GREEN parrots, as the long-tailed paroquets of India are popularly called, although fairly abundant during the cold weather, cannot be said to be common birds in Madras. This is a small mercy, for which all Madrassis should be duly thankful. The green parrot is one of those good things of which it is possible to have too much. Where the beautiful birds are not too plentiful they are always greatly admired and considered most pleasing additions to the landscape ; where they abound most people find it difficult to speak of them in parliamentary language.
The Punjab is the happy hunting-ground of green parrots. I am now in a station where these birds prob¬ably outnumber the crows, where we are literally steeped in green parrots, where we hear nothing else all day long save their screeches and chuckles.
Green parrots owe their unpopularity to their mischievousness and their noisiness. " In their malignant love of destruction and mischief," writes Colonel Cunningham, " they run crows very hard, and seem only to fall short of that standard through the happy ordinance that their mental development has halted a good way behind that of their rivals. They are, therefore, incapable of devising such manifold and elaborate schemes of mischief as the crows work out, but in so far as intent and disinterested love of evil goes, there is not a pin to choose between them. They take the same heart-whole delight in destruction for destruction's sake, and find the same bliss in tormenting and annoying other living things." While fully endorsing the above, I feel constrained to remark that the parrot is no fool; he may not be quite as cute as an Indian crow, but he is gifted with sufficient brain-power for all practical purposes. If the green parrot is less harmfully mischievous than the crow he is far more offensively noisy. He is able to produce an almost endless variety of sounds, but unfortunately there is not a single one among them all which by any stretch of the imagination can be called musical.
All species of green parrots have similar habits. All are gregarious and feed almost exclusively on fruit and seeds. They do much damage to the crops, destroying more than they eat, since they have a way of breaking off a head of corn, eating a few grains, and then attacking another head. Where green parrots are plentiful the long-suffering ryot sets them down among the ills to which the flesh is heir. When the crops are cut the parrots feed among the stubble, picking up the fallen grain.
The exceedingly swift, arrow-like flight of the green parrot is too familiar to need description. The flocks usually fly high up, screaming loudly; at times, however, they skim along the ground ; occasionally they thread their way among trees, avoiding the branches in the most wonderful manner, considering the pace at which they move.
Very amusing it is to watch a little company of parrots in a tree. Sometimes the birds perch on the topmost branches and there chuckle to one another; at others they cling to the trunk, looking very comic, pressed up against the bark with tails outspread. Not infrequently one sees two of them sitting together in a tree indulging in a little mild flirtation, which, in green parrot communities, takes the form of head tickling. These birds are very skilled climbers ; they move along the branches foot over foot, using the beak when they have to negotiate a difficult pass. Thus they clamber about, robbing the tree of its fruit and keeping up a running conversation. Suddenly the flock will take to its wings and fly off, screeching boisterously. The members of each little community seem to live in a state of rowdy good-fellowship. No one who watches parrots in a state of nature can doubt that existence affords them plenty of pleasure.
Green parrots nest in January or February in Southern India, and somewhat later in the North. The courtship of the rose-ringed species is thus described by Captain Hutton: " At the pairing season the female becomes the most affected creature possible, twisting herself into all sorts of ridiculous postures, apparently to attract the notice of her sweetheart, and uttering a low twittering note the while, in the most approved style of flirtation, while her wings are half spread and her head kept rolling from side to side in demi-gyrations; the male sitting quietly by her side, looking on with wonder as if fairly taken aback -: and wondering to see her make such a guy of herself. I have watched them during these courtships until I have felt humiliated at seeing how closely the follies of mankind resembled those of the brute creation. The only return the male made to these antics was scratching the top of her head with the point of his beak, and joining his bill to hers in a loving kiss."
Note that it is the hen that makes the advances. There can be no mistake about this, for the presence of the rose-coloured ring round the neck enables us to distinguish at a glance the cock from the hen.
The more I see of birds the more convinced do I become that, in the matter of selecting mates, the hens do not have things all their own way. In monogamous species the cock frequently chooses his spouse; selection is mutual.
The nest is a cavity in a tree, and is thus described by Hume: "The mouth of the hole, which is circular and very neatly cut and, say, two inches on the average in diameter, is sometimes in the trunk, sometimes in some large bough, and not unfrequently in the lower surface of the latter. It generally goes straight in for two to four inches, and then turns downwards for from six inches to three feet. The lower or chamber portion of the hole is never less than four or five inches in diameter, and is often a large natural hollow, three or four times these dimensions, into which the bird has cut its usual neat passage."
My experience differs from that of Hume, inasmuch as it tends to show that green parrots do not excavate their own holes, or even the entrances to them. I suppose I have seen over a hundred green parrots' nests, and all have been in existing hollows. Green parrots frequently evict the squirrels which tenant a cavity in a tree and use it for nesting purposes.
They sometimes nest in holes in buildings. There is in Lahore an old half-ruined gateway, known as the Chauburgi. In this dozens of green parrots nest simultaneously.
The rose-ringed paroquet (Palaeornis torquatus) seems usually to nest in trees, while the larger Alexandrine paroquet (Palaeornis nepalensis) nests by preference in holes in buildings.
The nest hole is not lined.
Four white eggs are usually laid. Both parents take turns at incubation.
Parrots are birds which thrive remarkably well in captivity. This, I fear, is a doubtful blessing, for it leads to a vast number of the birds being taken prisoner. Many of those which are kept by natives, and even some kept by Europeans, are, I am afraid, cruelly treated. It is true that the cruelty is in many cases unintentional, but this does not afford the poor captive much consolation.
Parrot-catching is a profitable occupation in India; since nestlings fetch from four to eight annas each. Thousands of young birds are dragged out of their nurseries every year and sold in the bazaars.
Nor are the young birds immune from capture after they have left the nest. They roost for a few nights in company before dispersing themselves over the face of the country. The wily bird-catcher marks down one of these nesting spots -: he has possibly had to pay rent for it, for parrot-catching is quite a profession, so large is the demand for captive birds -: and then sets in likely places split pieces of bamboo smeared over with birdlime. When daybreak comes the unlucky birds that have chanced to roost on the limed bamboos find that they cannot get away, that they are stuck to their perches!
Natives of India are very fond of taming parrots. They capture the birds at an age when they are unable to feed themselves. These young parrots are considered as members of the family, and are allowed to roam about at large in the room in which their master lives. They make a great noise and so are not very desirable pets.
I am sometimes asked by those who keep parrots how to make them talk. This is not an easy question to answer. Some birds are much more ready to learn than others. I do not consider that the various Indian species make such good talkers as some other kinds, as, for example, the West African parrot -: the grey one with the red tail. Nevertheless, what follows applies indiscriminately to all species of parrot. If you want to make a bird learn quickly to talk, use plenty of bad language before it. It is really wonderful how rapidly a parrot will pick up swear words. There appears to be an incisiveness about them which appeals to parrot nature. As a rule it requires much patience to teach a parrot anything except profanity. Constant repetition of the same sound before the bird is necessary. The gramophone is said to make the best teacher. The in¬strument should be made to repeat slowly and steadily the phrase it is desired to teach the bird, and placed quite close to the parrot's cage, which should be covered up. A word of warning to those who try this up-to-date method of instruction. Polly's lesson should not last much longer than ten minutes, and only one a day be given; otherwise the poor bird may get brain fever.