If you ask me which bird I like the most, I have no answer. But I can definitely say that magpie robins are the best singing birds in all of India I have known from Himalayas to Kerala.

a magpie robbin
They are ‘voracious’ singers. Almost year around, every morning and evening their routine is to sit on a prominent perch and sing with enthusiasm. Every day it’s a different line, a different tune! But, in one sitting the bird repeats over and over again the same long tune. It has a voice of considerably high frequency… Neither is the bird bored of chanting for about an hour at a stretch, nor am I! Of course it has different verbal expressions for different communication. For example it purrs when it sees a cat, informing other birds of the impending danger.

Now when Amma is away in US, a family of magpie robins, two parents plus two kids, are seen all around the Kalari, Amma’s room and the Kali Temple area. Their singing is heard above the morning class! On days when the Upanishad class is not held, I find it very hard to take my mind away from the bird symphony!

The roof gardens by Amma’s room have become a virtual farmland: stubs of some plants, greens bearing ripening seeds, lush creepers with gourds, corn and numerous plants and vines bearing flowers and pods. They are rich in insects. The tiny vociferous tailor birds are seeing jumping around those gardens, tweeting in between leaps, busy hunting worms and insects. After eating a piece, they look up a bit and go on with a long repetition of ‘tuvee tvee tuvee tuvee’, sometimes for a full minute! Their voice has a very high frequency. A tiny bird – the size of the thumb – but with an impressive lung capacity!

The jumbo, cashew, peepal and other trees are home for the wild woodpeckers, putruking barbets and self preening quiet crows. The tireless green barbets seem to maintain the X-axis, with its non-stop but measured putruks to the Y-axis of other bird-songs.
The family of four woodpeckers, release a joint squeak when they are done with their pecking worms, and when you try to see them they fly away, they call out in wild bewilderment as if teasing you: ‘Hey, we were just above you till now. You didn’t realize it till you heard us. We won the game of hide and seek!’

For a week now, soon after morning archana, two young tree pies are heard screeching and hopping on trees branches. Their mother looks over them as they move around demonstrating their newly learned art of fending. Their weak voice, not size nor appearance, betrays the fact that they are still babies.

Just a few months ago mynas were such noisy birds around the Kalari area; at sunset times their ‘kwee kwee kwee kwee’ and ‘kilikilikilikili’ calls would deafen human ears! But they have fallen silent now.

The black and white magpie robins are the lead singer now. Yesterday their singing started a little too early. I was wondering why. Then I realized they had started their singing early because Amma had come on line around that time. It was Devi Bhava, how could they miss it?

It is said that birds sing praises to God. They repeat the same lines because they are actually chanting their mantra. One could sing different bhajans (like magpie robins do) but one’s mantra chanting will always be the same…

– sandhya