In a few hasty steps, a lanky bird slyly crossed the path we were plodding at Purbachal on a tranquil November morning. We whispered, "Hello! Yellow-wattled Lapwing!" The strange black cap and yellow wattles left no doubt about the bird's identity in our minds.
In spite of every effort of those sneaky birds to remain unnoticed, we usually get to see quite a few of them on most of our walks by the residual grassland of Purbachal. And it is always a pleasure to watch a flock of those wide-eyed birds, constantly trying to fathom the minds of us humans.
From the moment we set our eyes on a bunch of elegant Yellow-wattled Lapwings, they keep staring at us. And if we take a single step towards them, they say 'cheee-it' and take off in haste. 'Cheee-it' possibly means: 'That's it, we go.'
Only when we walk a little away from the lapwings, do they turn their gaze off us and focus on foraging. So, we walked away from the lapwing on our track and stood behind a bush to watch it. However, we did not fool the flock that easily. Unnoticed by us, a lapwing resting on the grass was watching all our movements.
Soon that vigilant lapwing shot up from the grass, shook its body to awaken its resting muscles, and piped 'cheee-it'. The flock of five lapwings took off immediately and flew through the maze of electric cables to be away from us humans, who do not necessarily mean well.
We did not mind those five watchful lapwings avoiding us like poison. We, of course, meant no harm to them; but for ages, many people did, and some still do. We do not expect the lapwings to read our minds and decide in a flash - to flee or not to flee! They better flee every time.
Yellow-wattled Lapwing is an out-and-out ground-dwelling bird; it feeds, frolics, rests, roosts, courts, and breeds on the ground. It has to share the ground with humans for life and, no wonder, is very wary of them. Humans habitually had never been very good at sharing.
A very special group of 25 species of plovers of the world are called lapwings. Bangladesh has six of those; three residents and three migrants. Yellow-wattled Lapwing is the only one endemic to the Subcontinent. It exists nowhere in the world save Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, this unique bird is becoming a rarity in its only home in the world. The vacant plots of Purbachal happen to be the best place in Bangladesh for it to thrive right now. The poor birds do not know that the 'owners' of the plots will soon arrive and cover the grass with concrete.
Yellow-wattled Lapwing loves open plains covered with short grass and modest weed. That provides the lapwing with everything it needs. It feeds on ants, termites, beetles and other insects from the grass. It builds its nests by placing a few pebbles on a bare patch of ground in the grass.
We do not see much open and unmolested grassland in Bangladesh now. Purbachal may be the Yellow-wattled Lapwing's largest breeding ground in this country. They begin their courtship in March-April when we see them more in pairs than in flocks. But they all vanish like magic in May-June.
The disappearance of the lapwings can be explained by their strong desires to stay imperceptible when they incubate the eggs and accompany the camouflaged and stealthy hatchlings through the grass and weeds. They suddenly reappear in August when the chicks have fledged and are able to fly.
The sixth species of our lapwings, the globe-trotting Northern Lapwing, has fared much better by inhabiting the world's six continents. It, however, went through interesting phases of persecution and conservation in Europe.
Ancient Egyptians venerated the lapwing highly enough to carve it with human hands on the walls of their Pyramids. On the other hand, the ancient people on both sides of the English Channel worshipped the Saxon Goddess Eostre by eating the eggs of the lapwings.
The egg-eating went on even after the European Pagans turned Christians. The worship of Eostre transformed into an Easter celebration; the lapwing eggs were harvested and eaten as before during the newfound Easter.
The 'modern' Anglo-Saxons of the time termed the lapwing eggs nutritious as well as delicious. The British royalty, especially Queen Victoria, was known to be rather partial to the lapwing-egg dishes.
In England, the expert egg-collectors were there to do the difficult job of locating the lapwing nests and harvesting the eggs for the royals and the nobles. The fact that the lapwing nests at the same spot every year helped the harvesters a great deal.
Soon Mrs Beeton's famous cookery books came up with many recipes for cooking the lapwing eggs. Eventually, the English grassland ran out of lapwing eggs, and additional supplies had to be brought in from Scotland and the Netherlands.
The senseless egg harvesting and the ensuing lapwing holocaust were brought to an end by enacting the Lapwing Act in 1926. The lapwing population has been recovering slowly from that pogrom in the past 95 years.
Thankfully, Easter is celebrated now by hiding and finding fake eggs and not with the wild harvests of the millennia past. But, have the lapwings forgotten or forgiven out inanity? We cannot say yes to that question when we look at the wide-eyed Yellow-wattled Lapwing at Purbachal, fixing us forever in a stare.
We did, however, celebrate the curious, casual and soft looks of the Yellow-wattled Lapwing fledglings at Purbachal. We hope that in a few generations, the lapwings may be able to forgive us.