Story Of The Month

The Harrier and the Moorhens

                   By Debashis Ray (

It was a cold and windy day. The wind was riffling the water of the small pond near my home in Andal, each gust sending waves across the water in successive dark bands. It had pushed the floating water hyacinth piling to the opposite bank. Only the lily pads and the thicket of ipomeas on the far side remained firmly rooted.


   Photo courtesy GM Garg, Wikimedia Commons

Most of the birds who normally came to this marshy pool had sought shelter.  But not all; near the lily pads swimming like ducks, were a pair of dark birds, the size of  half-grown chickens. They had red yellow beaks and some light spots on their flanks-Indian Moorhens.  They were not alone. Swimming on the water between the adults were two little black balls-chicks in down.

The chicks were the size and color of squash balls, hardly able to keep up with their solicitous parents protecting and guiding their every move. The chicks probably were only one or two days old. The little family was swimming between the lilies and hyacinths, when one adult bird skittered over the water and dived, only to emerge a few metres ahead. The second adult gave a sharp ‘Keank!’ call and frantically tried to chivvy the chicks towards the hyacinths.

 A large kite like bird had just sailed over the little pond. Sitting with my back propped against a gnarled old tamarind tree next to the pond I had not seen its approach.

Photo courtesy Lip Kee, Flickr

This predator was brown all over like a pariah kite, but with a long rounded tail. It had a pale yellow cap and light colored patches on the leading edge of the wings. The legs were thin and long. It was a female Marsh Harrier seeking prey.

The harrier hovered five metres above the chicks, as the mother (?) bobbing her head tried to drive the chicks to safety of the water hyacinths. Out of fear or because they were naïve the chicks swam, but towards the lily pads. The harrier dropped a metre still hovering, its long legs dangling. The hen dived again but came up immediately renewing her effort to protect her chicks. All the while the other adult kept swimming agitatedly but keeping his (?) distance.

Photo courtesy Mohanram Kemparaju, Wikimedia Commons

The harrier flapping in the wind slowed and dropped another metre. The hen squawked in fright, dived and came up the next moment, a metre from her chicks. Now the harrier came down then rose, and one foot clutching a downy black ball, banked and sailed away with the wind.


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