‘Love again, song again, nest again, young again’

Of the world’s 181 thrushes, only three reside in Bangladesh; and only orange-headed thrush lives in Dhaka city. Another Bangladeshi resident named Blue Whistling Thrush is a rare bird and only found in mountainous districts

October 22, 2022, 3:40 p.m.

Last modification: October 22, 2022, 3:44 p.m.

Orange-headed thrush in search of food. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Orange-headed thrush in search of food. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

A colorful bird froze in a clammy scrub along the gutter as we rounded a corner on our morning walk threatened by an untimely drizzle. The bird, evidently, was a fearless orange-headed thrush rummaging through shrubbery and rubble in an attempt to find its breakfast. It was very unusual for this forest-dwelling bird to come to our bustling neighborhood of Banani.

The agile bird fluffs its feathers, perhaps, to shake the raindrops from its beautiful orange head and chest. Fortunately, the light drizzle had ceased; and the bursts of sunlight could strike the brushwood where the auburn bird stood silently. Its mottled russet underbelly looked like a small ornate quilt spread out in the autumn sun in anticipation of its winter use.

We were more than happy to find such a pretty bird in our seedy living quarters and didn’t want to scare off the unusual visitor. The bird stood perfectly still, as it usually does when intending to avoid detection. We had already stopped on our trail and continued to stand still, sincerely wishing the bird would ignore us and resume its search for breakfast.

Orange-headed thrush in search of food. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Orange-headed thrush in search of food.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Orange-headed thrush in search of food. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

The mystified Orange-headed Thrush might ignore us; but not the newsboy cycling towards the maquis from the other side. The alarmed bird leapt from the brush on the perimeter wall and fell into the vast meadow beyond the wall. We knew there would be plenty of breakfast for the hungry bird in that soggy field of grass.

The orange-headed thrush is an omnivorous bird that enjoys worms and insects as well as tender berries. Earthworms are by far his favorite food in Bangladesh; and it lives mostly worms in our Sal forests where berries are scarce. In the forests and woods of the villages, the thrush is usually found walking on the ground in search of wriggling worms.

Although it remains the only common resident thrush in Bangladesh, we see less and less orange-headed thrushes as earthworms disappear from our villages. In days of plenty, however, people didn’t notice too much of it because it has always been a very secretive bird like most thrushes in the world.

Of the world’s 181 thrushes, only three reside in Bangladesh; and only orange-headed thrush lives in Dhaka city. Another Bangladeshi resident named Blue Whistling Thrush is a rare bird and is found only in mountainous districts. The third resident thrush, Purple Cochoa, is a very rare bird from the Orient and has only been seen a few times in our country, including once at the Kurmitola golf course.

In addition to these three residents, 12 other species of thrush live in Bangladesh in winter. Only a handful of people have ever seen one of these stealthy visitors. The orange-headed thrush remains the only thrush that we can expect to see often in our neighborhood. Being an eastern species, it may never be seen in people’s backyards anywhere else in the world.

Orange-headed thrush singing. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Orange-headed thrush singing.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Orange-headed thrush singing. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

In the spring, the orange-headed thrush can be heard more often than seen. Like most thrushes, it sings soft, sweet songs and sometimes mimics other songbirds in Bangladesh. Alfred Tennyson, a Victorian Poet Laureate, wrote the following charming lines about a thrush, a harbinger of spring in his country:

Last year, you sang it just as willingly.

“New, new, new, new”! Is it so new

That you should sing so madly

‘Love again, song again, nest again, young again.’

The orange-headed thrush breeds in early summer in Bangladesh when passing showers send the worms crawling across the ground. Its nest is a large platform made of straws, grasses and leaves. Young and energetic thrushes may nest more than once per season, especially when the first nest is parasitized by the cuckoo.

Jacobin cuckoos and brown-winged cuckoos are known to lay eggs in orange-headed thrush nests. Only one egg is laid by the cuckoo in the thrush nest without damaging the thrush eggs. The cuckoo’s egg hatches first and the chick monopolizes the food brought by the thrush; and thrush chicks that hatch late unfortunately die of starvation.

However, the energetic orange-headed thrushes have not suffered from sneaky cuckoos laying eggs in their nests for donkey years. The population of thrushes has declined with the recent loss of forests and woodlands in the Orient. In Bangladesh, it also suffers from the massive destruction of worms and insects due to excessive use of pesticides.

Orange-headed thrush nesting. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Orange-headed thrush nesting.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Orange-headed thrush nesting. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

The orange-headed thrush is a popular cage bird in several eastern countries; and its population has recently declined in some of these countries. Fortunately, Bangladesh has strict laws against the trapping, trade and possession of wild birds; and very few thrushes have been caught here for the pet markets. The thrush can only blame us for our love of pesticides and our laziness in the field of forest conservation.

Hong Kong has recently demonstrated how the well-being of the Orange-headed Thrush is closely linked to that of forests and woodlands. The thrush is known to have first colonized Hong Kong in 1956. The population of thrushes has steadily increased along with the growth and maturation of the forests and woodlands of this small island.

Like the people of Hong Kong when we take care of our forests and woodlands, the Orange-headed Thrush in Bangladesh can also sing: “Love again, song again, nest again, young again.”

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