Discussing which might be the most beautiful bird we have, Salim Ali, in his The Book of Indian Birds, says, ‘…As a family, the pheasants occupy a high place for colour and brilliancy of plumage and adornment possessed by the cocks of most species.’ That should have tipped me off. Certainly the peacock is a brilliantly coloured bird – the turquoise hurts the eyes and the dance mesmerises. The others seemed pretty too. But the field guides hardly ever do justice to vivid colours, and I’ve only seen junglefowl in the wild, so the Galliformes were a bit of a surprise.
A bit unprepared then, this Sunday at the Nehru Zoological Gardens in Hyderabad, I ran to the aviary with the pheasants in them. Painted spurfowl, Khaleej pheasants, red and grey junglefowl, green peafowl, golden pheasants, silver pheasants, Lady Amherst’s pheasants… a series of birds each more spectacular than the last. The brightest, most unashamed of colours; the wildest of combinations that would have come off looking gaudy in the hands of a lesser designer.
Why are they so ornate, pheasants? Is beauty such a priority with nature then?
We had a bit of a dilemma at the Zoo. A twitcher-type dilemma. We were seeing many species for the first time, and even with birds we’d seen, certainly this was a closer look than we could ever have in the wild. These birds didn’t retreat at the sight of us, if anything they came closer emboldened by months of no harm and treats from visitors. Was it okay to tick them on your life list? Or was that unfair? In an older time, naturalists regularly shot birds to have a closer look and I imagine they went right ahead and ticked them off. Yes, it was caged, but I have seen the Greater Flamingo, haven’t I? A close, unobstructed long look at its colours, its beak.
Well, this problem is somewhat hypothetical seeing I don’t have lists of any sort yet. In case, it doesn’t matter.