You don’t have to be an experienced bird watcher to spot parakeets — long-tailed parrots that have seemingly taken over the world with their noisy chatter and squawky mimicry of human voices. You find them in city parks, farms, orchards, in cages and aviaries, even on the city streets waiting to tell your fortune. Whether they are flying overhead in large flocks or fidgeting around as a captive bird, their gregariousness knows no bounds. Parrots of the world have always drawn attention to themselves, most conspicuously with their bright plumage. As if the visual splash they make is not enough, their collective chatter shakes the world out of slumber. But not all parrots are noisy or eye-catching, bright plumage notwithstanding.
Welcome to the world of the hanging parrot, where most parrot rules seem to turn upside down. This world is confined to mostly forests of India and Southeast Asia, where you find 14 species of hanging parrots, one of which is native to the Western and Eastern Ghats and the eastern Himalayas in India – the Vernal Hanging Parrot (Loriculus vernalis).
To an untrained eye, the vernal hanging parrot can seem like a baby parrot on its day out, a diminutive bird that seemingly sneaked out of its comfy nest while the parents were away at work. Bright green with an orange beak, it stalks its way through foliage barely making a sound. Unlike its bigger relatives, this parrot can’t ‘talk’. Or won’t. Although it seems quite happy to mimic other frugivorous birds with whom it shares fruiting trees. Blending in with the community while foraging, joining in their songs, perhaps, adds an extra layer of safety and comfort. For this tiny bird, mimicry is of as much value as effective camouflage as it is a social bonding exercise.
Until I first saw this parrot in the wild, the name “hanging” parrot always puzzled me. Seriously, though, have you watched a Rose-ringed Parakeet intently dangling from a branch, upside down, stretching its neck to that particular juicy mango? Or when it gingerly plods its way down the Peacock flower (Caesalpinia sp.) shoots, carefully rotating itself until it can reach the pods, snip a pod away with the beak, while suspended from the slender branch? What is so different about the hanging action of the Vernal Hanging Parrot?
It’s about as different as the posture of a window-cleaner from a trapeze artist.
One moment, the Vernal Hanging Parrot is picking at a fruit, upright and proud. In a blink, it’s swinging down from the same spot sucking nectar from a flower. And if the spot feels snug and quiet enough, it might even take a nap in the middle of lunch. The bird gets its name not just by how deftly it can swing upside down, but also that it’s so skilled, that it can do it in its sleep – the only bird family to sleep like a bat! What’s more, according to a study by Francine G. Buckley, Hanging Parrots even swing upside down and pretend to fall asleep, when they sense a threat.
Playing dead to save your life is boring. The Hanging Parrot prefers going batty. After all, as shy and quiet as the Loriculus is, it’s got to live up to the family name of ‘Parrot’.