Posted by: cochinblogger | March 31, 2020

Indian Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)

I see it most mornings on my way to buy milk. It would be next to the water, as still as a rock, keeping a sharp lookout for fish, frogs, tadpoles, dragonfly larvae, etc. I invariably pause when I see it. It looks at me. Our eyes meet. Then I resume my walk, leaving it to find breakfast.

Yes, I agree that it's not much of a looker. The typical hunched stance is ungainly, the body stocky, the colors dowdy. But appearances are deceptive. This unassuming bird has a couple of surprises up its sleeve.

First, when you approach it, it stands its ground. This is unusual; most birds are cautious to a fault and will fly away at the slightest hint of an approach. Not the Indian pond heron. It will allow you to approach very close, taking to the air at the last moment. And that is when you are hit by the second surprise. I remember the very first time I watched an Indian pond heron take off from the ground: one moment it was there before my eyes, the next moment it had vanished. In its place was another white bird that seemed to have materialized from nowhere. I was looking around for the pond heron, wondering if it had suddenly plummeted to the ground. A little later, it hit me: the white bird was the pond heron. Its wings are white underneath. It's a startling transformation.

The Indian pond heron is usually found near water bodies, but it is an adaptable bird, and I've also seen it foraging in garbage dumps in the city. Its habit of allowing close approaches has inspired the popular belief that it is very short-sighted (which it is not). In Sri Lanka, it is called Kana Koka, which means "half-blind heron." The bird in all likelihood allows close approaches as it trusts that its camouflage and immobility will enable it to evade detection. Its dull brown coloration helps it merge with the ground, and it can be hard to spot it on, for example, a mudbank.

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