Essay: Of avian romance in the Capital

ByPrerna Jain
Mar 21, 2023 06:18 PM IST

From the loud anthem of the brown-headed barbet to the frenetic dance of the purple sunbird, love is in the air for Delhi’s birds

It is still springtime in northern India. The harsh summer is a couple of weeks away. The birds of Delhi, now in the mood for love, chirp, whistle, dance and sing for hours at sunrise. Their enthusiasm might disturb humans at daybreak but those who do manage to roll out of bed can learn some lessons from the birds about courtship.

Purple sunbirds (Prerna Jain) PREMIUM
Purple sunbirds (Prerna Jain)

Oriental white eyes (Prerna Jain)
Oriental white eyes (Prerna Jain)

The brown-headed barbets in my neighbourhood start showing off the strength of their vocal cords while it’s still dark. They yell “kutroo, kutroo”, which is about as original as RRR’s Oscar Award-winning Naatu-naatu, the song with the electrifying beats and catchy chorus (Deepika Padukone’s description, not mine). Naatu-Naatu is new but the brown-headed barbets have been using the same lyrics and tunes for many generations. Their love anthem may not be very entertaining but the energy level never dips until the right mate turns up. Their music is also a way of announcing their relationship status, which, as with humans, might be single, taken or complicated. In their context, a complicated status means the male has identified his love interest and even plucked a juicy fruit for her but she’s still weighing other options and holding out for another suitor who might gift her a bigger, sweeter, juicier fruit.

Brown headed barbets (Prerna Jain)
Brown headed barbets (Prerna Jain)

Male purple sunbirds are tiny but are no less romantic than larger birds. They start later in the day than the barbets. Perhaps, they take a little more time with their toilette, grooming themselves until their feathers are irresistibly shiny. To the untrained eye, they look mostly black but that purple iridescence peeks through in certain light. Female purple sunbirds with their olive bodies and yellowish undersides, are far less attractive. During courtship, the male raises its head confidently, fans its tail, and flutters about with partly open wings, exposing its pectoral tufts. Not just that, it sings like a true Hindi film hero, reminding me of Hritik Roshan singing and dancing to Senorita in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Yellow footed green pigeons (Prerna Jain)
Yellow footed green pigeons (Prerna Jain)

The laughing doves, black kites, oriental white eyes and yellow-footed green pigeons too are out scouting for a mate during the Capital’s brief but resplendent spring. Male birds do much more than just sing and show off their bright breeding plumage. They compete ferociously with other suitors in performances that include dancing and offering gifts of food.

Black kites (Prerna Jain)
Black kites (Prerna Jain)

Unfortunately, much of the birdsong in our cities is buried under the deafening roar of humans and their machines. The indiscriminate felling of trees has also reduced the number of love spots for birds.

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Indeed, if they could, city birds would probably echo Urdu poet Jigar Moradabadi’s sentiments:

Ye ishq nahin aasan bas itna samajh lijiye, ek aag ka dariya hai aur doob key jana hai./ Love is not easy; it is like a river of fire; one has to drown in it to swim across.

Prerna Jain is an artist and photographer based in New Delhi. An extensive collection of her work can be found at her website and at She is the author of My Feathered Friend

The views expressed are personal

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