The Shikra

Shatanik Shyamsundar Kasab, is a trainee Assistant Conservator of Forest at the Central Academy for State Forest Service, Coimbatore. He enjoys exploring the untamed wilderness, writing his wild encounters and photography. He sees this as a means to express his compassion for the wildlife and its conservation.

I first saw it two years ago, just out of its nest, a little scared and unsure of the surroundings. It had the majestic look but had to yet learn the ruling nature and sharpness of a raptor. Otherwise what do you make of it sitting on an antenna, next to a crow? This was unusual, so I cross checked to confirm if this was a Shikra. The stomach had reddish/brown bands, the back was turning bluish black but the reddish-brown colouration was still seen, the round-pointed flesh tearing beak and the two round piercing eyes, yellow in colour.

Yes, this was a juvenile Shikra sharing the antenna with a crow.

Perhaps like a child bunking school for the first time, this juvenile also sat in one corner unsure of its next move.

The crow sharing the antenna was also true to its breed. Why leave an opportunity to make some trouble? He glanced at his companion and suddenly attacked the Shikra with its beak. The poor Shikra had to abandon the perch and move quickly.

On the Neem tree nearby, the bulbuls and squirrels started an uproar.

The crow watched the Shikra disappear in the distance. The four foot antenna now belonged to him! He moved an inch to right-left, turned his high head to left and right side to show this was his territory! Many onlookers had seen him attack the Shikra.

I spotted the Shikra on the terrace again after a couple of days. He had the same blank look. The squirrels on the Neem tree that had noted his presence started their usual hullabaloo.

After that day I kept a watch for the Shikra, but he did not come to our building or the trees nearby. One morning, I heard a high pitched call. I looked out of my window and there I saw the Shikra on the Neem tree! It was not just visiting the place, this time he was making an announcement that he was here to stay!

In these 35-40 days many physical changes were visible on him. One could almost feel the raptor blood in him. He looked like a young royal prince. That day I completely lost track of time admiring him.

It became a routine. The Shikra would visit early morning and announce his arrival through loud calls. He would perch and observe the birds and for fun, it would mock attack squirrelsand see them scamper for shelter. Perhaps I imagined a smile flicker on the corners of his beak. Even if he only boasted a tender moustache, he had the true blood of a killer. He did not bother much about roguish crows now. The Neem tree was his kingdom. The message was clear to the crow who left its regular place for the ruler.

For days I observed the bird visiting at specific times.

The head and upper parts turned more blue and grey. The under parts became much clearly barred, the reddish barrings were more prominent on the breast. The yellow eyes turned deep red in colour.

Then, for a few days he did not turn up at his usual time. I did not worry much about this absence, thinking he was now in his prime and must be enjoying his youth. But the days turned into months. By now he had become a part of my life and to not see him was like missing someone, very close to me.

Unhealthy thoughts filled my mind. I recollected the accident near the forest plantation at the Avsari Ghat of Pune Nasik Highway. A speeding vehicle had knocked a Shikra and zoomed ahead. I had stopped my car to see. The bird was still warm, but didn’t move. The pulse was missing. The haughty neck that would pick up prey midair in a fraction of second, was hanging on the shoulder. Eyes were half open, and they still had a lively glitter in them. But it was dead.

This memory sent a chill in me. I wondered what had happened to my Shikra. I silently prayed to God for his safety.

In time, I was back to my routine grind of life and forgot about the bird. Then one day I saw two black kites taking very low level circular filghts near my building. It is normal for kites to start gliding in circular movements at lower levels before soaring high. But to keep moving at low height meant there was something unusual. I was curious, so came to my window.

Something shot out of the Silver Oak tree like an arrow and attacked a black kite with its beak. It was the Shikra! Who dared attack the kite double its size. The kite turned in mid air and returned the attack. With agility the Shikra changed its direction. The kite moved ahead and the Shikra swooped and again attacked. The kites had to abandon the place. The Shikra went back in the Silver Oak. I was so proud to see it back! I had seen it as an immature baby, sitting in one corner, unsure of its own move and today I saw him defending his territory! Where was he for so many days? Did he find a mate for self? If he was in the same area, then why did he not visit the Neem tree? Many questions popped up in my head that moment. Anyhow, even if these questions couldn’t be answered, my day was already made by a glance of the bird.

That evening I sat near our terrace door, reading a book. I must haveread for 30-45 minutes when I felt something move on the terrace wall right above my head. I thought it must be one of the rock pigeons parading on the wall. I didn’t look up. Therewas no movement, everything was quiet for sometime. I was about to start reading again, when I felt two red burning embers looking at me. I didn’t believe myself for a second, ‘the’ Shikra was looking at me! Untill now I had observed him from a distance, and today it chose to sit so close and observe me! I don’t know since when it was sitting there. The Shikra suddenly got alert by my stare and excitement. He kept the feet (until then kept close to its stomach for comfort) back on ground and sat upright. I didn't want him to fly away. So I covered my eyes with palm and started observing him through the gaps of my finger.

The bird that had fiercely defended its terrority forcing the kites to abandon the sky in morning, was 8-10 feet from me! Why did he choose to sit so close to me? In this mad world, did he find me, “a suitable candidate” to observe? There was a piece of red flesh on his beak. So I guess he had just finished a kill and was now resting. For a few seconds the Shikra observed me closely, then started looking around. I slowly got up from my chair. The Shikra sensed my move and again gave me hard look. I froze in my position and he again started looking around. I again moved an inch. After many such attempts, I went on the other side of the wall. I opened my cupboard, took my camera and focused on him.

I took my position and held on to my camera with support from the chair. For a good shot I had to make slight movements and I couldn't possibly hide/cover myself there. My movements must have made the Shikra curious. His complete attention was now focused on me. I took umpteen photographs of the bird. He did not fear me anymore. I was very close to him but he was not concerned about this nearness now. It was past 6 pm, the darkness was setting in. I kept my camera aside and observed the bird in the fading sunlight.

The Shikra fluttered its wings. This led to a commotion between the bulbuls and squirrels on the nearby Saptaparni (Alstonia) tree.

One Sunday afternoon after a coupleof weeks I heard the loud calls of the bird again. Suddenly a bird, spreading its brownish wings flew out of the leaf bunch. This was a Shikra but this was a ‘she’ not the ‘he’ I was looking for. But just after her, the male Shikra followed.

Now I knew, it was because of this female company that he was not frequenting the Neem tree. The birds swooped in the air before my eyes and vanished beyond the horizons. Our next meeting was going to be decided by him.

The prince was now ready to take the sky under his wings.

For more information contact:
Shatanik Shyamsundar Kasab
Flat No. 72, Siddhi, Meenatai Thakare Nagar,
Karvenagar, Pune-411052

All photograph courtesy: Shatanik Kasab

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