BIRDS IN THE RAIN
THERE are occasions when one is tempted to wish that one were a bird, for the fowls of the air are spared many of the troubles which we poor terrestrial creatures have to endure.
Most of us in India have received a telegram ordering us off to some far-away station ; then, when distracted by the worry and bustle of packing ; when the hideous noises of the Indian railway station " get on the nerves " ; as we sit in the dusty, jolting train, we begin to envy the birds who are able to annihilate distance, who have no boxes to pack up, no baggage to go astray, no bills to pay, no chits to write, no cards to leave, no time-table to worry through, no trains to lose, no connections to miss, but have simply to take to their wings and away.
Most of us, again, have been caught in the rain. As the watery contents of the clouds slowly but surely percolated through our clothes, as our boots grew heavier and heavier until the water oozed out at every step, we must have envied the birds. They know naught of rheumatism or ague. Their clothes do not spoil in the rain. They wear no boots to become waterlogged. Their wings rarely become heavy or sodden. For them the rain is a huge joke. They enjoy the falling raindrops as keenly as a man enjoys his morning shower-bath. There is no bath like the rain bath, and if the drops do fall very heavily there is always shelter to be taken.
It is of course possible for birds to have too much rain ; but this does not often happen in India, except occasionally in the monsoon.
As I write this it is pouring " cats and dogs," and sitting in a tree not five yards away from the window are a couple of crows thoroughly enjoying the blessings which Jupiter Pluvius is showering down upon them. I am high up, seventy or eighty feet above the level of the ground, and can therefore look down upon the crows. They are perched on the ends of the highest branches, determined not to miss a drop of the rain. One of them is not quite satisfied with his position; he espies another bough which seems more exposed, so to this branch he flies, although it is so slender that it can scarce support him. Nevertheless he hangs on to his swaying perch and opens out his wings and flaps his tail -: does, in fact, everything in his power to make the most of the passing tropical shower. The other crow has caught sight of me, and thinks he will stare me out, so sits motionless with his eye fixed on mine, while the rain pours upon him and falls off his tail in a little waterfall. Occasionally he gives his friend an answering "squawk," and then shakes his feathers, and is altogether enjoying himself; he is as jolly as the proverbial sandboy. In other trees near by sit more crows, and, so far as one can judge, each seems to have taken up a position in which he is likely to secure the maximum of rain. All round there is ample shelter; there are numerous ledges, outhouses, and verandahs, in any of which the crows could obtain shelter if they desired it. Shelter? Not a bit of it, they revel in the rain.
Two pied wagtails fly by, chasing one another gleefully in the pouring rain; they too are regular " wet bobs."
On the telegraph wires hard by the king-crows sit with their tails projecting horizontally so as to catch as much of the downpour as possible. The dragon-flies are seeking their prey regardless of the rain; this is somewhat surprising, when we consider that to them a drop of rain must bear about the same relation as a glass of water does to a human being. As they are hunting, it is obvious that the minute creatures on which they feed must also be out in the rain, although every drop contains quite sufficient water in which to drown them.
The mortality of small insects in a heavy fall of rain must be enormous. What a strange sight a shower must look to an insect! Each drop must seem like a waterspout.
Are tiny insects aware that the falling drops are fraught with danger to them? Do they attempt to dodge them ? I think not. They can know nothing of death or of the danger of drowning. They probably fly about as usual in the rain in blissful ignorance of the harm that threatens them. Some escape unscathed, but others less fortunate are overwhelmed as in a flood, and in a few minutes their little spark of life is extinguished.
But to return to the birds. They are all making the most of the downpour, ruffling their feathers so that the water shall penetrate to the skin.
But the rain is more to the birds than a very pleasant form of bath. It is for them a mi-careme, a water carnival, an hour of licence when every bird -: even the oldest and most staid -: may throw appearances to the wind, when it is " quite the thing " to look dishevelled.
What a transformation does a shower of rain effect in the myna. As a rule the bird looks as smart as a life guardsman; its uniform is so spick and span that the veriest martinet could find no fault with it. But after the rain has been falling for ten minutes the myna looks as disreputable as a babbler. A shower is the signal for all the birds to let themselves go and have a spree. No bird then minds how untidy it is, for it knows that there is none to point the finger of scorn at it; all are in the same boat, or, at any rate, in the same shower of rain. So each one makes the most of the period of licence. The most staid birds splash about in puddles and revel in the experience in much the same way as a child enjoys paddling on the seashore.
And when the rain' is over, what a shaking and preening of feathers there is! What a general brushing up! The bird world seems for a time to have turned itself into a toilet club. Presently, the last arcana of the toilet being completed, the birds come forth looking as fresh and sweet as an English meadow when the sun shines upon it after a summer shower.
Then there are all the good things which the rain brings with it. How luscious and sweet the fruit must taste when the raindrops have washed away all the dust and other impurities with defile it. What a multitude of edible creeping things does a shower bring forth. In England it causes to emerge all manner of grubs and worms which before had been lurking in their burrows. In India is it not the rain that ushers in the red-letter day for insectivorous birds -: the day that witnesses the swarming of the "white ants"? What a feast do these myriads of termites provide for the feathered things. In addition to these there is all the multitude of winged and crawling insects which the rain brings to life as if by magic. How badly would the birds fare but for the barsath which brings forth these insects, upon which they are able to feed their young.
Perhaps the hoopoes most of all appreciate the rain, for it makes the ground so delightfully soft; they are then able with such ease to plunge their long beaks into the earth and extract all manner of hidden treasures which are usually most difficult of access.
Is there anything in the world more complete than the happiness of birds in a shower of rain ?