The Did He Do It


MR. " did-he-do-it" is a dandy of the first water. I should like to add "and so is his wife," for she dresses exactly as he does, and is every bit as particular regarding her personal appearance, but owing to the peculiarity of our Anglo-Saxon tongue, it is incorrect to apply the term " dandy " to a lady, and there appears to be no feminine equivalent of it. I must therefore be content to say that Mrs. Did-he-do-it is a dressy little person. Before describing the attire of the Did-he-do-it let me say that the bird is correctly styled the red-wattled lapwing. Ornithologists used to call it Lobivanellus goensis, but this was found to be a bit of a mouthful for even an ornithologist; accordingly the bird is now named Sarcogrammus indicus for short.

The Did-he-do-it belongs to the noble family of plovers. Its head, neck, and upper back are black, and the under parts are white. A broad white band runs down each side of the neck from the eye to join the white of the under parts. The wings are of a beautiful greenish-bronze hue; the legs are bright yellow. The beak is crimson-red, as is the forwardly pointing wattle which forms so conspicuous a feature of the bird's physiognomy. The lapwing is thus an easy bird to identify. Even if you cannot see him, you know he is there the moment you hear his loud, shrill "Did he do it, pity to do it." The only bird with which he can possibly be confounded is his cousin, the yellow-wattled lapwing (Sarciophorus malabaricus). This latter, however, has a yellow wattle and one syllable less in its cry.

The Did-he-do-it is a bird which frequents open plains in the neighbourhood of water. I have never seen it perched on a tree, and as it does not possess the luxury of a hind toe, I imagine that, like the old lady after a rough Channel crossing, it likes to feel itself on " terra cotta."

This bird is not likely to be seen within municipal limits, but it is fairly abundant outside Madras. It feeds chiefly upon insects and small Crustacea. It is not a gluttonous fowl. " Eha" declares that you never find it where there is food and that it does without sleep, since you never catch it napping. Jerdon, however, informs us that in the South of India it is said to sleep on its back with its legs in the air -: a distinctly undignified position for a dandy. It sleeps thus so as to be able to catch on its toes the sky in case this should happen to fall down. As " Eha " says, the chief point about this truly native yarn is that it is impossible to contradict it, for who has seen a lapwing asleep ?

The nesting habits of the Did-he-do-it are most interesting. Strictly speaking, it does not build a nest. It scrapes a cavity, about a quarter of an inch deep, in some stony place. This is the nest. Round it there are a few pieces of kankar or some twigs; whether these are brought thither by the bird, or have merely been brushed there in the making of the cavity, I know not. Very frequently the nest is situated in the ballast of the railway line. Sometimes it is so placed that the footboard of every carriage passes over the head of the sitting bird. There is no accounting for tastes ! Four eggs are usually laid ; they are much more pointed at one end than at the other, and are invariably placed in the nest so as to form a star, the blunt ends projecting outwards and the thin ends nearly meeting at the centre.

Lapwings' eggs are protectively coloured. Being laid in the open and not hidden away in a nest, it is important that they should not be conspicuous, otherwise they would soon be espied and devoured by some egg-eating creature. Thus they are coloured so as to assimilate with their surroundings. The ground colour is greenish and is boldly splotched with sepia, some of the splotches being darker than others. The eggs are dull and not glossy, hence are very difficult to distinguish from the stones which lie round about them. From the above description it will be seen that the Did-he-do-it's egg is very like that of his cousin the English plover, whose eggs are held to be so great a delicacy. Why these eggs are so much esteemed I do not know. I suspect that it is because they are difficult to find, and so costly. If tripe and onions cost fifty shillings a pound, this dish would probably form the piece de resistance of every millionaire's banquet.

The eggs of the Did-he-do-it, then, are interesting as forming perfect examples of protectively coloured objects. As I have previously remarked, the theory of protective colouration has my deepest sympathy. It is an unfortunate jade upon which every biologist seems to think that he is entitled to take free rides ; the result is that the poor beast's ribs are cutting through its skin ! For example, every bird's egg is supposed to be protectively coloured -: even the gorgeous shining blue egg laid by the seven sisters, which is, in truth, about as much protectively coloured as the I Zingari Cricket Club blazer is. The majority of eggs are laid in nests which are either covered in or more or less well concealed among foliage, hence there is no necessity for them to be protectively coloured. Dame Nature is free to exercise on them to the uttermost her artistic temperament, with the result that there are few things more beautiful than a collection of birds' eggs.

So well do the eggs of the lapwing assimilate with their surroundings, that, if you would discover a clutch of them, your only chance is to watch the actions of the possessors of the nest. But the Did-he-do-it is a wily bird, and if you are not very cute he will live up to his name by " doing you in the eye." He does not, like babblers and bulbuls, make a tremendous noise as you approach the nest. He assumes a nonchalant, I might say jaunty, air, hoping thereby to put the intruder off the scent. The other day I had the pleasure of circum┬Čventing a couple of lapwings. Feeling tolerably certain that a pair had a nest on a flat piece of ground near a canal bank, I determined to find that nest. My wife accompanied me. On arriving at the spot we took cover under some trees and scanned the horizon with field-glasses, but saw no trace of a lapwing. I began to think I had made a mistake. After a time we walked on towards the canal; when we had gone some three hundred yards my wife noticed a bird on a ridge by the canal. By the aid of glasses I saw it was a Did-he-do-it. We both dropped down and watched. The bird had " spotted " us, for he had assumed the air of an old sailor who is smoking a pipe over a mug of beer, the air of a man without a care in the world. Presently he quietly disappeared behind the little ridge. We then made a big detour so as to reach the other side of this. Having arrived there we sat behind a tree. The lapwing was now eyeing us suspiciously. We affected to take no notice of him. Presently a second Did-he-do-it came out from behind a clump of low plants only to disappear into it almost immediately, and then ostentatiously reappear after a few seconds. Had we not known the wiles of the lapwing we should have located the nest behind that clump. But we knew better and waited. One of the birds again disappeared behind the clump, but emerged at the other side and strolled along very slowly; presently it came to some stones, where it stood motionless for a few seconds. It then sat down, or rather slowly sank into a sitting position. There was no doubt that the bird was now on the nest. We made for it. As we approached, the bird that was not on the nest flew off, making a noise with the object of putting us off the scent. The lapwing on the nest quietly got up and strolled off without a sound. On arriving at the place where she had been sitting we found three eggs. I took one of them for a lady who was anxious to have one. Meanwhile both birds had flown away without making any noise. Having examined the nest, we returned to our watching place. In about ten minutes the bird was again sitting quite happily. She had not missed the egg.

Birds Of The Plains
Dewar, Douglas. Birds of the Plains, 1909.
Title in Book: 
The Did He Do It
Book Author: 
Douglas Dewar
Page No: 
Common name: 
Did He Do It

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