I snapped this bird photo in Battambang. (A pretty good closeup, right?)
Sure it’s a beautiful two-winged creature, but I was curious to find out more; for example, why did he sidle up so close to me. Who else are you going to ask about these feathered amigos but an exotic bird expert.
Yesterday I received the following explanation from Harvard ornithologist Frank Rheindt:
Your bird is a Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa), a widespread bird of South-east and South Asian rainforests. They are widely held in captivity because of their ability to imitate human sounds and whistles. Because of the pressure from trappers, the species has become quite rare in the wild in many parts of its range, while escaped and semi-feral individuals are a common sight in South-east Asian cities. Your individual was very likely an escaped cage bird or a semi-feral individual because of the city setting and because it looks as though the two of you came very close together. In most European languages other than English, this bird is well known as “Beo”.
Escaped cage bird? Semi-feral? What about deranged, I thought, recalling details of how our paths – the Beo’s and mine – had crossed.
I was eating lunch at a local hangout near the Battambang market, when this gorgeous shimmering black bird appeared out of nowhere, hopping onto the red plastic chair next to me. I gently eased my camera out of its case, stood up and took aim at Mr Black-Beo. I distinctly remember being taken aback as he hopped closer, closing in on me with an intensely piercing gaze. This scene was met with much laughter from the Khmer clients seated at the table next to mine. In between snapping shots, I had to fend off the bird as it repeatedly nipped away at my hand. I must admit it had me a bit nervous. So much so that one of my co-diners finally jumped to his feet, swatting Mr Beo away and yelling something or other – in Khmer no doubt.
From further web-surfing (YouTubing included), I discovered that: The Hill Mynah has been described as the best talking bird in the world, indeed the champion of mimics!
Maybe Beo was sent as an omen. Maybe he fluttered down from a tree in order to forewarn me, to guide me in a direction other than the river. If so, his message went unheeded because, well, yo no habla Khmer.
Less than an hour later, I fell through the bridge.
Gracula religiosa, what a perfect Latin designation; truly befitting a creature who’s been sent on a mission.
p.s. My friend Sukaram, a bird guide from Chitwan National Park in Nepal, wrote this a few days later: it is not bad luck bird , may be warning you to be care full…………