Last year in August, we had shifted to the house in Central Delhi with its gorgeous peacocks. The discovery at our arrival had been a roosting peahen under the Saptparni tree in the garden. The five chicks born had unfortunately not survived the onslaught of predators.
Now, another peahen has come and roosted for the last fortnight under the Saptparni tree. This time we hope her offspring will fare better.
This hope is derived from the experience we had in the last few months. Around May this year, a peahen with five small chicks sauntered in through the main gate into the compound. And they stayed.
They pecked around the house the entire day, and climbed the neem tree and slept in its branches at night. Every evening we watched and counted as they made their way up. High up, the peahen took the chicks under her wings, and crouching in that fierce maternal pose they spent the night.
Two days later, another peahen accompanied with three small chicks flew in from the back wall. And they too stayed. They made their home on another branch of the neem tree. So, every night we had two mothers sleeping in our compound with their broods under their wings. Our house had two mothers and seven chicks lounging around all day.
It was interesting to observe the families. Much like us, the peahens only catered to their own brood. However, they tended to be around the vicinity of each other. It was their sheer numbers or luck, but the predators that hovered around did not find the space to take away a chicken.
They had grown a bit, and one day the peahen with five chicks decided to go on a visit somewhere. They walked out of the gate, she was royal in that way, and did not return till evening. The one with the three chicks stayed in the back garden the entire day, probably because there is more human presence there during the day! When the visiting group returned only four chicks were there. One had been lost during the sojourn!
The peahen and remaining four chicks moved to climb towards their nocturnal abode, but one chick got left behind. It had probably been hurt in the daytime visit, and it could not climb behind its siblings. It roamed in circles around the base of the tree helplessly. The other peahen also came and with her brood climbed the tree. The chick stayed below.
No one came looking for the chick. The mother simply tucked in her remaining three chicks that now spilled out from under her wing, and called it a day.
We watched the helpless chick as it hung at the base of the tree, making a pitiful sound. We could not have slept off, leaving it in the open for the cats to devour. After much debate we decided to take him in for the night. Our help Navin, a young man, agile and flexible spent a good hour catching the chick. Then we put the trembling being in a secure place with water and food.
The next morning around 7 am we saw one peahen with three chicks in the backyard. The neem branches were empty. We decided to release the chick in the backyard hoping that it was his mother. The chick tentatively walked towards the peahen, and she pecked him on the head viciously. It was clear she was not his mother. The chick hung around with the other chicks, desperately trying to blend in, but the moment the peahen spotted him she attacked him. After a while the mother and her brood flew out of the backyard, and the solitary chick was left to fend for himself. A myna that had been poking around the garden since morning, decided to befriend him, and under the watchful eyes of the myna and Navin, the lonely chick survived another day.
In the evening, both the peahens returned and ritual tree climbing began. The little chick got left behind again. Anticipating this, during the day, Navin had made a small makeshift pen in the garden with some mesh lying around. After another hour chase, the chick was put in the pen and we hoped that his mother would be around the next morning to take him back.
In the morning the pen was empty. It was not damaged or broken in, but our solitary, hurt chick had gone. Who or what took it away in the dead of night we never could figure out. We were all kind of broken hearted. But the realization dawned again that in the face of the forces of nature, however big or small, we are helpless!
The two peahens and the remaining six chicks thrived in our compound. Currently, the chicks are fairly big. The mothers have more or less abandoned them. The peahens are not around during the day, but do come back in the evening. Mimicking working mothers in human space.
The six small fowls remain around the whole day. They hang out together like a pack of teenagers, fighting and playing. We are waiting for nature to reveal through its colors, which is male and female! They still sleep on the neem tree, but separately. The mothers have let go seamlessly. Something I feel we can learn from as parents!
Every morning before leaving for work, I check on the expectant mother. She sits there still, without moving, with no nourishment – waiting for the chicks to hatch. The youngsters that roam our garden, go and say hello to her often. As I see them growing and blooming, I feel hopeful that maybe this time the ones that hatch in our garden will also survive to adulthood.
The peacock saga that unfolds around us continuously unravels the beauty and mystery of nature, and resonates with our lives too!
Photos and videos courtesy Dnyaneshwar Mulay (Twitter: @navnirmiti)