The purple swamphen roams on both land and water plus can be tamed with minor effort
"A thing is valued where it belongs," however, the purple swamphen – a secretive and shiny bluish-purple bird with drab grey and brown plumage – has been dwelling with people for several decades in Mymensingh. It typically has a long beak and is found in dense waterside vegetation.
Despite being a wetland bird, the purple swamphen, locally known as kalim, roams on both land and water and can be tamed with a little effort. Once it is tamed, the bird will never fly away. In the Chaira Beel area of Mymensingh's Tarakanda upazila, around 10-12 families have been rearing this beautiful bird like poultry for several generations.
Mansur Ali, 65, one of the people raising this bird in Mymensingh, said his father and grandfather used to keep kalim birds as pets after catching them at Chaira Beel.
"I have learned from my father how to tame this ill-tempered bird. After it is tamed, it becomes very friendly. If you call him, he will come to you whenever you call," he added.
The kalim – with a red-coloured forehead and head and long red-coloured long legs and toes – is very adventurous, combative and marauding. Because of its frontal shield, people often compare this bird with Roman warriors. There is a myth that the bird can fly away even after being hit by a bullet in one leg.
Mostly, village women rear the bird and earn an extra amount for doing so. Rumela Khatun, a local homemaker, said the same food given to chickens is given to kalim birds. This bird goes out in the morning and comes home in the evening, after roaming around.
Hasina Akhter of the village said the kalim bird lays eggs three times a year, eight to 12 at a time. The babies hatch from the eggs naturally.
"We sell chicks too. Depending on the age, a bird is sold for Tk2,000 to Tk6,000. Very small baby birds are sold for a minimum of Tk500 each. People buy these birds as a hobby or keep them at home or a resort," she said.
During breeding in the rainy season, when two male birds fight, the sound of their foreheads colliding can be heard from afar. The females do not lay eggs unless they find a suitable partner. It is customary for the male kalim to win the heart of the female to mate with her. And to win her heart, the male bird has to display its acrobatics.
At one time, the birds used to roam freely in the Nalitabari hills of Sherpur, adjacent to the Indian state of Meghalaya but now they are rarely seen as a result of free hunting and grazing land pollution.
When the families were told that catching, selling and petting the birds is considered a crime under the wildlife act, Rumela Khatun said, "We do not know if it is a crime. We have been doing it generation after generation, similar to rearing ducks and hens."
Experts say the relationship between birds and those who have been adapting for a long time is different. So, awareness needs to be created.
"Bird-rearing is family heritage for those who are raising wild birds but they need to ensure that wildlife safety is not threatened by humans. If necessary, the law must be strictly enforced," said Kamrul Hasan, a professor in the zoology department at Jahangirnagar University.