Fledgling playing statue

posted in: Brood parasitism | 0

“I was in Vietnam in June 2008 at a mountain resort known as Mai Chau. It was disappointing for me that the birds there were dismally meagre. But I encountered something rather strange while walking round the parameters of the rice fields. There was a pair of what I believe to be Ashy Woodswallows (Artamus fuscus) flying about – see the picture with the grasshopper(?) in its beak. The first time round nothing out of the ordinary happened. But when I passed them a second time round they seemed extremely agitated – screaming very loud and flying rather erratically to and from the telephone wire. Curious I hung around with my compact camera ready.

“Then I noticed some fluttering movement in a bush just below the telephone wire. As I moved in to get a closer look, the pair up on the wire became even more and more agitated. It was then that I saw a nestling struggling amongst the leaves of the bush (left). It was obvious that it was not old enough to even stand up, let alone fly. How did it get there? No nest was obvious.

“We’ve all heard of how parents yell instructions to their young when they observe the latter in danger – Run! Hide! Hit!

“Well, on hindsight I think the parents on the wire were yelling to the nestling: “Stay still! Don’t Move! Play statue!” After some initial struggling, I saw the nestling taking a very strange pose. It seemed to align itself to a central stem to the extent of stretching its neck and beak upwards under a leaf – see the second picture. And there it stayed; and all went quiet with the parents.

“At that time I wasn’t sure what was happening nor what was going to happen. So I did nothing; I just hung around wondering if anything else was going to happen. But nothing did. The nestling held it’s pose without a squeak or a twitch. The parents flew around a little but never far away from the wire. After about 5 minutes or so, I left – dinner was calling me. The next time I strolled pass that spot all was quiet.

“That little incident left some questions for me. How did the nestling get there? The bush was on the edge of an open rice field with no trees anywhere near. Were the parents transporting it when it slipped from their grip and fell? Has such a unique survival strategy amongst birds been documented before?”

Lim Poh Bee
27th January 2009

Note by YC:
I may be wrong, but the fledgling looks suspiciously like that of the Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea). Not sure what birds the koel parasitises in Vietnam. We welcome comments from viewers.

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