come into this world the young gently taps at the already weakened shell wall, with the help of its milk tooth, provided byNature to make a small window through which it starts breathing.From the oxygen the bodystarts getting energy andfrom the yolk whichis reserved in every egg so that the young cansurvive for a day or so without food from the outside.

The mothers pile up broken dry twigs in a huddleto make crude nests for the young.Each mother lays about four eggs each in a period of ten days or so. Once the nest is made, each mamasettles down to providewarmth to theprecious eggs.

All eggs carry the necessary data in their DNA to reproduce exact replicas of the mama. The young ones will resemble the parents under the famous biological formula that like begets the like. This is happening right now as you read these lines in the Samzoo – a privately owned zoo that is now much larger in number of inmates than our once prosperous Karachi Zoo jailed!

This specie of the aquatic bird is very special.It can raise ahigh current of airto an astonishing height of eight thousand feetduring migration when the flocktravelsthousands of miles. It is a huge undertaking and a staggering height for a bird as heavy as twenty pounds. That is possible because of the hollow bones Nature has provided to this specie to impart lightness during flight for miles and for days without enough food and rest. Not all the bones of the bird are hollow. Only the major ones, like that of thewings and thigh are hollow. This way the remaining bones canmanufacture red and white corpuscles that give life and sustenance to the bird. The design of the bones isa highly complex one, with the arrangement that there will be lightness during flight whilethe marrowcontinues to manufacture blood andantibodiesto keep the bird’s body in good health.

The readers will recognize that this strange looking bird is none other than the pelican – a bird that is an expert fisherman. It moves all the while like afishing net that unfolds and swells to contain four liters of water. When the feeding is done, the bird rests on its chest while itsnoozes, keeping the long beak resting on the protruded pad of feathers that are folded to form a soft pillow.

The male pelican also does his part in the house-making.He too collects nesting material and brings it to the femalewho arranges them properly to form a nest. Also, the malehelps in incubatingthe eggs when the female pelican However, the male also has his share of meal from the female.

These birds love to live in community as a group because they obtain fish only with the help of the other friends who join in the fishing trips. I have seen the same technique being used by fishermen at our world famous ManachaarLake. The fishermen form a semi circle with their boats after fixing the nets. They beat the water with bamboos driving the shoals of fish towards the net. Apart from beating the water they also beat aluminum or stainless “Thaalies” with hands or stick to create din to terrify the shoals.

Pelicans are all social birds(there are eight species) and they nest in large colonies,sometimes in tens to thousands. One of the white species (the heaviest of them), breed on isolated islands in lakes usually making their nests on ground and occasionally on low trees.

After some weeks the chick thrusts the beak deeper in the open beaks of the mama and eat directly from the crop—the first pouch of the alimentary canal where the food is stored. After two weeks the chicks come out of the nest and form a juvenile group to have made a beginning of learning to live in a community, which is their style of living.

If you happen to visit Karachi Zoo they maybe breeding –you can see the chicks being fed by the mama and spreading wings to provide shade from sun – a hear warming sight to see how the mama loves the young ones and what pain and labor she can undertake to care for her babies.

Writer: DR A A Quraishy

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