Posted by: cochinblogger | May 8, 2014

The Painted Bird

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Can you identify this bird?

I spotted it outside my window and managed to take this photo before it flew away. I’d seen it on a few occasions previously, and wondered about its identity. I hadn’t seen a bird like it, not even in the bird books. But now that I had a photo, I took a closer look and consulted my bird books again. Still no luck! I thought it was a bulbul because I’d always seen it in the company of bulbuls — but no bulbul I saw, either in books or online, looked like my bird.

Finally, I posted my photo to a nature website, and a knowledgeable soul told told me that it’s a red-whiskered bulbul, and it’s unusual coloration is because it’s a leucistic individual; the strange plumage is due to a genetic mutation that prevents normal melanin deposition on the bird’s plumage. I think the human analog would be individuals with leucoderma (vitiligo). Below is a normal red-whiskered bulbul. Yes, there’s a family (if not a colony) that lives in the lime tree in my backyard.

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Birds with abnormal plumage are vulnerable because of they look different and hence are sometimes shunned by or even attacked by their own species. I was immediately reminded of the controversial book The Painted Bird by Kosinski. No, I haven’t read the book itself, but I read about it in the appendix to Thomas Szasz’s The Manufacture of Madness, with whose anti-establishment thesis I completely identified when I was in college. R.D. Laing was another favorite.

At any rate, I’m happy my leucistic bulbul is a happy, contented full-fledged (pun intended!) member of its flock.

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