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Full text of "Common Birds"

COMMON BIRDS 

LIM \L! Q 1 UH HAL 




i 



INDIA— THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE 



COMMON BIRDS 






COMMON BIRDS 



SALIM ALI 

AND 

LAEEQ, FUTEHALLY 




NATIONAL BOOK TRUST. INDIA, NEW DELHI 



First printed. 1967 (Saka 1889) 
Reprinted in 1970, 1975, 1978 and 1982 



(c) Salim Ali and Laceq Futehally, 1967 



MP 



►US BOOK STORES, I ISc, B, 
H MEMO N.. RShJ j; fcfc, 




No returnt or ■•fundi Signtturi 



. . . , j 




Rs. 20.00 



PUBLISHED IV THE DIRECTOR. NATIONAL tOOJL TRUST. INDIA, A-JOMEN PARK, 

NEW DELHI-II00I6 
PRIMED AT ROLAND PRESS (I) PVT LTD,. H J 14. OK If LA IND AREA PHASE- 
NEW DELHI-1 10020 



CONTENTS 








r.vct 


PLATE 


Introduction 




1 




Ornithology and Birdwatchino 




5 




Reproduction 




12 




Migration 




16 




Description or tki Birds 




21 




1. Little Grebe or Dabchick 




21 


3.1 


2. Spot tedbi lied or Grey Pelican 




22 


12 


3, Darter 




23 


2.3 


4. Little Cormorant 


< * 


24 


2.4 


5. Grey Heron 


• * 


25 


2.5 


6. Small Egret 


• ■ 


26 


26 


7. Cattle Egret 


i. 


26 


2.7 


8, Pond Heron or Paddy Bird 




27 


2.8 


9. Painted Stork 


■ • 


. 28 


1.9 


10. Openbilled Stork 




29 


1.10 


11 Adjutant Stork 


* • 


30 


1,11 


12. Black Ibis 




31 


6.12 


13, Spoonbill 


* • 


32 


1.13 


14. Flaming.- j 




33 


1.14 


15. Bar headed Goose 


tt * 


34 


3.15 


16. SpotbiU or Grey Duck 




35 


3.16 


17, Leaser Whistling Teal 


> * 


36 


3.17 


18. Cotton Teal 


. i 


37 


J. 18 


19, Pariah Kite 


. , 


39 


4.19 


20. Brahminy Kite 


.* 


39 


4.20 


21. Shikra 


. . 


40 


4.21 


22. Whitebacked or Bengal Vulture 


• • 


41 


6,22 


23. White or Scavenger Vulture 


* . 


41 


4.23 


24. Shaheen Falcon 




42 


4.24 


25. Redheaded Merlin 


• • 


43 


4.25 



CONTENTS 



26, 

27. 

28 

29. 

3d. 

31. 

32. 

33. 

34. 

35. 

36. 



39 
40. 
41. 
42. 
43. 
44. 
45. 
46 
47. 
4fl, 
49. 
50. 
51. 
52. 
53. 
54. 
55. 
56. 
57. 
58. 
59. 
60. 



Black Partridge 

Grey Partridge 

Blackbreasted or Rain Quail 

Jungle Bush Quail 

Grey Junglefowl 

Common Peafowl 

Saras Crane 

Whitcbreasted Watcrhen 

Purple Moorhen 

Great Indian Bustard 

Bronzcwingrd Jacana 

Redwattled Lapwing 

Common Sandpiper 

Little Rnged Plover 

Stone Curlew or Goggle-eyed Plover 

Brownheaded Gull 

Indian Whiskered Tern 

Common Sandgt ouse 

Common Green Pigeon 

Blue Rock Pigeon 

Spotted Dove and Red Turtle Dove 

Rosennged Parakeet 

Koel 

Crow- Pheasant or Coucal 

Spotted Owlet 

Great Horned Owl 

Indian Nightjar 

House Swift 

Small Blue Kingfisher 

Pied Kingrkhei 

Small Green bee-eater 

Indian Roller or Blue Jay 

Hoopoe 

Malabar Pied Horn hill 

Coppersmith or Crimson breasted Barbet 



PAOE 


PI ATE 


44 


5.26 


45 


5.27 


45 


5.28 


46 


529 


47 


5 30 


48 


6.31 


49 


6.32 


50 


7.33 


51 


7.34 


52 


635 


53 


7,36 


55 


7.37 


56 


7,38 


57 


7.39 


57 


K.40 


59 


8.41 


59 


8.42 


61 


8.43 


62 


9.44 


63 


9.45 


63 


946,946a 


64 


9.47 


66 


10.4ft 


67 


1049 


68 


10.50 


69 


1051 


70 


10.52 


71 


11.53 


72 


1154 


73 


1155 


74 


11.56 


75 


9 57 


75 


II 58 


76 


8.59 


77 


11.60 



CONTENTS 





FAOE 


n \ 1 1 


61. Mahratta Woodpecker 


78 


II 61 


62. Indian Pitta 


80 


12.62 


63. Crested Lark 


81 


12.63 


64. Ashy crowned or Black bellied Finch-Lark . 


82 




65. Redrumped Swallow 


83 


12.65 


66. Grey Shrike 


84 


1266 


67. Black headed Oriole 


85 


14.67 


68. Black Drongo 


86 


12.68 


69. Common Myna 


87 


1469 


70. Pied Myna 


88 


14,70 


71, House Crow 


89 


12.71 


72. Tree Pie 


90 


12.72 


73. Scarlet Mini vet 


91 


14.73 


74. Common Iora 


91 


14 74 


75. Jerdon's Chloropsis 


92 


14.75 


76. Red whiskered Bulbul 


93 


14.76. 


77. Red vented Bulbul 


94 


14.77 


78. Whitespotted Fantail Flycatcher 


95 


1578 


79. Paradise Flycatcher 


96 


1579 


80. Yellow-eyed Babbler 


97 


15.80 


81. Jungle Babbler 


98 


15,81 


82. Common Babbler 


99 


15.82 


83. Ashy Wren-Warbler 


100 


13.83 


84. Tailor Bird 


101 


13.84 


85. Magpie Robin 


101 


15.85 


86. Shama 


102 


15 86 


87. Pied Bushchat 


103 


13.87 


83. Indian Robin 


103 


15.88 


89. Malabar Whistling Thrush 


104 


15 89 


90. Grey Tit 


105 


13 90 


91. Chestnutbellied Nuthatch 


106 


13,91 


92. Grey Wagtail and Large Pied Wagtail 


108 


13.92, I3.M 


93. Tree Pipit 


109 


13.93 


94, Tickeir* Flowerpecker 


no 


13 94 


95. Purple Sunbird 


111 


13 95 



viii 



CONTENT! 



96. White-eye 

97. House Sparrow 
Bay* Weaver Bird 
{*) Red Munia 
(3) Spotted Munia 
Common Indian or Hodgson's Rosefinch 

101. BLackheaded Bunting and Redheaded 
Bunting 



99. 



100, 



FAOl 


PLATE 


112 


13.96 


112 


16.97 


113 


1698 


114 


16 99a 


115 


1699 


115 


16.100 


ne 


16 101,102 



INTRODUCTION 

All vehtf.br att or backboned animal life in the world is divid- 
ed into two classes, the warm-blooded animals and the cold 
blooded. The former group includes those whuse blood keeps a 
constant temperature and is little affected by the temperature of 
the surrounding air. The latter group includes fishes, frogs and 
reptiles whose blood temperature changes with the temperature 
of the surrounding atmosphere. The warm-blooded animals arc 
further subdivided into Mammals (including human beings;, 
which are covered with hair, bear live young and suckle them, and 
Birds, which are covered with feathers, lay eggs and as a rule in- 
cubate them with the heat of their bodies. It is with the method of 
classifying this group of Avians or Birds that we are here concerned. 
Birds are easy to define. They are the only feathered creatures 
in the world. At first sight it might seem that all birds have mos 1 . 
characteristics in common, since they nearly all fly about, and 
build nests and la/ eggs. A closer look will show that in fact bird 
life includes many forms which are very different from one another 
and which sometimes seem to bear very little relationship to one 
another after all. It includes the tiny humming bird which is not 
bigger than a man'] thumb, and the ostrich which stands as high 
as a pony. It includes birds which can fly thousands of miles, and 
others like the penguin which cannot raise themselves off the ground. 
It includes birds which weave elaborate nests like the weaver birds, 
and others which lay their eggs straight on the ground without 
any preparation. It includes birds which require highly specialised 
food, others like vultures which feed exclusively oil carrion, 
and still others like crows which eat practically anything except 
metal. It includes birds which make two long distance migratory 
journeys every year, and others who spend their lifetime in the 
vicinity of one garden. It includes birds like the domestic hen whose 
chicks start running about and scratching for themselves as soon 
rs they are hatched, and others like the parakeets and eagles whose 



2 COMMON BIRDS 

chicks cannot leave their nests for several weeks. And it includes, 
finally, birds which seem to be unable to live away from the company 
of man, and others which retreat and become extinct as soon a* 
humans make inroads into their domains. How is such a conglomera- 
tion to be reduced to order? 

Aristotle made the first attempt to bring some sort of system 
into the classification of animal life. The next big step was taken 
by Linnaeus, a Swedish naturalist of the eighteenth century whose 
system, with some modifications, is universally being used today. 

All bird life, then, is divided into 27 main Order*, based on 
fundamental differences of structure and development. The order 
Passeriformes, for instance, includes most of those birds which live 
in trees and with which we are likely to be most familiar. The 
order Ciconiiformes includes all the storks and herons who spend 
their lives near the water, while the order Anseri formes consists of 
the swimming birds like ducks, geese and swans. 

The broad category of Order* is again divided into Families* 
The Family is a group of birds which share some strong 
characteristics. The order Passeriformes or Perching Birds, for 
instance, includes about 40 Families among them the flycatchers 
(Musctcapidae), the crows (Corvidae) and the sunbirds (Nectarini- 
idac). The Families arc almost literally Families for they consist of 
species which are close to one another in the evolutionary hierarchy 
and share an obvious resemblance in behaviour and habits. The 
habits arc reflected in the shape of the beaks and claws, sometimes 
even the wing?, and the general shape and movements of the birds. 
The effect of feeding habits on claws and beaks will be dealt with 
in detail later on. Often it is possible to place a new or unfamiliar 
bird within its family even if the exact species is unknown. The 
strong hooked beak of a hawk with the upper mandible curving 
over the lower, the flat head, fierce eye and powerful build are 
unmistakable. One may not know the exact species to which an 
individual belongs but it is comparatively simple to guess whether 
it belongs to the hawk family or not. In the same way, sunbirds 
have very thin long slightly curved bills with which they probe 
into the tubes o.- corollas of flowers for nectar. The bill and the 






INTRODUCTION 3 

general shape and behaviour of the bird is enough to enable an 
observer to place it within its family. Sometimes, of course, these 
superficial resemblances may be deceptive, merely brought about 
by similar feeding habits. For example, parakeets and hawks both 
possess hooked bills — the former for gnawing fruit, the latter for 
tearing flesh — but they belong to entirely different families and 
even orders. Similarly, the humming birds of the New World are 
entirely different from the sunbirds of the Old World though in 
outward appearance and flower-probing habits, they seem almost 
identical. 

The group which comes next below the Family is the Genus, 
a unit much smaller than the family, which includes a number of 
closely related specie*. The Genus is entirely man-made for con- 
venience in grouping together a number of species possessing similar 
characteristics. Linnaeus laid great stress on the genus, although it is 
now considered less important than it used to be. There has always 
been, and continues to be. room for differences of opinion among 
experts about the placing of species within the genera. The main 
importance of the genus for us at present is that it is the genus 
which provides the first part of the scientific name of each species. 
All the members of the same genus have a common surname. 
Thus there are several different species of crows possessing certain 
common features, and they are all grouped under the same genus — 
Gonms, 

The final division in the classifying of birds is the splitting of the 
genera into Species. The Species is a recognizable natural unit. 
The test for inclusion in a species is inter-breeding. A species in- 
cludes similar individual birds which are capable of breeding with 
each other and reproducing their own kind. In this way all the red" 
vented bulbuls, in spite of minor differences, belong to one species, 
the redwhiskered bulbuls belong to another species and the white- 
cheeked bulbuls belong to a third species, and so on. There are often 
slight variations in size and shade of coloration in the plumage 
within the species because of climate and the geographical condi- 
tions of environment. Those that live in northern areas are 
normally larger than their southern counterparts; those that live in 



< 



4 COMMON BIRDS 

moist climates tend to have darker colours than members of the same 
species which live in drier climates, and so on. Where such differences 
are fairly marked and consistent, the species is further split by 
taxonomists into Race* or Subapecies. But the different races 
are capable of inter- breeding and remain within the species, 
which is always the final unit in classification. 

Every bird then can be placed first within its Oder, then in its 
Family which is narrowed down to its Genus, and last of all it can 
be exactly described by being placed in its Species and often geogra- 
phical Race. There are altogether about 8650 species of living birds 
in the world today. The 27 orders, under which they are arranged 
in a "natural ' sequence, begin with the one which is believed to be 
the least highly developed like the grebes and divers and end with 
the Passeriformcs (or perching birds) which is considered to be the 
most highly advanced. There is, however, some difference of opinion 
about the developmental hierarchy within this order* some 
authorities placing the crows at the top, others the finches. 

We have in India today about 1200 species of birds, representing 
some 75 Families and 20 orders. This is a very high number and 
represents a great variety for a single country. The reason for this is 
that we can boast of a great diversity of climates, from moist tropical 
to the cold arctic of the Himalayan ranges, the dry hot desert climate 
of Raj as than and the cool temperate climate of the hilly portions. 
We can provide dense jungles, light forests, open country, cultivated 
agricultural areas, the sea coast, river beds, rocky cliffs and high 
mountains. We can provide different types of ecological habitats 
to please the taste of hundreds of species. The birds we see in India 
are a splendid cross-section of the total bird population of the world. 
Many species are resident throughout the year, while others come 
here as migrants to spend the winter months. The birds which 
are conspicuously absent from our shores are of orders and 
families which belong entirety or chiefly to the New World and 
Australia, and others like the penguins, which belong to the cold 
Antarctic seas. 



ORNITHOLOGY AND BIRDWATCHING 

Bird stidy as we know it today was virtually non-existent in India 
hclbfe the advent of the British, Although a good deal of rather 
random collecting and classifying of birds had been done since the 
early years of the 19th century— chiefly by British civil and military 
personnel in the service of the East India Company— Indian 
ornithology proper may be said to date only from the publication 
in 1862-64 of The Birds of India by T.C Jerdon. Dr. Jerdon was an 
army surgeon who had spent many years of his service in various 
parts of the country and collected and studied birds assiduously. 
The book collated all the information gathered by himself and 
previous observers, two of the most famous of these veterans being 
Brian Hodgson and Edward Blyth. The former was the British 
Resident in Nepal and the latter had come out to India as curator 
of the Asiatic Society's museum in Calcutta. Before Jerdon (and 
even after and until recently) the principal activity of ornithologists 
in India consisted of shooting and collecting birds for classification, 
often vicariously with the help of local shikaris and trappers. This 
was important at the time as many of the birds were still unknown 
and had to be studied in the museum, described, and named. 
Popular interest in birdwatching had not yet developed, and the 
poor quality of field glasses and lack of simple illustrated bird books 
made identification difficult unless the bird was in the hand. In those 
days, moreover, museum zoologists were inclined to look down on 
birdwatching as merely a childish way of killing time, indulged 
in by the idle rich, and devoid of any real scientific value. Thus 
shooting specimens and collecting eggs remained for a long tim** 
the chief 'respectable' activity of ornithologists in India. Jerdon \ 
Birds of India introduced a refreshing clement of novelty. Besides 
describing the superficial structure and plumage of the variou* 
species, it also furnished short readable accounts of their general 
habits, of interest to the layman. The book gave an immediate 
fillip to the activities of bird lovers, or 'watchers', and irgUt«ri«l 






6 



COMMON BIRDS 



a marked widening of the circle of enthusiastic 'amateur* field 

naturalists. 

The second significant advance in the study of Indian birds was 
brought about by that remarkable man, Allan Octavian Hume — a 
Britisher in the civil service — who, besides being a giant among 
ornithologisti is memorable also as being one of the founders of the 
Indian National Congress. For many years Hume dominated the 
field, and by his energy and infectious dynamism rallied round 
himself an active band of sportsmen-naturalists scattered over all 
parts of the country, whom he encouraged and guided in collecting 
skins and keeping field notes in a meaningful way. He identified 
and reported on their specimens, describing many new species in the 
process; he edited their notes and published them in the journal 
for Indian ornithology Stray Feathers, which he had founded. The 
eleven volumes of Stray Feathers published between 1872 and 1888 
have added to our knowledge basically, and no serious work on 
Indian birds is possible without a constant delving into their contents. 
Lay interest in Indian birds and their habits received a further 
boost by the appearance between 1889 and 1 898 of the four volumes 
on birds in the India Office-sponsored Fauna of British India series, 
by E. W. Oates and W. T. Blanford. Both the authors were expert 
ornithologists yet 'amateur* in the sense that the former was a Public 
Works Department engineer and the latter a government geologist. 
These volumes took count of all the additional information that had 
accumulated through the labours of Hume and his band of disciples; 
it brought classification and scientific nomenclature into line with 
the modernised notions then current, and — what is more it 
brought within its ambit Sind, Kashmir, Assam, Bengal (including 
the present East Pakistan), Burma, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 
and Ceylon, which had remained largely ornithological ly unexplored 
in Jerdon's day. Thus the first edition of what is familiarly known 
to bird students as The Fauna covered the entire British Indian 
Empire as it then was, and vastly enlarged the 'catchment area' 
for field studies and notes. Bird lovers everywhere— mostly British 
planters and civil and military officials— were quick to take 
advantage of the guidance it provided, and The Fauna accelerated 



ORNITHOLOGY AND BIRDWATCHTNG 



7 



the pace of Indian bird study tremendously. After Stray Feathers 
had ceased publication, notes and regional papers on Indian birds 
had begun to appear increasingly in the then newly started Journal 
of the Bombay Natural History Society. Ever since that time the Journal 
(now in its 66th volume) has continued to function as the main 
repository of writings on Indian birds, contributed by an expanding 
circle of able field naturalists from all walks of life. 

Thus by the end of the 1920's with a significant increase in the 
knowledge of geographical distributions and habits, the need for 
a revision of The Fauna was seriously fell. The second edition, which 
ran into eight volumes in place of the previous four, was completed 
between 1921 and 1930 also by another expert 'amateur* E. C. 
Stuart Baker — an officer of the Indian Police who had spent his 
service in Assam and collected and studied birds and their nesting 
habits intensively. The New Fauna not only brought up-to-date the 
classification, nomenclature, and general information concerning 
Indian birds but was also a definite advance on its predecessors in 
the purposiveness and scientific quality of its contents, more in keep- 
ing with the current trends and progress of ornithology in western 
countries. It pointed clearly to the gaps in our knowledge of Indian 
birds, and indicated where further work was necessary, thus posing 
a challenge that bird students were not slow to take up. 

During the 35 years since the publication of the New Fauna, a 
considerable amount of collecting and field study was done in various 
little-explored parts of the subcontinent, still largely by Britishers 
but with an increasing Indian contribution, more especially since 
our independence .'n 1947. The two names that stand out among 
workers of that period are Hugh Whistler and Claude B. Tioehurst. 
The former, like Stuart Baker, was an officer of the Indian Police; 
the latter a medical doctor whose special interest in Indian birds 
began during World War I when he was posted in various pans 
of what is now West Pakistan with the Royal Army Medical Corps. 
Both these workers contributed significantly to Indian ornithology 
before and particularly since the publication of the New Fauna. 

The stage has now been reached when there is no longer any need 
for collecting bird skins in India except those of special groups or in 



rr 



% 



COMMON BIRDS 



remote unexplored pockets. We have enough material available for 
a taxonomic study in the great museums of the world which can be 
readily loaned for research. Tile greatest need now is to turn from 
the museum and the laboratory to the field — in other words, to 
pursue the study of the living bird in its natural habitat and collect 
precise information about its ecology, habits, and behaviour : how 
and where the bird lives, how it is adapted to its environment, 
how it acquires a mate, what sort of nest it makes and how it brings 
up its family, its social organization and its population dynamics. 
From the economic point of view, it is important to investigate the 
food and feeding habits of birds and assess their status as friends or 
foes of man. In an agricultural, forested and thickly populated 
country like ours, constantly faced with food shortages, this is a 
matter of particular significance and urgency. All this information 
cannot be obtained from dry museum skins. 

Discovering the life-histories of different species, and the manner 
in which these mesh in with other forms of life is extremely slow 
and requires great patience and perseverance. The life-histories of 
only a very few species have so far been studied in India, and that 
rather superficially. Our knowledge about the habits and behaviour 
of most birds still is elementary and scattered. Pertinent and reliable 
information supplied by amateur birdwatchers may sometimes 
prove of great value in piecing together the life story of a species. 

The first step in birdwatching is the ability to recognize, with 
confidence, the common birds of any locality. Unless one is able 
to do this, it is impossible to go any further, just as it is impossible 
to read without first knowing the alphabet. In order to acquire the 
ABC of birdwatching, it is necessary to possess three items of 
equipment : a pair of binoculars, a notebook and a reference book 
for identification. 

The most suitable size of binoculars for birdwatching is 8x50 
or 7 x 50. it is important that they should not be too bulky to carry 
about, and that they should, at the same time, give an adequate 
magnification and be capable of focussing at fairly close range. 
To begin with, the aspiring birdwatcher will have to identify the 
birds which he sees in the field with the help of books. It is hoped 



ORNITHOLOGY AND BIRDWATCHING 



9 



that the present volume will be of some help ; the other two most 
useful books are Whistler's Popular Handbook of Indian Birds, and 
Salim Ali T s Tht Book of Indian Birds. The latter contains charts listing 
birds according to their sizes, chief colours and most obvious features, 
(e.g., long bills, legs, etc.) together with coloured illustrations of 
each species, which makes identification comparatively simple. 

In order to identify a bird, it is above all necessary to ensure 
oneself of just what one has seen. For instance, one might see a small 
black and white bird. It is important to be sure exactly which parts 
of the body were white — whether the white was on the head, in the 
tail, or the under parts. It is also important to notice one or two 
other features of the bird, the shape and colour of the bill, size and 
colour of the legs and tail, and any other special feature like a crest. 
Since it is unlikely that one would be able to notice so many things at 
the first time one sees a bird— which may be a very brief glimpse as 
it flits among the foliage — it is better to concentrate on memorizing 
one or two definite facts rather than attempt to take in too many 
impressions. In other words, it is easier to identify a bird if one 
knows that it was the size of a rnyna and had red legs rather than if 
one knew that it was brown and red with a bit of black and grey. 
Another fact which adds to the complications of identification is 
that our memories are far less reliable than we like to think. It is 
not only probable but almost certain, that we shall forget the 
colouring and other points about the bird we have seen in a couple 
of hours. It is imperative therefore to write down at once what we 
have seen, and it is in order to do this that we need to carry our 
third piece of equipment, the notebook and pencil, always on our 
person. 

Ideally, on the few occasion that one gets a grand-stand view 
of a bird for a long time, one should put down everything about it. 
This would include its size (compared with some familiar bird), 
general colour, any special markings and their positions, the size, 
shape and colour of the bill, legs, wings, tail, neck, and if possible 
eyes, A sketch made on the spot, howsoever rough and ready, usually 
helps. It is also important to note where the bird was seen — on the 
ground, or among leaves, on a stump, or on the water, etc., and its 



10 



COMMON BIRDS 



actions at the time. Some birds have definite or characteristic modes 
of action like hopping, or a special way of flying, which make their 
identification easy, and this should certainly be noted. The call or 
song of birds is another useful identification mark, but often this 
is difficult to describe irt words. Still, even a slight hint at the sort 
of sound it makes {e.g. a single note, whistle or clicking sound made 
in flight, or sharp chirrup) can be a useful guide to its identity. The 
date and the type of habitat in which the bird was seen are, of 
course, all-important. Some dates may rule out certain migrants 
or help to explain unfamiliar breeding plumage, while a good 
description of the habitat can often narrow down the field of 
possibles to manageable limits. 

Although books and pictures describe a bird's colouring in detail t 
the newcomer to bird watching will soon discover that it is very 
unlikely that he will be able to see all the colours and markings 
clearly the first time. This is particularly true in the case of birds 
seen on the wing, and also of tree-haunting species which are usually 
seen between the light and shade of foliage. Even open sunlight 
can be surprisingly deceptive, and colours seen from certain angles, 
especially with the naked eye, are apt to look very different from 
what they are in fact. It is therefore important not to rely for identi- 
fication simply on a bird's colouring, but to note at least one other 
feature like the bill, legs, crest or tail. 

After a little practice it will be found that it is often possible to 
place even unknown birds within their families— family looks and 
family habits give them away, as in the case of human families, The 
flight of the egret family with neck folded back, the kingfishers 1 
bill, the head and beak of the hawks, to mention only a few 
characteristics, make the birds which possess them recognizable 
as members of a certain family even when it is not possible to pin 
down the exact species. Another identifying mark which becomes 
more and more useful with practice is ma&cmtnl. Certain species, and 
sometimes several related species, have similar movements which 
conform to a pattern. All the flycatchers, for instance make the same 
kind of sallies after little flying insects, and it is often possible 
to recognize a flycatcher even without seeing it clearly simply be* 



ORNITHOLOGY AND BIRD WATCHING 



11 



cause it flies in a certain manner, or to know a wren- warbler by its 
twitching flight. For the advanced birdwatcher, identification 
of rare or vagrant species is usually possible by reference to the 
collection of specimens at the Bombay Natural History Society or 
at the Zoological Survey of India in Calcutta. 

The discovery of a nest where it can be watched fairly easily is 
of course a great boon, and it provides a wonderful chance to become 
familiar with the bird in question. It is important to watch the 
nest with extreme caution in order not to give away its whereabouts 
to crows or other predators, while at the same time one should resist 
the temptation to handle the eggs or chicks. It is not true that parents 
will refuse to feed a chick which has been handled by man, but 
young chicks are extremely delicate and should not be touched 
or frightened. In those unusual circumstances when it becomes 
absolutely necessary to handle a bird, as for instance in the case of 
an injured bird, the bird should be held correctly; lightly but firmly 
pinning its wings to its side in the palm of the hand, with the first 
and middle fingers on either side of its neck. Some of the smaller 
birds are extremely frail, and even a slight pressure on the chest 
may be fatal. A good way when examining a bird is to put it on its 
back in the palm of the hand, as it has a tendency to lie completely 
still as long as it is on ill back. It should be released by turning it 
round in the grip described above and launched. 

It is not possible for every birdwatcher to make new or startling 
discoveries about birds. But the intimacy which is built up by 
carefully watching and studying birds over a long time will remain 
a source of delight and provide a lifelong hobby which can be 
practised under almost any conditions. 



aEPHODUCTION 



REPRODUCTION 

Fon all birds, bringing up a family successfully is the most anxious 
business of the year, fraught with hazards and dangers which arc 
of course increased when a long migratory journey precedes the 
nest-building. A nesting bird family is in an extremely vulnerable 
position, and it needs every kind of help and protection from its 
environment. The birds need cover in which to hide the nest; they 
need building material; they need warm weather, first for the 
protection of their eggs and later their chicks; they need a plentiful 
supply of food for the chicks and, lastly, they need long daylight 
hours in which to search for food. On the whole, the most 
important item is the food supply. Birds will choose a nesting 
season when they can be sure of a liberal supply of food even if it 
is a little inconvenient in other ways. This is illustrated by the smaller 
birds which nest in the Bombay neighbourhood during the monsoon. 
It seems amazing that they should choose to build their frail nests 
at a time when they are in constant danger from lashing winds 
and rain. But the insects and worms which make their appearance 
at this time, all ready to be eaten, more than outweigh the danger 
of being washed away. In the colder countries, of course,the breeding 
period for nearly all birds is during spring and summer when condi- 
tions are most favourable. It has been noticed even here that the 
slightly different nesting times of the different species are dependent 
on the slightly different seasons when their favourite caterpillar or 
worm is most plentiful. 

Each species, then, breeds in just that season when it can be assured 
of an optimum food supply and when the surrounding conditions are 
least inimical. The physiological readiness for breeding seems to be 
geared to the right season. Many birds arc known not to breed at all 
when weather conditions arc not to their liking. The flamingo which 
breeds in the Rann of Kutch after the monsoon, is very particular 
about waiting for the fight conditions. In some years when the 
rainfall has been too heavy or too slight, it refuses to nest at all. 



" 






A* their breeding season approaches, the males put on their 
breeding plumage. This may be a fine lot of new feathers, or an 
extra patch of colour, as in the case of the cattle egret which acquires 
an orange tinge on the head and neck, or it may simply be that the 
existing feathers are renovated to give the owner a sprucer look. 
At the same time, most males also acquire a song or, at least, add 
a few extra sounds to their workaday calls. Song is not to be confused 
with the usual call notes which are used during the rest of the year, 
chiefly for maintaining contact between individuals. The special 
song which is developed at this time is a definite instrument to be 
used in the business of breeding. It has been found that some of the 
most beautiful songsters have been given their voice for a serious 
purpose, i.e., in order to assert their possession of, and warn rivals to 
keep away from their nesting territory; whereas it used to be thought 
that the main purpose of bird song was to attract a female. While 
it is not known whether the quality of a male's singing can influence 
the choice of a mate , it is true that the rong advertises the presence 
of an unattached male who has marked oat a territory for himself 
and it only waiting for the right mate in order to start building a 
nest. Because of the limited availability of food in any given area, 
the smaller songbirds know that more than one family can not be 
raised within that area. The males, therefore, select a certain 
territory, and fight off any other males who intrude into it. The 
loud song is the most powerful weapon in their armoury. In the 
breeding season, even those birds which cannot sing in any manner, 
develop some kind of an extra noisiness : thus the storks which 
have no vocal muscles manage to make a clattering noise with 
their mandibles. 

Most birds have some kind of courtship display when the male 
seeks to win the female's heart and hand. The peacock's dance is well 
known, and he uses it indiscriminately to impress anyone, whether 
bird or man, who happens to be looking on, and often even when 
no one is looking! The roller tumbles and turns somersaults in the 
air in a series of clever antics before a watching female, while para- 
keets posture and pose ludicrously, standing first on one foot then on 
the other. Some male birds simply keep showing off their special bril- 






14 



COMMON BIRDS 



REPRODUCTION 



15 



liant plumage to the females in a flamboyant series of post m big and 
strutting, while some conduct their courtship in a quiet discreet 
manner. With some birds, as in the case of the bay as, the act of build* 
ing a nest is itself a form of courtship and the female chooses as mate 
the bird whose nest happens to catch her fancy. In many species the 
offering of a worm or some other titbit is a part of the courtship, and 
the female often takes full advantage of the male's ardent mood to 
beg for delicacies from him. 

The next stage is for the pair, 01 in some cases only the male or the 
female of the pair, to set about building a nest. As a general rule, 
birds build their nests in the sort of surroundings in which they arc 
accustomed to live. An eagle, accustomed to living at great heights, 
will build on high exposed cliff-faces and rocks. Arboreal birds will 
build among the leaves of trees; birds which spend much of their time 
on the ground like partridges and quails lay their eggs on the ground; 
birds which live on the water like cormorants and herons will build 
near the water, and so forth. This is the general pattern but within 
it there is room for innumerable exceptions. To mention only two, the 
bee-eater which is by no means a ground bird builds a horizontal 
tunnel in earth banks, and many ducks make their nests in trees. 

In the shape and structure of the nests themselves there is tremen- 
dous diversity. Some of the ground birds simply scrape a little earth 
to one side and lay their eggs in the depression; at the other extreme 
is the well-known, compactly woven baya's nest which is an elaborate 
affair with an inner egg chamber, as carefuly worked as if it were 
made by the hands of an expert basket weaver. Some birds nest in 
an old hole in a decayed branch or wall which they line with soft 
materials, some dig tunnels, and some build cups of grasses in 
branches. Some water birds like the jacanas build their skimpy nest 
on the floating leaves of water plants. Some birds, as we have already 
said, like to make sure that no other birds of the same species will 
build in the vicinity, while others nest in large colonies. There u, of 
course, safety in numbers, but strangely enough it is often the larger 
and less vulnerable birds like the storks, herons and egrets which build 
in colonies, while the small and gentle passerines like tailor birds, 
wTen-warbler» and robins build singly and rely on camouflage. One 






possible explanation is that the smaller birds are unable to cover long 
distances in search of food and need to be assured that there will be 
no rival for the food supply nearby. The bigger birds on the other 
hand are far-ranging and can look for food farther afield so that the 
presence of a rival food hunter is not important for them. 

The work of incubation and feeding the young is divided in 
different proportions between the partners in the different species. 
In some cases the work is shared equally, in some cases the female 
takes on the major part of it, while in a few exceptional cases like the 
painted snipe and the jacana the male does most of the domestic work 
by himself. In every case, though, the parents of young chicks have to 
work extremely hard. It is estimated that in the first few days a young 
chick eats twice its own weight in food every day. The rate of growth 
of the nestlings is phenomenal, but it is only in the early stages that 
they have to be fed at this pace. For the first week or so after the eggs 
hatch, although the parents are harried from sun-up until sun-down, 
ceaselessly making foraging trips, the brood is never satisfied. 

Even when the chicks escape from predators and other accidents, 
life in the nest may be full of risk. A chick wh?ch hatches after all the 
rest, or which is weak from the beginning, may find that its siblings 
get all the food, for it is always the more insistently demanding beaks 
which are filled first. There is also the danger of a weakling being 
trampled in the nest or falling out. These are dangers in addition 
to outside dangers from cats, lizards, rats, snakes, crows and other 
birds, storms, wind and other natural hazards which do not end 
even on the chick leaving the nest. This explains why, although many 
species raise more than one brood successively and lay several eggs 
in each clutch, they barely succeed in reproducing themselves and 
maintaining the level of the population. Naturally, the more 
vulnerable species lay larger clutches, like the ducks, or raise more 
than one brood each season, like the smaller songbirds. If a neftful 
of chicks or eggs is destroyed, the parents waste no time in mourning. 
They start work on a new nest at once. As we said at the beginning of 
this chapter, the urge to reproduce themselves is the strongest instinct 
among birds, as it is in all animals, and they will overcome surprising 
obstacles to do so. 



MIGRATION 



The migration of birds in one of the strangest of ail ornithological 
phenomena as well as its. unsolved mystery. Twice every year, in 
spring and autumn, millions of bird* take to the air and set out on 
long journeys in order to get lo a definite goal, sometimes across 
oceans and continents. What compels them to go? Why do they face 
the dangers of such a hazardous journey? And how do they know 
which route to take? These basic questions ha v.. not yet been satis- 
factorily answered although careful experiments and large scale 
ringing of migrants have now given us a knowledge of many more 
facts than we ever had before. 

The quality which defines all bird migration is the regularity of 
the back and forth swing between tuo end localities. The movements 
are predictable to about within a week, sometimes even closer. The 
birds return to the same areas — often to the same garden or field — 
in both their summer and winter homes, which may be separated by 
as much as several thousand miles. 

The question which first comes to mind is, Why do some species 
of birds migrate and not others? The obvious answer is that migra- 
tion has a survival value for some species and not for others. In some 
species the survival value must be marginal because some of their 
members stay at home while others migrate. Examples of the un- 
decided species are our cools and spoonbills. A part of their popula- 
tion migrates every year, while others remain within the country 
without suffering any apparent disadvantage. 4 

In the northern hemisphere the autumn migration from the 
breeding grounds moves from north to south and from the higher 
altitudes to the lower. In the southern hemisphere the directions are 
reversed, naturally, with the birds travelling northwards to escape 
the southern winter. It is understandable that many birds should 
prefer to avoid harsh winter and leave for a milder climate before 
it overtakes them, and that they should return to their homeland as 
it begins to gel warm. The birds arrive at the latter at a time when 



MIGRATION 



17 



all the trees are budding with leaf and flower and there are plenty 
of worms and insects on which to feed a family. By the erid of the 
summer, the chicks are grown and independent, and before the first 
autumn coolness starts to be felt the birds are ready for the southward 
journey- Some birds seem to spend only the minimal time in their 
breeding grounds. The Tilytr or Rosy Pastor, for instance, which 
breeds in central Asia, leaves India in May and is generally back 
again in August. Most birds, however, take a litde longer : they 
leave us in March and return in September. 

1 hus far, the arduous migratory journeys seem lo have a certain 
value, perhaps even a certain necessity, for the birds that undertake 
them. But what is puzzling is that there are certain East-West migra- 
tions as well, when the birds move to another place on roughly the 
same latitude with a similar climate, for nesting. Then again, many 
birds make short journeys of a few miles only and it is difficult to see 
how these local migrations can be so vitally necessary or even bene- 
ficial. In Bombay, for instance, birds like the orioles and the bee- 
eaters leave the city areas and go a short distance inland to the Deccan 
Plateau or central India during the monsoon, returning punctually 
in early September. Beyond the fact that these local migrations do 
take place on a fairly large scale, we do not know very much about 
them yet, for until we can ring birds in sufficiently large numbers 
we shall not be able to collect accurate data about their movements. 

Another factor which adds complexity to the whole picture of 
migration is that, while for most birds migration is a simple trip to 
their breeding grounds and back, even when they choose to return 
by a different route, there are some adventurous individuals which 
make a much more complicated journey. They go to their breeding 
grounds, and after finishing the business of raising a family, they go 
on to another place as if for a holiday. Their return to the winter 
quarters is again broken by a short stop in their breeding grounds. 
Bird migration, then, is an extremely intricate series of movements, 
some of them incomprehensible, whose main characteristics are, as 
we have said before, their back and forth nature and their regularity, 
and their main purpose to find the most desirable living conditions 
for different times of the year. 



1R 



COMMON BIRDS 



For days before the take-off for the long journey, the migrants are 
preparing for it. They eat greedily to put on an extra layer of fat 
which will sustain them during the trip; some even practise forming 
and flying in flocks or 'balling up' as it is called. Experiments suggest 
that it is the timing of the rising and setting sun which gives migrants 
their final cue for departure. The sun is also their compass on their 
long journeys, for it is now believed that the birds take their orienta- 
tion from the angle of the sun. Fogs and mists which obscure the 
sun can throw he birds off their course for a while although with the 
return of visibility they are able to re-align themselves fairly well. 
Landmarks, where they exist, are not ignored but the real guide is 
the sun by day and the stars by night. As the birds usually fly at a 
height of between 600 and 1300 metres, the smaller landmarks would 
be invisible anyhow, but the most amazing proof of the small im- 
portance of landmarks is that in many species the young birds, 
making the journey for the first time, generally migrate in advance 
independently of their parents. We are forced to admit that the 
sense which enables them to steer by the sun is unanalysable and 
must therefore be called instinct. 

A few species always travel singly, although most birds prefer to 
travel in large or small flocks. Many small birds, otherwise diurnal, 
prefer to fly by night — perhaps for greater safety from predators. 
The cruising speed of the smaller birds is round about 30 km. per 
hour, and as the working day of a migrating bird is calculated to be 
about eight hours, one lap of the journey shJuld be just under 
250 km. Bigger birds can often fly steadily at 80 km. p.h. and 
consequently cover much longer distances in a day. In crossing seas 
the birds naturally have to do forced marches and at such times 
many flocks have been known to fly for anything up to 36 hours 
without stopping. Frequently a flock may fly into bad weather and 
high winds, specially when the birds descend for landing, and then 
the casualties are likely to be very heavy. All in all, a migratoryjour- 
ney is always taxing and arduous and can often be dangerous as well. 
The scale of the migratory movements is difficult to imagine. It 
is estimated that of the species which breed in Europe <»rtd the nor- 
thern part of Asia, about 40 per cent, are migrants, that is, just lest 



MIGRATION 



19 



than a hslf. Of the 63 species of songbirds in Britain, 22 species are 
migrants, and of the 1200 species of all kinds found in India, over 300 
come from distant lands in winter. In another sense, too, the scale 
of the journeys is astonishing. The Arc lie Tern flies from the North 
Pole to the South Pole and back every year — a round trip of some 
35,000 km. It is not unusual for birds to make a journey of several 
thousand kilometres: many of the species which breed in Europe go 
as far as 5. Africa for the winter; it is also true that a great number 
simply make a dash for the Mediterranean countries and stay ihere. 

For most of our migrants, India is the winter or the non-breeding 
end of their migration. Many species which nest in eastern Europe, 
or northern and central Asia, or even in the Himalayan ranges, 
come to the Peninsula for winter- Pet haps our most abundant 
migrants are those that gather on oui sea shores and around our 
rivers and lakes, the ducks and wading birds. 

Beyond these bare faci* we know exceedingly little about bird 
migration in India — the exact local i lies and populations from which 
the different species are derived, the routes they follow on their 
journeys to and from the country, and other detail* connected with 
the seasonal movements. A method that has been increasingly used 
throughout the world since the beginning of this century in order to 
obtain precise information concerning migratory birds is to mark 
ihcrn with aluminium rings round their legs. The birds are netted 
or trapped, ringed, registered, and then released. The rings are of 
various appropriate sizes. On (hem is stamped a serial number and 
the address of the ringer who should he intimated upon the recovery 
of the bird, accidentally or in any other way. The Bombay Natural 
History Society is operating a project for the large scale ringing of 
various specie? of migratory bird? in different parts of India and has 
obtained, in the course of the last 10 years, a good deal of factual data 
that were quite unknown previously. Some of our wild ducks have 
been recovered over 4800 km, away in Siberia, and many useful 
bits of information are accumulating from the distant recoveries of 
other species as well, The rings bear a serial number in addition to 
the legend "Inform Bombay Nat, Hist. Society". Readers are 
requested to publicise this fact as widely as possible so that Anders 



20 



COMMON BIRDS 



may know what to do if they chance to find a ring on a dead bird, and 
none of the valuable information gets lost. Many birds with foreign 
rings are also recovered in India. All rings, whether Indian or foreign, 
should preferably be forwarded to the Society, or if that is not possi- 
ble, a correct reading of the number, and the circumstances, date and 
locality where they were found. A proper knowledge of the move- 
ments of birds in India can only be built up by co-operative effort 
of this kind. 



DESCRIPTION OF THE BIRDS 

The Order POD I CI PEDI FORMES— Grebes— contains short-wing- 
ed almost tailless water birds with the legs placed far back and the 
toes lobed with a fringe of skin on either side, like a leaf with mid-rib. 
The most familiar representative of this order within our limits is 
the Little Grebe or Dabchick (Podiceps rufkollis)- plate X I -Hindi : 
Pindubi, Dubdnbi, and Laakri. It is a drab-coloured plump little 
swimming bird with silky underpays, short pointed bill, and no tail. 
In breeding plumage the head and neck become dark brown and 
chestnut and ihe swollen yellow gape conspicuous. It is seen on 
practically every pond, village tank and jheel swimming about like 
a miniature duck and diving on the least suspicion. The birds keep 
in twos and threes on the smaller tanks, but congregations of 50 and 
more are not uncommon on the larger j heels. They arc past masters 
in the art of diving, and the rapidity with which a dabchick will 
disappear beneath the surface taring scarcely a ripple behind is 
truly astonishing. When fired at with a shotgun the bird has often 
vanished before the charge can reach itf They are loth to Irave the 
water, and when disturbed will patter a short distance along the 
surface and flop down again. However, in spite of their diminutive 
wings the birds can fly strongly, as when shifting from one tank to 
another when the water dries, often over considerable distances. The 
normal call notes are a shrill musical tittering uttered as the birds 
arc disporting themselves of an evening, as is their wont, pattering 
along the surface, half running half flying, with rapid vibrations of 
their stumpy wings, chasing one another. Their food consists of 
aquatic insects and larvae, tadpoles, snails, and tiny fish picked 
off or from under floating vegetation, or captured by diving and 
underwater pursuit. The dabchick's nest is a pad of sodden weed- 
stems placed on partly submerged floating plants. The eggs— 3 to 5— 
are white when laid but soon become dirty and discoloured through 
contac* with the sodden grasses with which the bird covers them up 
each time it leaves the nest on disturbance or for feeding. The dirninu- 



22 



COMMON BIRDS 



tive downy chick* arc striped, and often earned about riding on the 
parent's back. 



The Order PELEGAN I FORMES is represented chiefly by the 
families Pexecanidar (pelicans and darters) and Phalacrocora- 
cidae (cormorants). 

Pelicans are large heavy-looking birds with short stout legs, fully 
webbed feet and enormous flattened bills underhung by a capacious 
elastic skin pouch. This is used in the manner of a landing net for 
catching fish which form their staple food. In spite of their cumbrous 
appearance, pelicans arc remarkably light-boned birds and capable 
of strong buoyant flight. In common wrth many of their relations, 
and with vultures and storks, they spend much of their lime soaring 
on thermal currents and sailing around on motionless wings high 
up in the heavens on a sunny day. Of the 3 kinds found in India 
the Spottedbilled or Grey Pelican (Pelecamts philipptnsis)—PhKT*. 
1.2- H.'ndL ; Hnwasil or KfLrlr, is the only resident, the other two 
normally being winter visitors. In this species the upper mandible is 
marked with large blue-black spots, while the bill-pouch is dull 
purplish. Adults are greyish white; young birds browner. The 
blackish wing-quills, conspicuous in flight, and grey-brown tail are 
further aids to its identification. It is found in small parties or large 
flocks at jheels, either swimming about fishing, resting buoyantly on 
the water, or preening themselves on the shore while working up an 
appetite. They are voracious eaters and devour large quantities of 
fish. Their hunting, like the cormorants*, is a co-operative under- 
taking, but tl.eydo not dive after the quarry. Several birds swim in 
a semi-circle driving a shoal offish into the shallows with a vigorous 
splashing of their great wings. The birds swim into the hemmed-in 
shoal with open bills and scoop the fish into the expanded pouch. 
Pelicans rise off the water with little effort and fly with the neck 
pulled back into a flattened S. The steady wing beats produce a 
whistling sound and the flat-keeled body is reminiscent of the floats 






COMMON BIRDS 



23 



of a flying boat. The Grey Pelican breeds in the East Godavari 
district of Andhra, and in small numbers also elsewhere in the 
Peninsula. It nests in large colonies covering extensive areas, in tall 
leafy trees and palms. The nests arc large untidy stick platforms, 
often several together in the same tree and touching one another. 
The eggs — normally 3 — are chalky white, becoming a dirty brownish 
as incubation proceeds. 
The family Phalacrocohacidae includes the Darter or Snake- 
3 twrd *nd the Cormorants. The Darter (Ankinga rufa) — plate 
2, 3 -Hindi : B&nbi, is a black water bird with slender snake-like velvety 
brown neck, narrow head, and pointed dagger bill. Silvery grey 
streaks on the back and long, stiff, rounded tail are other pointers 
to its identification. It is seen singly or in small loose parties in and 
about jheels, village tanks, reservoirs and rivers; sometimes also 
at tidal estuaries. On the surface the bird swims with the body 
partially — «ome times completely-- submerged leaving only the 
snake-like head and neck exposed, swaying and turning this way 
and that, Its staple food is fish. It it an expert diver and submarine 
swimmer, diving and chasing them under water with wings held 
half open and head and neck swaying back and forth like a javelin 
thrower poising his missile. A special contrivance in the neck 
vertebrae enables the bill to be shut out with lightning rapidity as if 
released by a powerful spring, transfixing the fish on the stiletto-like 
lower mandible. The snaky neck now comes above the surface and 
with a smart upward jerk, the victim is shaken off into the air to be 
caught between the mandibles and swallowed head foremost. In 
spite of the narrow head and throat, fishes of an amazingly large size 
are sometimes managed in this way. When sated, the bird perches 
upright on the top of some tree or Hake wilh wings and tail spread 
out to dry. For although it spends its life mostly in water, its 
plumage, strangely enough, is not so waterproof as the duck's. It 
becomes permeated and bedraggled and needs constant drying out 
to maintain its efficiency. The usual call notes of the darter are 
rather metallic disyllabic croaks, chi-gi t chi-gi, etc. In flight and 
general behaviour, it resembles the cormorants with which it 
commonly associates. Darters usually nest in mixed colonies with 



26 



COMMON BIRDS 



heronries. The eggs— 3 to 6— are deep tea-green The somewhat 
smaller Purple Herou (A. purpart*) of the same general appearance 
and habits is also commonly met with in marshy habitats. It is 
bluish- or purplish grey above, with rufous head and neck; chestnut 
and black below. 

Three species of white egrets— Large Egret, Median Egret, and 
Small Egret — are also commonly met with in marshy habitats 
similar to those which the heron frequents. The Large Egret [Egretta 
*lb*) is of about the size and build as the Purple Heron, pure snow 
white overall and usually solitary. The Media* (E. inUrmtdia) is 
slightly smaller, while the Small Egret [E. garvttm) - plate 2,6- 
Hindi : K&rchia bigla is about the size of a domestic hen, or of the 
Cattle Egret described further on. In the breeding season all the 
white egrets develop ornamental lacy plumes on their back which 
were in great demand for millinery purposes in Europe and America 
during the early years of the present century to pander to fashion 
in women's dress. The trade in feathers was so lucrative, and the 
birds were slaughtered for it in such vast numbers that egrets 
reached the point of extinction in many parts of the world. 
Only an international embargo on traffic in wild birds* feathers, 
and bird protective legislation in the various affected countries, 
followed by a healthy change in women's fashions, have saved egrets 

from complete extinction. The Cattle Egret {Bubvlcus ibis) 

plate 2.7- Hindi : SurkhiS o&gta or Gsi Hgta, is a white bird very 
similar to the Little Egret, but can always be distinguished from it in 
the non-breeding season by its stouter yellow {not black) bill. In its 
breeding plumage the orange-buff or golden head, neck, and back 
make its identity unmistakable. It is also less dependent than the 
Little Egret and other marsh-haunting relatives on the presence of 
water, and is found most often singly or gregariously in attendance 
on grazing cattle. Its food consists largclyof terrestrial insects. The 
birds stalk jauntily among the animals, running in and out between 
their legs — springing up to snatch the quarry as they scurry along- 
side^ — or riding on their backs for a better survey of the surround- 
ings. They keep a vigilant lookout for the grasshoppers and other 
insects disturbed in the animals' progress through the grass, darting 







COMMON BIRDS 



27 



out their Jong projectile necks and pointed bills to snap them up at 
they flee. They also pick off blood-sucking flies and other parasitic 
insects from the backs, bellies and ears of cattle, working com- 
placently along the animal's back to reach the less accessible parts. 
Cattle egrets have communal roosts in favourite trees, shared with 
crows, pond herons and other birds, to which they repair every 
evening at sunset flying in diagonal lines or disorderly rabble* with 
the neck folded back, head hunched between the shoulders, and legs 
tucked under the tail and projecting behind. They breed in colonies 
by themselves or more usually in the company of pond herons; 
sometimes in mixed heronries with darters, cormorants and white 
egrets. The nest is an untidy flimsy structure of twigs of the usual 
crow pattern. It is built in leafy trees not necessarily in the neigh- 
bourhood of water and often in the midst of a noisy town or village 
bazar. The normal clutch is of 3 to 5 eggs of a pale skim-milk blue 
colour. 

Another familiar member of the heron family is the Pond Heroa 
or Paddy Bird (Ardtela grayii) - plate 2.8 -known in Hindi in certain 
parts as Amfha Mgla. It is about ihe size of a village hen, buff-streaked 
earthy brown when at rest but with concealed glistening white wings 
and tail which flash into prominence the moment the bird flics In 
the breeding season the bark ii covered with dainty maroon hair- 
like plumes, and a long white occipital crest ii acquired, transforming 
the drab-looking bird into a strikingly handsome creature. The Pond 
Heron may be seen singly or in twos and threes at muddy ponds and 
puddles and wherever conditions are favourable for harbouring 
frogs, mudfish and crabs which principally constitute its diet, Kutcha 
wells and temple ponds often in the heart of populous cities also 
attract it, and numbers collect at drying-up monsoon puddles to 
feast on the concentrating population of refugee frogs. The bird 
stands hunched up and inert on the squelchy mud or in shallow 
water at the edge, head drawn in between the shoulders. Actually 
it is wide awake and watching intently for some unsuspecting frog 
or fish to blunder within range of the long projectile neck and spear- 
pointed bill. Sometimes it will wade in stealthily, lifting each foot 
clear of the water and bringing it down with studied circumspection. 






2a 



COMMON BODS 



neck craned forward and bill poised in readiness to jab at the quarr 
Where unmolested, pond herons become very tame and confiding 
standing by the water's edge or stalking unconcernedly within a few 
feet of the village dhobt washing his clothes, and of chattering house* 
wives filling their domestic pots. When alarmed it rises with a harsh 
croak and a sudden flash of its snow white wings and flies off with 
steady strokes ui the typical heron style. Large congregations collect 
to roost in favourite trees at dusk. They build the usual crow type 
of twig nest in large trees often standing in the midst of towns and 
villages, and not necessarily close to water. They are frequently 
placed in mixed colonies of white egrets, night herons, etc., and the 
same trees are resorted to year after year. The eggs — 3 to 5 — are 
pale greenish blue. 

Storks (family Cjconiidae) are superficially similar to the larger 
herons. They have long legs with partially bare tibia, longish necks, 
and heavy, pointed tapering bills. In flight they can be readily told 
from herons by their outstretched necks contra herons which carry 
their necks telescoped into a flat S. Storks lack voice muscles and are 
tlierefore silent except for occasional low throaty grunts and a loud 
clattering together of the mandibles in which both sexes freely in- 
dulge during the breeding season. One of the more striking and 
common members of the family in India is the Painted Stork (Ibis 
Uucoctphalus)- plate 1.9 -Hindi ij&nghil, D&kh, K&nkVri. It is about the 
size of a vulture and stands over a metre to the top of its head. Its 
white plumage is closely marked and barred above with glistening 
greenish black, and it has a black band across the breast. The strik- 
ing delicate rose-pink feathers near the tail (secondaries) are what 
give it its name. The face is unfeathered waxy yellow and the heavy 
yellow bill slightly decurved at the tip. The birds are found in small 
parties or Large gatherings at jheels and marshes. In common with 
other storks, they spend the day standing hunched up and motionless 
or sauntering about sedately on marshland or in shallow water in 
search of fish and frogs which predominate in their menu; this also 
includes aquatic insect crabs and snails. The method of feeding in 
shallow water is to -ade in and walk slowly with neck craned down, 



COMMON BIRDS 



29 



bill open and partly immersed. It is held thus, 'frozen* expectandy or 
•swivelled from side to side, while one foot is raised and waggled back 
•and forth to agitate the water and drive the quarry towards the open 
mandibles. The foot-waggling is often accompanied by a sudden 
nicking open of the wing on the same side, flashing its shadow on the 
water and thus apparently speeding the movement of the prey. The 
birds perch freely and roost in trees standing in or near water. Their 
flight consists of a series of powerful wing strokes followed by a short 
glide, and they have the usual stork habit of soaring and sailing m 
circles high up in the air for long periods during the heat of the 
day. The nest » a large stick platform with a shallow central 
depression lined with stems and leaves of water weeds. It is built in 
trees standing in or near water— often 10 to 20 nests in a single 
tree— and in mixed heronries of cormorants, egrets, etc* The 
eggs— 3 to 5 — are dull sullied white, occasionally with sparse spots 

and streaks. 

Perhaps the commonest and most widely oismbuted of our 
storks is the much imaller Opeabllkd St«wk {A*astomu oscitans) 
-flate 1J0 -Hindi: GVngla or Ghlngit, which stands under one 
metre to the crown. It is white or greyish white in colour with 
black in the wings, lometimei looking confusingly like the migra- 
tory White Stork in the distance. The peculiar reddish black bill 
with arching mandibles leaving a narrow open gap in between, is 
an unfailing diagnostic feature. The bird is usually seen at 
jheels and marshes in twos and threes or flocks. Its general 
habits and behaviour are typical of the stork family, but 
the precise significance and function of the curiously shaped bill is 
not properly understood. Essentially it is an adaptation for dealing 
with the large snails which form its specialized diet. The gap in the 
bill apparently helps the bird to crack the rim of the mouth of the 
shell for prising open the 'lid' or operculum. The soft body of the 
animal is neatly extracted from within and swallowed. Frogs, fish, 
crabs, large insects and other small living creatures are also eaten. 
Opcnbills breed in colonies, often very large ones, in association with 
cormorants, herons, ibises and other marsh birds. The nests are 
rough circular platforms of twigs with the central depression lined 



30 



COMMON BIROS 






with leaves and stems of water weeds. They are placed— often many 
together on a single tree — on trees standing within or on the edge of 
a jheel, sometimes close to a village. The eggs- — 3 ot 4 — are sullied 
white without any markings. 

The largest of our storks is the Adjutant Stork {Ltptoptilos dubius) — 
plate 1. 1 1 -known in Hindi as H&rgila,G&r$r, or Dhlnk. It stands about 
\\ metre tall. The Adjutant is a huge sad-coloured black, grey and 
dirty white stork with a ponderous yellow, four-sided, wedge-shaped 
bill. The long, naked, ruddy pouch about 30 cm long which hangs 
from its chest confirms its identity. It is usually seen singly or in small 
numbers on drying- up marshes and about municipal refuse dumps 
in some localities. The bird gets its apt English name from the 
deliberate high-stepping military gait with which it paces up and 
down in search of food. The true significance of the pendent pouch 
is not understood, but it is apparently in the nature of an air sac 
connected with the nasal cavity and not with the gullet. Therefore 
it cannot receive and store food, as is popularly supposed. In addition 
to offal and garbage, the adjutant stork frequently joins vultures to 
feast on "carrion. It also eats dead or stranded fish, frogs, reptiles and 
small animals, as well as locusts and other large insects. Its flight is 
heavy and noisy and the bird is obliged to take a short run with a 
vigorous flapping of wings before getting air-borne. Like its other 
relations, it is fond of soaring aloft on thermals and circling in the 
heavens on a sunny day. A very characteristic pose of the bird at rest 
is shown in the background of the plate — squatting with the shanks 
extended in front, head drawn in between the shoulders, presenting 
a ludicrously pathetic figure! The nest is an enormous structure of 
sticks built on pinnacles of rock or in lofty forest trees, sometimes in 
scattered colonies.Thc eggs — 3 ro 4 — are white, usually much sullied. 

A smaller cousin, the Leaver Adjutant (L. jaianicus) occurs 
sparingly over a wide area including Kerala and Ceylon, It is chiefly 
glossy metallic black above, white below, and lacks the hanging 
pouch. 



i '' 
/ 



COMMON BIRDS 31 

The family Thrmktornithidae is represented by the ibises 
and the spoonbills. The Whit* IbU (Thnskwmis mtlamcephaU)-- 
Hindi : Affljwfc, IMtt, or Si/id Baza, is a large white marsh bird 
of about the size of a large domestic hen, with naked black head and 
neck, and long, stout, black downcurved bill. In the breeding season 
some slaty grey appears on the scapulars and wings (secondaries), 
and long ornamental plumes at the base of the neck. It keeps in 
parties, sometimes large flocks, on marshland and the edges of jheels. 
It consorts with spoonbills, storks and similar birds, walking about 
actively on marshy grassland and squelchy paddy stubbles probing 
with the forceps-like half-open mandibles into the soft mud for food. 
When feeding thus in shallow water, the head is often completely 
immersed. Its food consists mainly of molluscs, crustaceans, worms, 
insects, frogs and occasionally fish. When disturbed, and for roost- 
ing, the birds perch freely on trees. The flight is strong and direct 
with the long bill and neck extended in front and the legs trailing 
under the tail. It is attained by a series of steady rapid strokes 
punctuated by short glides. The birds usually fly to and from their 
feeding grounds in V-formation like ducks, or in wavy diagonal 
ribbons, Like storks and spoonbills, they lack true voice organs, but 
breeding birds emit peculiar ventriloquist ic grunts, not loud but 
vibrant. When heard from a distant colony, they have been likened 
to ihe mumble of people talking together. 

The nest is a flat platform of sticks, usually unlined, built in trees 
standing in or near water, sometimes on the outskirts of a village and 
often in mixed colonies with its usual feeding associates and with 
cormorants and darters. The eggs— 2 to 4— are bluish or greenish 
white, either immaculate or marked with delicate spots of yellowish 
brown. 

The Black Ibia (Pseudibis papulosa)- plate 6.12— Hindi: A*8/> lull 
or K&rJLnkut, is a largbh black bird of about the same size and general 
aspect as the White Ibis. It has a conspicuous white patch near the 
shoulder and brick-red legs. The naked black head with a tri- 
angular patch of crimson warts on the crown is another good distin- 
guishing mark. The birds are found in open plains country on the 



32 



COMMON BIRDS 






outskirts of cultivation where they keep in small parties of 3 or 4 and 
scattered flocks of up to 3 or 10 individuals. Unlike the White Ibis 
itu less dependent on the neighbourhood of jheels and rivers and is 
frequently found well away from water. Its food consists principally 
of insects and grain, but lizards, small snakes and centipedes are also 
relished. The birds keep to favoured localities and have accustomed 
roosts m trees to which they resort nightly, flying in V-formation by 
a scries of steady wing strokes alternated with short glides. They are 
silent birds on the whole, only occasionally uttering a loud nasal 
screaming cry of 2 or 3 notes, chiefly on the wing. These cries are 
rather reminiscent of those of the Brahminy Duck. Black Ibises nor- 
mally do not breed in mixed colonies, but two or three nests of its 
own speoes may sometimes be found in the same tree. The nest is 
a large cup-shaped structure of twigs lined with straw and feathers. 
It is placed high up in a large tree or in the head of a palmyra palm 
generally away from water. Occasionally old nests of eagles or vul- 
tures are utilized. The eggs— 2 to 4— are bright pale green in colour, 
either unmarked or with spots and streaks of brown. 

Though a close relation of the ibises, the Spoonbill [Ptatato 
Uucoredia)- plate 1,13 -Hindi ! Ch&mtha fan or Dnbil y has an entirely 
different shaped and very distinctive bill ; it is black-and-yellow, 
broad and flat, and ends in a widened spatula. The bird itself—larger 
than a domestic duck and standing about 45 cm tall—is long- 
legged, long-necked and snow-white. A long and full pale yellow 
nuchal crest and a yellow patch on the lower foreneck are acquired 
ID the breeding season. The birds arc usually met with singly or in 
flocks of 10 to 20 or more by themselves or in association with storks 
and other marsh birds. Although the species is resident in India, its 
numbers are greatly augmented in winter by immigrants from beyond 
our limits. The Spoonbill frequents marshes and jheels, mudbanks 
in rivers, and estuarine mudflats. The birds feed in shallow water at 
the edge, and are most active in the mornings and evenings, resting 
on some sandbank during the middle of the day. They fly to and from 
their feeding grounds in diagonal single file or in orderly V-formation 
with rather slow but steady wing beats— neck and legs extended- - 
and often at a considerable height. Their food consists of tadpoles, 



COMMON BIRDS 



33 



frogs, molluscs and water insects, but a quantity of vegetable matter 
is also taken. The flock wades in shallow water at the edge of a jheel, 
and with outstretched neck and obliquely poised partly open bill the 
birds sweep from side to side with a scything action raking the 
muddy bottom with the tip of the lower mandible. The compact 
eager jostling herd moves forward thus, almost at a run, working 
methodically up and down the more rewarding patches. The only 
sound the bird occasionally emits is a low grunt. Spoonbills nest in 
colonies either by themselves or in association with herons, ibises, 
cormorants, egrets and storks. The nest is a rather massive stick 
platform built in a tree standing in or on the edge of a jheel — 
frequently on the outskirts of a village. The normal clutch is of 
4 eggs, sullied white in colour, sparingly spotted and blotched with 
deep reddish brown. 

The only representative of the family Phqenicopteridae in India 
is the Flamjnoo {PkotnicoptttMs roseus)— plate 1, 14 —Hindi : Beg hint, 
Ch&raj b&ggo. It is a pale rosy- white bird with the body as large at a 
domestic goose, long bare pink legs and long sinuous neck so that the 
bird stands about 1 1 metres high. The peculiar heavy pink biU turned 
down at an angle (' broken*} from about half its length is unique, 
and the toes are webbed like a duck's. A flock in the air with the 
brilliant scarlet wing- coverts set off by the black wing border pre- 
sents a spectacle of unforgettable charm. Flamingos live in flocks at 
jheels, brackish lagoons and on tidal mudflats. They are resident 
more or less throughout the Indian Union, both Pakistan* and 
Ceylon but sporadic, and also locally migratory. The birds keep in 
small parlies or flocks, some of a very large size and containing many 
thousand individuals. Their method of procuring their food is to 
wade into shallow water and feed with their long necks bent down 
and heads completely immersed. The peculiar bill is inverted so that 
the top part of the culmen almost scrapes the ground, agitating the 
bottom mud. In this position the upper mandible forms a hollow 
scoop in which the ooze is collected. The fleshy tongue works like a 
plunger, sieving out the water through the comb-like fringes or 
lamellae along the edge of the mandibles, leaving the minute food 



J 



i 



M 



COMMON BIHDS 



particles behind. The birds can swim with ease when occasion de- 
mands, and when feeding in deeper water they often "up-end* like 
ducks with only the tail sticking above the surface, in order to reach 
the bottom mud. The food consists of tiny crustaceans, insect 
larvae, worms, seeds of marsh plants and organic ooze. Flamingo* 
By with fairly rapid wing beats in V-formation like geese, or 
iri long wavy diagonal ribbons. The slender neck is stretched in front 
while the long red legs trail behind. The birds are on the whole very 
silent. They sometimes utter a goose-like honk, and a flock keeps up 
a constant babble while feeding. The only known breeding place of 
the Flamingo within our limits is the Great Rann of Kutch where 
vast concentrations collect between October and March when the 
water conditions are favourable. Their numbers here have been esti- 
mated at beween half and one million strong, thus making the Kutch 
breeding colony, or 'Flamingo City', perhaps the largest in the 
world. The nest is a cone-shaped mound of scraped-up and plastered 
semi-liquid mud which becomes hard and sun baked and has an 
average height of about 30 cm. A flat pancake-like depression is 
tamped on the top in which the eggs — 2, or only 1 — are laid. The 
incubating Flamingo sits on this with its legs folded under, and not 
standing asti ide the mound, as was fancifully described in old books. 



The Order ANSER [FORMES comprises a very popular group 
of birds from the sporting and food resource point of view. It includes 
swans, geese and ducks. Teals are merely small ducks just as doves 
are small pigeons, and differ from ducks only in name. 

Swans are erratic vagrants from arctic Europe and Asia in years 
of extreme winters and need not be considered here. Among the few 
species of geese that visit our area in winter, one of the commonest 
and most regular is the Bmrhemded Goo*e[Aruer induus)- plate 3. 15 - 
Hindi : ll&ns t S&wlln, Blrwa. Its size is about that of a small domestic 
goose, and its coloration chiefly grey, brownish and white. The 
white head and sides of neck, yellow bill, and two distinctive broad 



COMMON BIRDS 35 

black bars across the nape are the points by which it can be identi- 
fied. It is found in Hocks or gaggles on rivers and jheels and in the 
neighbourhood of young wheat and gram fields. It keeps in small 
parties and skeins of 1 5 to 20 individuals, sometimes congregating in 
vast gaggles to feed in young gram, and wheat fields or rest in the mid- 
day heat on a sandbank in a river On account of constant harass- 
ment from hunters, the bird is largely crepuscular or nocturnal in 
its feeding habits It becomes active towards sunset when flock, after 
flock may be seen winging its way steadily in orderly V-formation or 
diagonal- ribbons high up in the air in the direction of the accustom- 
ed feeding grounds. Like all geese, the birds feed bv grazing as they 
walk about in the fields or by 'up-ending' in shallow water. Their 
food consist* largely of green shoots of winter crops, grain, conn* of 
march plants, etc. 

The call is a musical mmg, aang produced in varying keys which is 
one of the most exhilarating and nerve- tingling sounds to the 
wildlowler as the birds pass over his ambush. The Barhead is at all 
times an exceedingly wary species and calls for much skill and hard 
work in circumventing and bringing to bag. Curiously enough^ 
where the same birds have learnt that they will not be molested as in 
Buddhist Tibet, they become astonishingly tame and confiding 
and wilt stroll about unconcernedly in the proximity of yakmen's 
• -ii' •■ 1 1 1 -. i • 1 1 1 - 1 1 1 '-. 

The nearest breeding grounds of the Barheadrd Goose are in 
Ladakh The nest is a depression in the lush herbage bordering 
high altitude lakes, thickly lined wirh. down and feather The 
eggs — 3 ro 4 — are ivory white. 

Another common migrant goose is the Greylag (Amtr anstr}— 
Hindi : ATa/— believed to be the ancestor of practically all our 
domestic creeds. Its size and general effect are those of the normal 
brown phase of the domestic goose. It has a grey rump and a flesh- 
pink bill, and it keeps more to jheels than to rivers, unlike the Bar- 
head. 

Only 5 or 6 of the 20 odd species of wild ducks commonly found in 
India in winter are resident and breed within the country; the rest 



36 



COMMON BUDS 



arc migrants chiefly from Siberia. One of the meat widely distributed 
of the former u the Spocfcill or Gray Dock (Aruts p^dbrhpuha)— 
plate 3, 1 6~ Hindi : G*rmpEi GUgr*l t IM&m. In size it is as large as the 
domestic duck and of a scaly-patterned light and dark brown plum- 
age. The tri -coloured white, black, and metallic green wing-bar 
or speculum are leading pointers to its identity. This is confirmed 
by the bright orange-red legs, and yellow-tipped dark ball with two 
orange-red spots at its base, one on either side of the forehead. It ii 
found in pairs and small flocks on shallow reedy jheeis, but is no- 
where as abundant as many of the migratory species that visit us in 
winter. It belongs to the tribe of surface-feeding or dabbling ducks 
and obtains much of its food by walking about and grubbing on 
marshland or in squelchy paddy fields, or by 'up-ending* in shallow 
water to reach the bottom mud — tail sticking comically above the 
surface and legs kicking to maintain the vertical stance. The Spot- 
bill's food is chiefly vegetarian — shoots of aquatic plants, seeds of 
sedges, and paddy grain with the addition of molluscs, water insects, 
and worms. It is a strong flier and prized by sportsmen as much for 
its sporting qualities as for its excellence as a table bird. Normally 
the birds are very silent. The call of the drake is a harsh wheezing; 
that of the duck a loud quack, chiefly uttered on sudden alarm. 
Given favourable water conditions, the Spotbill breeds more or less 
throughout the year. The nest is a pad of grass and weeds sometimes 
lined with feathers and down, concealed under herbage on the edge 
of a tank or swamp. The eggs — 7 to 9 and up to 12 — are greyish 
buff or greenish white, without any markings. 

The Leaser WfciatUng TeaJ (D*ndr*ygna javtmka) - plate 3.17- 
Hindi : Setthi or SeeMh, is smaller than the Spotbill of a more or less 
uniform chestnut colour and confusable with no other duck of the 
same size. The shrill whistling notes uttered in the rail-like flight are 
also distinctive.lt is found in small flocks of 10 or 15 on all reed and 
floating vegetation-covered tanks and jheeis, and often in 
swampy paddy fields. It is partial to such as have trees growing 
around them, on the branches of which it perches freely — a ha bit 
which gives it its alternative name of Fulvous Tree Duck, The birds 



COMMON BIRDS 



37 



move about a great deal locally under stress of drought conditions. 
The flight is feeble and flapping, rather reminiscent of a jacana's — 
and is accompanied by a constant shrill wheezy whistling sea~sick, sta- 
tkk rather similar to some notes of the Large Pied Wagtail. The birds 
walk well and are good divers. Their food consists of snails, worms, 
frogs and fish, as well as green shoots and paddy grains. The nest of 
the Whistling Teal is either a pad of leaves, rushes and grass placed 
on the ground among thorny scrub near the water's edge, or a twig 
structure in forking trunks or natural hollows in large trees, often 
well away from water. Old nests of kites and crows are sometimes 
utilized. The eggs — 7 to 12, but usually about 10 — are milk-white 
in colour when fresh, but become stained brownish during in- 
cubation. 

The Large Whittling Teal [D. bkolar), also found sparingly as 
a resident in India, is distinguished from the Lesser by its somewhat 
larger size and by its upper tail-coverts being wkilish instead of 
chestnut in colour. 



The smallest of our resident wild ducks is the Cotton T«al {Ntttc* 
pus cororrumdtlianus)— pj_atE 3. ib -Hindi : Gifritt, GvrgHra, SSnia. It is 
the size of a small village hen with white predominating in its plum* 
age. The drake is glossy blackish above, with white head, neck and 
underparts. It has a narrow black collar and a white wing-bar 
which is conspicuous in flight. The duck is paler brown and with- 
out the collar or wing-bar. In the non-breeding season, the drake 
resembles her except for the white wing- bar which is retained. The 
Cotton Teal is not only the smallest but also the most widely distri- 
buted of our resident ducks, sharing this attribute with the Spot- 
bill. It is usually met with in parties of 5 or 15 or so. but larger flocks 
of up to 50 or more are occasionally seen. It frequents every type of 
stagnant water provided it is well covered with reeds and floating 
vegetation — be it village tank, roadside ditch, flooded bor row-pit 
or inundated paddy field. Where unmolested the birds become very 
tame and trusting, swimming and tipping for food on village ponds 
within a few feet of humans engaged in their daily avocations. Their 



38 



COMMON BIRDS 






food consist* of shoots and gram together with injects, mails, etc. 
The birds are swift and agile on the wing, and can dive effectively to 
evade capture when moulting and flightless. A peculiar clucking, 
uttered in flight, is practically all the sound they produce. The nest 
of the Cotton Teal is some natural hollow in a tree- trunk standing in 
or near water, 2 to 10 metres above the surface. The eggs— 6 to 1 2— 
are ivory white, unmarked. The downy hatchling* are not carried 
down by the parents as generally believed, but flutter to the ground 
or water by themselves. 



The Order FALCONIFORMES or Birds of Prey is represented 
by the families Accipitrtdae {hawks, eagles, vultures, and osprey) 
and the Falconidae (falcons). No hard and fast limits can be 
fixed between the t*o. Both are characterized by a short and 
strongly hooked bill for tearing flesh, and powerful hooked claws. 
The former family contains broad and rounded-winged birds, the 
latter those with longer, narrow and pointed wings and more spindle- 
shaped bodies, streamlined for extreme speed in chasing prey. Some 
of these birds (t.g, kites and vultures) feed on offal and carrion while 
others like the sfiikra and the sparrow-hawk chicly hunt living prey 
by pouncing on it from an ambush,, sometimes followed by a short swift 
chase. The falcons, on the other hand, are essentially hunters which 
secure their quarry by swift pursuit and lightning aerial stoop from 
above. Accordingly hawks live chiefly in wooded country affording 
concealment, while falcons are more at home in open unobstructed 
terrain. 

As a group, hawks, eagles, and falcons have been unjustly malign- 
ed for alleged destruction ofgame birds and ground game. In official 
game schedules, they are usually classed as vermin and afforded no 
legal protection. A careful study of their food and feeding habits, 
however, indicates that by preying predominantly on rats and mice 
and other injurious pests, mult species act as very important natur- 
al checks. On balance, therefore, the birds of prey are decidedly 



-*— 



COMMON BIRDS 



J9 



more beneficial than harmful, and deserving of strict statutory 
protection. 

The Pariah and Brafaminy Kites— plate 4.19 and 4. 20 -are two 
familiar hawks that live in the neighbourhood of human habitations 
and here depend for their livelihood chiefly on the artificial condi- 
tions created by man. The former is a large brown hawk easily distin- 
guished from all other similar birds by its forked tail, a feature parti- 
cularly noticeable in flight. Numbers are always present near 
slaughter houses, fish and meat markets, municipal refuse dumps and 
around docks and harbours for any titbits that can be picked up. The 
ease and grace with which a kite will make its lightning swoop to 
carry offa dead rat or bit of offal from a narrow congested city bazar, 
turning and twisting to avoid the pedestrians and motor traffic on 
the ground and the tangle of telephone wires overhead, is an object 
lesson in aeronautics. The bird becomes a nuisance to poultry 
keepers when it takes to chicken-lifting as it does when it has its 
nest-young to feed. Its shrill musical whistle ewt-wir~wir-wir-w>r is 
familiar to most town dwellers. 

The Brahmin y Kits {Haliastur indus), known in Hindi as 
lir&hmani cheel, Dhobia cheel, or Kkemktrni, is of the same size but dis- 
tinctly more handsome. It is bright rusty red above, with a white 
head and breast down to the abdomen. Immature birds are choco- 
late brown and resemble both the Pariah Kile and the voung Sea* 
venger Vulture. It may be readily differentiated from them by its 
rounded instead of forked or wedge-shaped tail. The Brahminy 
keeps to the neighbourhood of rivers and tanks inland, but is 
commonest on the sea coast where it fsequents fishing villages and 
harbours. During the monsoon, when large tracts become water- 
logged, it spreads further afield and is then commonly seen around 
inundated paddy fields. Its diet also consists of offal and garbage and 
it often enters human habitations to scavenge in, company with 
Pariah Kites and crows. But it prefers to scoop up its food from ihe 
surface of water rather than land, and therefore sea porti and fish- 
ing docks are best suited to its requirements. In the countryside it 



40 COMMON BIRDS 

lives chiefly on lizards, fish, frogs, land crabs, small snakes as well as 
insects. Like the Pariah Kite, it is specially partial to winged ter- 
mites which are clumsily hawked in the air as they emerge from the 
rain-sodden ground. Its call is a rather harsh wheezy squeal—rather 
like a kite suffering from sore throat. Both these hawks build Urge 
stick platform nests in trees, the Brahminy preferring those in the 
neighbourhood of water. Their eggs are greyish or pinkish white 
speckled and spotted with reddish brown* 

The SUkra {AccipiUr badius}- plate 4.21 —Hindi: Sfukra is a 
smaller hawk, about the size of a pigeon, ashy blue-grey above, 
white below cross-barred with rusty brown and with broad blackish 
bands on the tail. The female is browner above and considerably 
larger than the male. Immature birds are brown-and-rufous above, 
broadly streaked below (not cross-barred) with brown. It is usually 
met with in pairs in wooded country and groves of trees in the 
neighbourhood of villages and cultivation. The food of the Shikra 
consists of locusts, lizards, frogs, rats and the like. Its hunting 
tactics are mainly those of surprise. From its lookout perch in the 
concealment of some leafy tree, where it sits bolt upright, the bird 
pounces upon its victims before they become aware of danger, and 
bears them away in its talons to be plucked and torn to pieces before 
devouring. It also kills small birds like babblers, bush quails and 
doves, swooping on them from its ambush without warning and 
chasing them with speed and determination. The Shikra is an 
inveterate robber of domestic chickens, especially when it has its 
nest-young to feed, and often becomes a serious nuisance to poultry 
keepers. Many of its harsh challenging call notes are exactly like 
those of the Black Drongo but louder. During the breeding season 
pain became very noisy, constantly uttering a sharp double note 
ti-tw as the birds go through a curious acrobatic display, mutually 
chasing and diving at each other. The Shikra builds a crow-like 
nest of twigs in the top of a leafy tree, preferably standing in a 
grove near a village. Its eggs — 3 or 4 — are pale bluish white, some- 
dmes faintly spotted and speckled with grey. 



COMMON BIRDS 



41 



The commonest vulture over the country as a whole is the White- 
backed or Bengal Vulture {Gyps htngttimsit)— plate 6.22— Hindi : 
Guthy a heavy dirty blackish brown rather repulsive- 'coking creature, 
with scrawny naked head and neck. When at rest and while banking 
in the air the white back is conspicuous and diagnostic. In over- 
head flight a broad whitish band stretching across the underside 
or the wings, broken in the middle by the dark body , help identi- 
fication. Immature birds are brown without the white back and 
can be easily confused with another common species, the Luagbilled 
Voltwe (G. indicus) Strangely enough neither of these vultures 
is found in Ceylon. The White backed Vulture is found everywhere 
in peninsular India regardless of the nature of the country, but it 
avoids humid evergreen forest. It quarters the heavens sailing 
majestically for hours on end on outspread motionless wings, scann- 
ing the countryside for food. As scavengers, vultures are of the 
greatest usefulness to man. Their eyesight is remarkably keen, and 
sense of smell poor or non-existent. The incredibly short time in 
which a rabble will collect at an animal carcase from out of an al- 
most empty sky is a thing of wonder, and the speed and tho ough - 
ness with which such a gathering will dispose of a bullock or other 
large animal is equally astonishing. The gruesome obsequies at a 
carcase are attended by incessant jostling and bickering among 
the feasters and much raucous screeching and hissing as one bird tries 
to oust another from a vantage point, or as two birds ludicrously 
prance around with outspread wings tugging and pulling at 
a gobbet of flesh from either end." This vulture nests in large 
trees standing near a village or along the sides of roads, building 
enormous platforms of leafy sticks and twigs. A single egg b 
laid, white is coloration, sometimes speckled and spotted with 
reddish brown. 

I 

A smaller vulture, common in the drier portions of the Peninsula, 
is the White or Scavenger Vulture also known an Fharaoh'a 
Chicken {Neobhron ptrcnopUnu) and in Hindi as S&ftd gidh or Ge#*r 
|M*-plate4.23. It is a dirty white kite-like bird with black wing 
quills and naked sickly yellow head and bill. Immature birds arc 






42 



COMMON MKDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



43 



brown but m4y be distinguished from the kite in Sight by the 
wed &• shaped, not forked mil. Tbey j*t usually seen in tamx and threes 
in open country about huraAn habitations — whether town, settled 
village or nomadic encampment— soaring gracefully high up in 
the heavens or scouting fir food lower down. On the ground it 
stalks about in the quest with a ludicrous high-stepping waddling 
gait. It i* a useful scavenger and does valuable service in cleaning up 
the precincts of villages where for lack of proper sanitation the 
entire populace is obliged to troop out with their domestic lotos 
and squat behind bushes at no great distance from their hoveU. 
For besides offal and refuse of every description, human excrement 
figures largely on this vulture's delectable menu. This, incidentally, 
is the species that has brought fame to the Hindu temple at Thiru- 
kalikundram near Madras where a legendary immortal pair comes 
at a regular howr every day (trom fianaras as the credulous believe) 
to be fed by the priests. The nest is a filthy mass of twigs lined with 
rags, scraps of mammal skin, hair and miscellaneous rubbish. It is 
placed on a ledge outside a ruined building or a rock cliff; some- 
times in a forking tree-stem. The eggs, normally two. are incongru- 
ously handsome — white to pale brick-red, blotched with reddish 
brown or blackish. 

A good example of the pointed-winged hawks is the Shahecn 
Falcon [Falto fintgrinAtor)- plate 4.24 -Hindi : Shafuen, a powerful, 
compact, broad-shouldered bird aDout the size of a Jungle Crow, 
Adults arc slaty black above with a black head and prominent 
check stripes and pinky white oi rusty red below* Some examples are 
barred viith black from the abdomen down. The female is Mrnilar 
but larger. The Rhaheen ie found singly or in pairs in hilly country 
with precipices and crags whence it keeps a lookout for prey and 
launches its foraging sorties. It is the local representative of the 
Peregrine Falcon or Bhyri which is a winter visitor to our area from 
northern, lands. Its prey consists chiefly o f pigeons, parakeets and 
similar sized birds. The flight of the Shaheen is extremely swift — 
a few rapid heats of the pointed wings followed by a glide at 
tremendous speed. It? victims are struck in mid-air and borne away 



in the talons to a favourite cliff where they are divested of their 
feathers and dismembered before being swallowed. During the 
breeding season pairs engage in a great deal of spectacular aerial 
interplay, the birds darting and stooping at one smother at breath- 
taking speed around the nesting cliff, often executing perfect loop- 
ing-the-loop turns. They nest on inaocessibJe crags laying 3 or 4 
pale brick-red eggs, blotched and speckled with reddish brown. 
The same nest-sites are used year after year for long periods and, 
if undisturbed, become traditional. 

The Redheaded Merlin {Fako chicquera) or TUruatti -plate 4.25- 
is an elegant little pointed- winged falcon, bluish grey above, white 
below, closely cross-barred with blackish on the undcrparts. The 
conspicuous chestnut head and nape, with a vertical chestnut 
'moustachial' streak below and in front of each eye, are good identi- 
fication marks. In flight the narrow white border to the tail with a 
broad black band ahove it is the other point to look for. The birds 
are usually found in pairs in open country near cultivation, common- 
ly seen perched on a mound or some other eminence, or flying at 
great speed at hedge-top height in search of small birds, rats, mice, 
lizards and large insects which comprise their prey. It sometimes 
catches bats as they emerge from their daytime retreat at dusk, 
stooping at them with incredible speed. Male and female often 
hunt hvconcert, one bird driving and rounding off the quarry, while 
the other chases and strikes it down, the two then sharing the spoils. 
The larger female (turumti) is sometimes trained to hunt such birds 
as rollers, hoopoes, mynas and partridges. When in pursuit, the 
flight is very swift and arrow-like, attained by rapid and sustained 
wing-beats as in the case of the Sparrow*Hawk. Its cry is a high- 
pitched squeal. During the breeding season these little falcons become 
exceedingly bold and truculent, attacking and beating off large birds 
like crows and kites who have blundered into the vicinity of (he 
nest tree. The nest is a twig platform up in the leafy canopy of a tree 
standing in open country. The eggs — 3 or 4 — are pale reddish white, 
thickly speckled with reddish brown. 



44 COMMON BIKD5 

The Order GALLI FORMES is represented in our area chiefly by 
the family Pkasianidae or the to-called 'Game Birds' and includes 
pheasants, junglefowl, partridges and quails. They are predominant- 
ly granivorous birds with strong moderate-siied bills, rounded wings, 
sturdy short to moderately long legs (armed with spurs in the 
males of many species), and stout blunt claws for scratching the 
ground for food. 

The Black Partridge (Francoiinusfrencotimu) -PLATE 5. 26- Hindi : 
K9t* itet&r, is about the same st« as the better known Grey Partridge. 
It is a plump, stub-tailed game bird chiefly jet black, spotted and 
barred with white and fulvous- The glistening white cheek-patches 
and chestnut collar of the cock are diagnostic. The hen is consider- 
ably paler, mottled and speckled black and white, with a chestnut 
patch on the nape. This handsome partridge is found singly or in 
pairs in well-watered scrub-, tamarisk-, and tall grass jungle and 
riverain tracts in northern India and Assam. Sugarcane fields, 
standing millet crops, and tea gardens are some of its other favourite 
haunts. The birds enter the crops to feed in the early mornings and 
evenings when they may also be seen pecking around the edges of 
the fields. While sauntering about, the stub tail is often carried parti' 
ally cocked, as in a moorhen, a peculiarity not normally seen in the 
Grey Partridge, They are exceedingly swift runners and will usually 
trust to their legs for escape unless driven by beaters or suddenly 
come upon. The flight, usually of not more than a couple of hundred 
metres at a stretch, is strong and direct with rapid whirring wing 
beats, and seldom above 3 to 5 metres from the ground. The food 
consists of grain, grass- and weed seeds and tender shoots, but white 
ants and other insects are also relished. The call of the cock is a 
cheerful, ringing, high-pitched ckik. .chuk-cht*k-k$T/pk*k, a curious 
mixture of the harsh and the musical, and possesses a peculiar 
ventriloquistic quality. It has been rendered as Subkin-tiri-qiidrA!, 
L&s&n-piSz-idrSk and other variants according to the hearer's mood 
and fancy of the moment ! The nest of the Black Partridge b a shal- 
low grass-lined depression in the ground at the root of a grass dump, 
in tamarisk scrub or grassland. The eggs — 6 to 8 — vary in colour 
from pale olive-brown to almost chocolate-brown. 



COMMON BIRDS 



45 



The Grey Partridge (Franeotinus pondicerianus) — PLATE 5,27— 
Hindi : TeetOr or Sdfld tett&r, is about as large as a half-grown village 
hen of the same plump and stub-tailed appearance as the Black 
Partridge. It is greyish brown overall with fine wavy black-and< 
buff vcrmiculations, and some chestnut in the tail. The throat is 
rufous and encircled by a broken black line. The cock differs from 
the hen in being more robust, with a pointed spur on each leg. The 
Grey Partridge is a bird of dry open grass-and- thorn scrub country 
and is commonly found in the neighbourhood of villages and cultiva- 
tion. It* exhilarating ringing calls are amongst the most familiar 
bird sounds in the countryside. Except when paired off for breed* 
ing, the birds go about in coveys of 4 to 6, running along with a 
jaunty upright carriage and scratching the ground and cattle dung 
for food. This consists of seeds, berries and insects, white ants and 
maggots from human and animal excreta being favourite items. 
On alarm the covey scuttles away, running speedily from bush to 
bush, finally taking surreptitious refuge within the thickets in ones 
and twos. They are loth to fly unless pressed when they flush with a 
loud whirr of wings and scatter in different directions, running on 
immediately upon realighting a hundred metres or so further. They 
roost at night up in thorn trees. The call of the cock is a ringing, 
defiant, high-pitched kateetar, kaleetar, etc. , or paUeta, pate«la t p&tetla 
quickly repeated and rising in scale and intensity. Young birds can 
be readily tamed, and follow their master about like a dog, calling 
at his behest and coming long distances when summoned. The males 
are prized for fighting purposes. In some parts of the country par- 
tridge-fighting is a popular village sport on high days and holidays, 
and large wagers arc won and lost on the mains. Champion birds 
command big prices. The nest of the Grey Partridge is a simple 
grass-lined scrape in the ground under shelter of a thorn bush in 
fa How or grassland. The eggs — 4 to 8 — arc brownish cream in 
colour, without any markings. 

The Blackbreacted or Rain Quail (Coturnix cotmandtlue) — 
PLATE 5. 28 -Hindi : Ck&nAk China b&tir is about half the size of the 
Grey Partridge and a miniature of it in profile. Its plumage is buffy 
brown with pale streaks and irregular blackish blotches on the upper 



46 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



47 



parts. The upper breast, and often the centre of tKe abdomen, is 
black in the cock. The hen lacks the black breast and the black-and- 
white markings on the throat. 






The somewhat larger Common or Grey Quail (C. cotumix) is 
chiefly an abundant winter visitor from northern lands. In this 
specie! the cock ha* a black anchor mark on his throat and no black 
on the breast or belly. The hen is very like that of the Rain Quail 
but is larger. In the hand she can be differentiated by the presence 
of buff and brown bars on the outer webs of the primaries. Both 
species have similar habits. Quails are ground- living birds which 
spend most of their time under cover in grassland or young crops. 
They are good runners and reluctant to fly unless pressed. When 
flushed they rise with a characteristic low whirr of the wings accom- 
panied by a soft whistling note, and fly only a hundred metres or so, 
low over the grass- tops or standing crops before tumbling into cover 
again. The flight is swift and direct, attained by rapid Vibrating' 
wing strokes. Their diet consists almost entirely of grain and grass- 
and weed-seeds, supplemented by termites and other soft insects. 
The call of the Rain Quail is a musical double whistle whkh-whkh 
. . . which-which) etc., constantly repeated in the breeding season chiefly 
In the mornings and evenings and intermittently all through the day 
in cloudy weather, and at night. It is quite distinct from the call of 
the Grey Quail which b» loud whistling note followed rapidly by 
two short ones, described as *a liquid wtt-mr~lip$S The nests of both 
species are grass-lined scrapes, usually well concealed among grass 
or standing crop*. The eggs — 6 to 8 — are pale creamy buff blotched 
with varying shades of brown and differ only in size. 

The Jungle Bush Quail (Perdimta asiatica)—?L*TE 5.29 -Hindi : 
LowwH, is of the same size and general effect as the quails. The cock 
is fulvous-brown above, streaked and mottled w r ith black and buff; 
white below, closely barred with black. The hen has the underparts 
pale pinkish rufous. Both sexes have a prominent buff and chestnut 
superciliary stripe running back from the forehead and down the 
sides of the neck; also a bright chestnut throat-patch. A confusingly 



similar species, the Rock Bosh Quail (P. argoondah), is often found 
side by side with it. In this the cock has the throat-patch dull brick- 
red instead of chestnut, and the hen lacks the throat-patch alto- 
gether. The Jungle Bush Quail is found in fairly open deciduous 
forest and dry grass-and-st rub jungle. It lives in coveys of 5 to 20 in- 
dividuals w r hichj when roosting at nights or if disturbed during day- 
time, bunch together under a bush or in thin grass cover, all the birds 
facing outward. They suddenly rise togtther or 'explode* with 
a distracting whirr of wings when almost trodden on and disperse in 
all directions, dropping into covei again aftet a short flight. The 
covey soon reunites by means of soft whistling contact calls, whi-uhi- 
whi, etc., uttered by the members. The birds troop down to drink at 
water holes in single file in the mornings and eveninges using the same 
little paths day after day. Their food consists mainly of grain, grass- 
and weed -seeds and shoots, together with termites and other insects. 
In the breeding season males become pugnacious and issue harsh 
grating challenges to rivals. The nest is a grass-lined scrape at the 
base of a grass-tussock in scrub jungle. The eggs — 4 to 8 — are creamy 
white without markings, and entirely different from those of the 
Rain Quail. 

The Grey Junglefowl (Callus sotmeratli)- PLATE 5.30 — Hindi: 
J&ngli murghi is, sex for sex, about the same size as the village murghu 
The general effect of the cock is streaked grey with a metallic black 
sickle-shaped tail. The hen is brown above, largely white below 
with scale- 1 ike black markings. It is found singly or in pairs or small 
parties in broken foothills country with bamboo jungle, and is 
partial to the thick tangles of Ian tana and secondary scrub that 
spring up on the sites of old forest clearings, and to neglected or 
abandoned plantations. It is chiefly restricted to the western side 
of the Peninsula. Large numbers collect to feed in areas where 
bamboo or karvi thickets are in seed. Junglefowl, both this and the 
red species, are shy and timid birds. They emerge into the open 
to scratch the ground for food in the mornings and evenings, seldom 
straying far from cover and scuttling headlong into it on the least 
suspicion with outstretched neck and drooping tail. Their food 









4* 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BtXDt 



49 



consists of grain, shoots and berries such as Ian tana and ber f JSep* 
pirns). WindJallen fruit, such as figs of the banyan and gulair {Fkus 
S PP*) arc highly relished, while insects, grabs and maggots are also 
eaten. The crow of the Grey Junglecock is well rendered as kSck-kiyH- 
kijm-kuk. It ends with a low kyukm-kjmhat repeated slowly and softly 
and udi ble only at short range. It is given from a mound, fallen tree* 
trunk, or some other eminence and is usually preceded by a loud 
clapping of the wings against the sides. The crowing is answered 
in turn by other cocks within hearing distance all round. 

It is not quite certain whether junglecocks are monogamous 
or maintain a harem as some other game birds do. The nest is a 
shallow scrape in dens- undergrowth, tided with dry leaves. The 
normal clutch consists of 4 to 7 eggs, pale to warm buff in colour, 
very like those of the country ben. 






The Red Jonglafowl {G. £«//«)— tfce ancestor of all our 
domestic breeds — is found chiefly in the Himalayan terai and foot- 
hills extending south, almost coinci den tally with the sit tree {Short* 
robusta) to eastern Madhya Pradesh. Both cock and hen look very 
like the Bantam breed of domestic poultry, and the cock's crow 
is also very similar. 

The most familiar and spectacular member of the pheasant 
family in peninsular India is of course the Common Peafowl 
(Ptwo cristatus)— plate 6.31— Hindi: Mot or Majur, which has 
recently been 'elected* our National Bird. 

It is sufficiently well known not to need describing, but what 
is not so generally realized is that the gorgeous ocellated, or 'eyed*, 
train of the cock is actually not his tail but abnormally lengthened 
upper tail-coverts. The hen is crested like the cock but lacks the 
train and is a sober mottled brown with some metallic green on the 
lower neck. Peafowl are usually met with in parties or 'droves' of 
mixed sexes, chiefly in deciduous plains and foothills forest. During 
some seasons the cocks and hens tend to segregate. The birds emerge 
into forest clearings and fields to feed in the mornings and evenings. 
Those who only know peafowl in their semi-domesticated state in 



areas where they are protected by religious sentiment, as in Gujarat 
and Rajasthan, can have no idea of the r uncanny wariness and 
cunning in the wild where subjected to hunting or normal natural 
predation. The birds are possessed of phenomenally keen eyesight 
and hearing and are almost impossible to take unawares, usually 
slinking away through the undergrowth for escape on the slightest 
suspicion. But when suddenly come upon, or driven out of cover, 
they rise with noisy laborious napping often rocketing almost 
vertically, and in spite of the cumbrous 'tail* develop considerable 
speed when well under way. At night they roost up in lofty trees, 
and at earl/ dawn the jungle resounds with the loud ugly screaming 
ftutMBctt calls of the cocks which seem such a sorry anticlimax to 
their gorgeous appearance. The food consists mainly of grain, tubers, 
and vegetable shoots, but the bird is omnivorous and wilt readily 
take insects, lizards and small snakes u well. Where protected by 
the villagers, peafowl enter the cultivators' fields with impunity 
and often do considerable damage to newly sown groundnut and 
cereal crops. The nest is a shallow scrape in the ground lined with 
sticks and leaves, usually well concealed in dense undergrowth. 
Th* normal clutch is of 3 Co 5 eggs, pale cream to caft-m-iw; in 
colour. 









The Order GRUIFORMES is represented on the Indian sub- 
continent by a number of families of which G&utdae {Cranes), 
Ralobai (Rails) and Otididae (Bustards) are significant. The 
Cranes are typified by the Saras Crane (Grus antigm*)- plate 6.32 
- Hindi : Sards. This is a large grey bird of the size of a vulture and 
as tall as a man. It has long bare red legs, and naked red head and 
upper neck. The bird is met with mostly in pairs stalking about in 
cultivation and marshland, seasonally accompanied by one or two 
young. Flocks are rare, though gatherings of a hundred birds or 
more are not unknown. They pair for life and their marital devotion 
has become legendary in folk-lore, earning for them a degree of 



50 



COMMON BIRDS 



popular sentiment amounting almost to sanctity. They are un- 
molested by the country folk and have thus become tame and con- 
fiding everywhere in sharp contrast with their migratory relations 
which are zealously hunted for the excellence of their flesh and are 
therefore amongst the wariest and moat wide-awake of the game 
birds. Saras rise off the ground heavily and with some effort, but 
when properly launched their flight is swift and powerful attained 
by seemingly slow rhythmical strokes of the great wings — neck 
extended, legs trailing behind. They have loud, sonorous, far- 
reaching trumpet-like calls uttered on the ground as well as in 
flight. During the breeding season, and sometimes also otherwise, 
the pair indulges in spectacular but somewhat ludicrous d a ncin g 
displays and capcrings — bowing to each other, spreading out 
their wings, and prancing and leaping wildly in the air. Their 
diet consists of grain, tubers, shoots and other vegetable matter 
as well as insects, molluscs, frogs, reptiles, and occasionally fish. 
Having the free run of the fields, they sometimes do considerable 
local damage with impunity to newly-sown groundnut and cereal 
crops. The near of the Saras is a huge mass of reeds, rushes and 
straw built on the ground in the middle of a flooded paddy field 
or on a grassy bund or islet in a swamp. The eggs, normally 2, are 
pale greenish- or pinkish- white in colour,, sometimes spotted and 
blotched with brown or purple. 

Two other grey cranes visit the Indian subcontinent in vast 
numbers during winter. The smaller of the two is the DemoUell* 
{ Antftropoidts virgo) — Hindi : K&rktoZ or Koarg — distinguished by its 
feathered head with glistening white ear-tufts, and black neck and 
breast. The other is the KuUtng or Common Crane (Gnu gnu) 
which has a naked black crown and a distinctive red patch across 

the nape. 

The Rails {family Rallidae) are skulking marsh-haunting bird* 
of small to moderate size, with stubby tails, rounded wings and 
longish bare legs and toes. A familiar examole is the Whitebreaated 
Walarhmi (Ammtrornis photmemu)— plate 7 .33— Hindi: J&l murght 
or Dot*. It is a common slaty grey stub-tailed, bare-legged marsh 



<\ 






COMMON BIRDS 31 

bard of the size of the Grey Partridge, with prominent white face 
and breast, and bright rusty red under the cocked-up tail. The 
Whitebreasted Waterhen is inseparable from the neighbourhood of 
water and usually met with singly or in pairs in or near rcedbeds 
and thickets on the edge of jheels and village ponds. In the monsoon, 
when ditches fill and rain-puddles form, it strays farther afield and 
may commonly be seen along roadside hedges and on the grassy 
shoulders of country roads. As it saunters along circumspectly, or 
skulks its way through the hedges and undergrowth, its stumpy 
erect tail is constantly jerked up, displaying prominently the red 
underneath. It is usually a shy bird and resents observation, betaking 
itself to cover on the least suspicion, but where unmolested soon 
becomes confiding, entering gardens and moving about on the lawns 
and along hedgerows with charming unconcern. Its food consists 
of insects, molluscs, worms and seeds and other vegetable matter. 
The bird is silent except in the rainy season when it is breeding. The 
males then become very pugnacious and noisy, clambering up 
into the top or centre of a leafy bush and giving vent to their loud 
unbirdlike calls and caterwauling. The calls begin with raucous 
grunts, croaks, and chuckles — a metallic krr-kwwaak'kwaak, krr- 
kwaak-kwaak, etc— suggestive of a bear in agony — and settle down 
to a monotonous kook-kook-kook and so on, rather like a Coppersmith 
barbct's but higher in key and faster in tempo. In the distance these 
calk are clearly mistakable for the 'pooking' of an oil-engined 
flour mill, now such an ubiquitous sign of modernity in our 
countryside t The calling is kept up for 15 minutes or more at a 
stretch and continues intermittently throughout the day, especially 
if cloudy, and all through the night. The nest of this waterhen is 
a shallow cup-shaped pad of twigs and creeper-stems placed on the 
ground in tangled growth, or a metre or two up in a thick bush near 
water. The eggs — 6 or 7 — are cream or pinkish white in colour, 
streaked and blotched with reddish brown. 

A handsome but rather clumsy member of the rail family is the 
Purple Moorhen {Porphyrio porphyrw)— plate 7.34 — Hindi: Kaim, 
Kharim or Kalim. It is about the size of a village hen, purplish blue 



-■ - COMMON BIRDS 

with long bare red legs and toes. The bald red forehead (frontal 
shield) continued hack from the short heavy red bill, and the 
white" patch under the stumpy tail* conspicuous when flicked up 
at each step, are leading clues to its identity. The bird is found 
gregariously among swampy reedbeds where scattered parties 
spend their time stalking or skulking in the reeds in search of food 
or clambering awkwardly up the stems in hand-over-hand fashion. 
They saunter over the floating weeds and lotus leaves, constantly 
flicking their tails in the characteristic rail manner. The birds run 
to cover when disturbed, but are averse to flying unless compelled. 
The flight appears laboured and feeble with the long ungainly 
red legs dangling behind, but they can travel quite fast when well 
under way. Their diet is mainly shoots of paddy and marsh plants 
and the birds are locally destructive to rice crops, more by trampling 
down the plants with .heir large feet than by the grain they actually 
eat. Insects and snails are also taken. They have a variety of hooting, 
cackling and harsh notes which may be heard at all times of the 
day — especially in cloudy weather — emanating from within their 
native reedbeds. The birds are particularly noisy during their 
breeding season when the male goes through a ludicrous courtship 
display, holding water weeds in his bill and lacing and bowing to 
his mate to the accompaniment of loud chuckles. The Purple 
Moorhen U not considered a 'game bird* by sophisticated sportsmen, 
but is highly prized as a delicacy by country folk and greatly per- 
secuted by local shikaris. The nest is a large pad of interwoven 
rushes or paddy leaves placed on matted water plants within flooded 
reedbeds. The normal clutch consists of 3 to 7 eggs, creamy to 
reddish buff in colour, blotched and spotted with reddish brown. 

Of our Bustards (family Otidioae), perhaps the most interesting 
and significant species is the Great Indian Bustard (Choriotis 
nigricepi) -plate 6.35 -r findi : TUqdSr or HShia. It is a large ground 
bird of about the size of a vulture, standing about one metre to the 
top of its head and weighing anything up to 15 kg. Its appearance 
is suggestive of a miniature ostrich, and the horizontal carriage 
of the body, at right angles to the stout bare legs, is characteristic. 






. 



COMMON B1XD3 S3 

The upper pluiaage is deep buff, finely vermicuiated with black; 
the underpants are white with a broad black gorget across the 
lower breast. The white neck, black crown, and a large whitish 
patch near the tip of the broad wings, conspicuous in flight, are 
other arresting features. The female is smaller. The TSgdSr is met 
with sporadically as a solitary bird or in twos and threes loosely 
together, but scattered droves of 25 to 30 have been recorded in 
the past. Its favourite haunts are open semi-desert plains and sparse 
grassland interspersed with light scrub jungle and cultivation. 
The bird is excessively shy and wary and can seldom be approached 
except by subterfuge such as in a harmless-looking bullock cart 
or on or behind a camel. Unfortunately the birds are also foolishly 
unsuspicious of poachers' jeeps which are very largely responsible 
for bringing about the near extinction of the species in recent 
years despite the statutory total ban on its killing The bustard is 
heavy in the take-off, but once air-borne flies strongly with steady 
rhythmical wing beats, never at any grcut height, but often sustained 
for several kilometres at a stretch. Its food consists principally of 
locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, grain and tender shoots of various 
crop plants. Lizards, small snakes and centipedes are also eaten. 
The usual alarm note is a bark or bellow, something like hook. The 
cock is polygynous and displays itruttingly before his harem, rather 
in the style of a turkey-cock, to the accompaniment of a deep moan- 
ing call. The single egg — rarely 2 — is laid in a shallow depression at 
the base of some bush in sparsely-scrubbed country. It is 
drab or pale olive-brown in colour, faintly blotched with deep 
brown. 















The Order CHARADRIIFORMES is a large and heterogeneous 
conglomeration of 13 families of water- or waterside birds, well 
represented on the Indian subcontinent by resident as well as migra- 
tory forms. One of these families is Jacanidae— Jacanas or 
Lilytrotters, of which we have two species. The Bronaewingcd 



COMMON BIRDS 



Jacana {Mttopidiut indicui) — pi.atf 7.36— is a leggy swamp bird as 
big as the Grey Partridge and something like a moorhen in general 
aspect. It has glossy black head, neck and breast, metallic greenish 
bronze back and wings, and chestnut-red stub tail. The broad 
white stripe from behind the eye to the nape is conspicuous and tell- 
tale even when the bird is partly hidden from view. Immature birds 
are chiefly whitish, rufous, and brown. The enormously elongated 
spidery toes are a feature of all jacanas and adapt them admirably 
for a life on vege tation -covered tanks and jheels, the spreading 
toes helping to distribute the weight and enabling the birds to trip 
lightly over the tangles of Boating leaves and stems in search of 
aquatic insects and molluscs, and the seeds and roots of water plants, 
and other vegetable matter that constitute their diet. Where un- 
molested the birds become tame and unafraid. They may commonly 
be seen on village tanks in unconcerned proximity to the chattering 
womenfolk trooping down with their water pots or of the dhobi 
noisily battering his washing on the accustomed stone. Both our 
species arc good divers and can also swim when occasion demands. 
But their flight is feeble, with rapidly beating wings, neck 
extended and the cumbrous feet dangling awkwardly behind. 
The call of the Bronzewinged Jacana is a shrill wheezing pipe 
stek-seek-seek etc., and the birds become particularly noisy and 
bellicose during the breeding season. They also utter a short 
harsh grunt. 

Our other common resident jacana is <ihe Pheasant-tailed 
Jacana {Hydrophositmus ckiwrgus) of similar habits and habitat, the 
two species being frequently found together on the same ponds. It is 
distinguished by its striking white and chocolate-brown coloration 
and long, pointed, sickle-shaped 'pheasant' tail. 

In both species the female is polyandrous. She mates with a male, 
Jays eggs and leaves them to be hatched, and Jhe young to be 
reared, entirely by him. She has several successive husbands in 
this way. The nest is a skimpy pad of twisted weed-stems, placed 
on floating singara or water hyacinth leaves. The eggs of the 
Bronzewinged — normally 4 — are a handsome bronze-brown in 
colour with an irregular network of blackish scrawls and squiggles; 



COMMON BIRDS 



55 



those of the Pheasant-tailed are glossy greenish bronze or rufous- 
brown, without any markings. 



Of the family Charadrhdae — Plovers, Sandpipers, etc. — many 
forms are resident and others visit us during winter mainly from 
northern lands. The Redwattled Lapwing (Vatttltus indicus)— 
plate 7.37— Hindi : TiUtri or TitUri, a the commonest and most 
familiar of our resident plovers. It is the size of the Grey Partridge, 
bronze-brown above, white below, with black breast, head and 
neck, and a crimson fleshy wattle in front of each eye. A broad white 
band from behind the eyes runs down the sides of the neck to meet 
the white under parts, Pairs or small scattered parties of 3 or 4 haunt 
the open country, ploughed fields and grazing grounds, usually damp 
and preferably with a pond or puddle nearby. They spend their 
time running about in short spurts, picking up titbits in the typical 
manner of plovers, bill pointed steeply to the ground, and are quite 
as active and wide-awake at night as during daytime. They main- 
tain an uncanny vigil and any suspicious intruder in their domains, 
whether man or carnivore, is greeted with frantic calls and agitated 
behaviour. The call is the all too well known Dui-yt-4o-it ? or Pity- 
to-do-it uttered placidly or frantically, just once or twice or repeated- 
ly, depending upon the occasion and the provocation. When the nest 
or young are threatened, the agitated parents fly around close 
overhead screaming hysterically and diving repeatedly at the intru- 
der, making as if to strike. The food consists of insects, grubs and 
molluscs. The normal flight is slow, attained by deliberate flaps 
of wings. The bird alights after a short distance, usually running 
a lew steps on touching down. The nest of the Redwattled Lapwing 
is merely an unlined depression or scrape in the ground, sometimes 
margined with pebbles. Drying-up beds of village tanks and 
sunbaked fallow fields are favoured sites. Some unusual sites have 
occasionally been reported such as the flat concrete roof of a 
bungalow and the stone metal between the rails on a regularly used 
railway siding. The eggs — normally 3 or 4 — are some shade of 
grey-brown, blotched with blackish. They, as well as the newly 
hatched downy chicks, are perfect examples of natural camouflage 



56 



COMMON BIRDS 



and can be completely invisible even when almost under the 
observer's nose. 

The Common Saadpiper {Tringa h y poUucos)-rLATE7.M-is 
one of the large group of bare-legged, slender-billed marsh and 
waterside birds collectively known as 'snippets' in popular language. 
It is about the size of a quail, greyish olive-brown above, white 
below, with the sides of the breast pale dusky and a few dark streaks 
on the foreneck. In flight the brawn rump and W,tail (excepting 
only the white outer feathers), and a white wing-bar distinguish 
it from the equally common Wood Sandpiper. The Common 
Sandpiper is one of our earliest immigrants and among the last 
to leave for its northern breeding grounds, the nearest of which 
he m Kashmir and Garhwal. Some non-breeding individuals stay 
behind in the plains all the year. Unlike the Wood Sandpiper this 
species seldom collects in flocks. Single birds are usually seen run- 
ning about tirelessly at the water's edge, wagging the tail end 
of the body violently and 'pumping' the head and neck from time 
to time. When disturbed it flies off with characteristic stiff rapidly 
vibrating wing strokes close over the water, uttering a shrill piping 
tee-Ue-Ue. A pretty, long-drawn piping song, wheeit wheeit repeated 
several times, is commonly heard when the bird is completely 
at ease. Individuals are very parochial, keeping to the same 
feeding territory day after day. The diet, like that of other sand- 
pipers, consists of insects, worms, tiny molluscs, etc., picked up at 
the water s edge. The nest is a slight depression lined with leaves, 
on a slung ebank or islet in a swirling stream. The eggs-normally 
«— are yellowish buff or stone colour, blotched and speckled with 
reddish brown. 

The Wood or Spotted Sandpiper (Tringa glareoUx), also a 
common winter visitor from as far north as Siberia, is more gre- 
garious and readily distinguished in flight by its white rump and 
white tail, and by the shrill chiff-chiff-ehiff-chiff it utters when flying 



off. 












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100 150 t*4 



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COMMON BIRDS 



57 



The little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)- plate 7.39 — 
Hindi : ^ima or Merwa, is slightly smaller than the quail. It is a 
typical plover, sandy brown above, white below, with thick round 
head, bare slender legs, and short, stout pigeon-like bill. It has 
a white forehead and black forecrown, ear-coverts, and round 
the eyes, and a complete black band round the neck, separating 
the white hindcollar from the brown back. Absence of a white 
wing- bar in flight distinguishes it from the confusingly similar 
Kendall Plover (C. aUxandrimu) . The birds keep in pairs or small 
scattered flocks on damp tank margins, river banks, and tidal 
mudflats. They run along the ground in spurts with short quick 
mincing steps, stopping abruptly every now and again to pick up 
some titbit with the peculiar steeply tilting movement characteristic 
of the plovers. They have a curious habit, when feeding on soft mud, 
of drumming with their toes in a rapid vibratory motion in order 
to dislodge insects, sand hoppers and liny crab* lurking in burrows 
and unevennesses. These constitute their normal food. In their 
normal environment, their coloration blends with the surroundings 
in a remarkable way, making the birds difficult to spot so long as 
they remain motionless. Although these little plovers keep scattered 
while feeding, yet no sooner does one take alarm and rise than the 
rest will promptly follow suit, all flying off in a compact body 
at great speed, turning, twisting, and banking together, their white 
undersides flashing in unison from time to time. The flight, attained 
by rapid strokes of the pointed wings, is swift but seldom more 
than 4 or 5 metres above the ground. The eggs — almost invariably 
4 — are laid among the shingle on dry sandbanks in a river-bed. 
They are of the typical peg-top shape of plovers' eggs, huffish 
stone to greenish grey in colour with scrawls and spots of dark 
brown and purplish. They harmonize perfectly with their surround- 
ings and are difficult to spot even when their position has been 
carefully marked down from a distance. 

The family Burhinidae is represented by the Stone Curlew 
or Goggle-eyed Plover (Burhinus oedictumus)- plate 8.40 —Hindi : 
KarwSn&k or B&rsiri. It is a brown-streaked plover-like ground 



58 



COMMON BOU» 



COMMON BODS 



bird, larger and more leggy than the Grey Partridge, with thick 
round head, bare yellow 'thick-kneed* legs, and large yellow 
'goggle' eyes. In flight two narrow white bars on the upper tide of 
the wing and a broad white patch near the tips of the black primaries 
give leading clues to its identity. The Stone Curlew frequents open 
scrub-and-bush country, ploughed and fallow land, and dry shingle 
beds in rivers. It is occasionally found in light deciduous jungle 
and shady mango groves in the neighbourhood of villages. Fairs 
or parties of 4 or 5 are the rule. As the large eyes suggest, the bird 
is chiefly crepuscular and nocturnal, and sluggish during daytime. 
When suspicious or alarmed, it scuttles away surreptitiously with 
short quick steps, head ducked and neck craned horixontalry in 
line with the body. The bird then squats and freezes at the foot 
of a bush or stone, body pressed to the ground, neck resting extended 
in front, and the staring eye following the movements of the intruder. 
In this position its coloration and contours blend with the sur- 
roundings in an astonishing way, and render the bird completely 
invisible even at short range. Its food consists mainly of insects, 
worms, slugs, small reptiles, etc., with which a quantity of grit is 
commonly swallowed. The call of the stone curlew, normally heard 
at dusk and dawn, and also throughout moonlit nights, is a series of 
sharp clear whistling screams pick, pick, put, pick. . , pick-wick, pkk-wkk, 
pick-wick (accent on the second syllabic). Although the calls them- 
selves are familiar to many, they are seldom recognized as pro- 
duced by this species. The nest is a simple scrape at the base of 
a bush or grass-tussock on stony ground, in a dry river bed, mango 
grove or open scrub country. The eggs— usually 2— are pale buff 
to olive-green in colour, boldly blotched with brownish or purplish 
and, like their layer, remarkably obliterative in their stony en- 
vironment. 

In keeping with our extensive coastline, the family Lajudae— 
Gulls and Terns— is well represented by resident as well as migra- 
tory forms. 

Gulls differ from terns superficially in being rather heavier-built 
with broader and less pointed wings. One of our commonest species 



5* 



is the sTriwfhiailirl Gqll {Larus bmrmkiphdus)— plate K 41 — 
Hindi : Dhtmra. It is slightly larger than the Jungle Crow, grey 
above white below, with a dark coffee-brown head in summer. 
In winter, whilst with us, the head a greyish white, sometimes 
with a crescent-shaped vertical black mark behind the ear. It 
may be distinguished from the equally common but somewhat 
smaller BlafBrtwiarlad G*ll (L. ridibmdus) by the prominent white 
patch or *mirror' near the tip of the black first primary quill; in 
the Blackheaded species the first wing quill is white with black 
edges and tip. Young birds of both species have a black bar near 
the tip of the white tail. Both are often found together on the 
seacoast; less commonly inland. These gulls arrive in India in 
September-October to spend the winter on our coasts and inland 
waters, and are mostly gone again by the end of April, They fre- 
quent harbours, docks and coastal fishing villages, flying around 
ships at anchor and escorting outgoing and incoming vessels for 
the sake of the kitchen scraps and garbage thrown overboard. 
Their food here consists chiefly of this and of dead fish cast out by 
fishing boats for which they have to compete with the Pariah and 
Brahminy Kites. The birds swoop down to the water and pick up 
the floating titbits with their bills, often alighting on the surface 
alongside and riding the wavelets buoyantly like ducks. In inland 
localities they also eat insects, grubs and some vegetable matter. 
The Brownheaded Gull has a number of loud raucous calls, the 
one most commonly heard being a querulous scream kttah, rather 
like a raven's. 

Within Indian limits this gull breeds only on high-altitude 
lakes in Ladakh. It nests in colonies laying its eggs on simple pads 
of water-weeds scraped together on semi-floating grassy islets in 
bogs. The full clutch consists of 2 or 5 eggs, variably coloured 
greenish white to creamy buff, with large blotches and spots and 
squiggly lines of dark or reddish brown. 



A good example of terns is the Indian Whickered Tan 

(ftftJMmMr hyinda)- plate 8.42 -Hindi ; Tehiri, Koorri (all terns), a 
slender graceful silvery grey and white bird about the site of a 






50 COMMON BIRDS 

pigeon, but considerably slimmer. It belongs to the gr->«P ^T™ 3 * 
'marsh terns', characterized by a tail which is only ilightly forked 
(almost square-cut). The bill is red or blackish red, and when at rest 
the tips of the closed wings project beyond the tail. In summer dress 
(breeding) both sexes don a black cap, and the belly also becomes 
conspicuously black. The Whiskered Tern is usually^seen over 
marshland, inundated paddy fields or coastal mudflats pf^ 
and forth airily and elegantly on its long narrow wings, bill and 
eve intently directed below as it scans the water or mud for ■ m 
prey. From time to time the bird swoops down ata tangent to whisk 
off a sand crab or insect or tadpole or small fish from the surface. 
Off shore, the birds attend on the fishing boats returning with 
the catch for any sprats and fingerlings that may be cast over- 
board. Though possessing webbed feet and capable of swimming, 
terns Hardly ever alight on the water as gulls do. They spend most 
of their time in die air or resting on the shore on their ridiculously 
short legs. The calls, uttered in flight, are a sharp harsh croak, 
week rcniiniscent in the distance of the harsh churring notes of a 

shrike. . ,, . 

Another common tern is the River Tot {Stoma amanUa) which 
keeps more to rivers than to marshes. It is also grey and white 
with a brown-speckled cap but somewhat larger, with a ytiiow 
bill and longer more deeply forked swallow tail. In breeding 
dress the cap turns jet black but the underparts remain white. 

The Whiskered Tern breeds in northern India including Kashmir. 
The nest is a skimpy circular pad of reeds and rushes placed on 
half-submerged floating tangles of tingara and similar plants in a 
lake or swamp. The normal clutch is of 2 or 3 eggs, variable in 
colour from greenish to bluish or even brownish. They are spotted, 
blotched and streaked with dark brown or purplish brown. 



i 









The Order COLUMBIFORMES is represented in our area by 
the Sandgrouse (family Pteroclidas), and the Pigeons and 



COMMON BIRDS 



61 



Doves (Golumbidae}. Both the families include many species that 
are highly prized as sporting birds and for the table. They are 
characterized, among other things, by their method of drinking 
water which consists, not like the domestic hen of dipping the bill 
to suck and raising the head to swallow, but like a horse— a contin- 
uous uninterrupted sucking with the bill kept immersed. Sand- 
grouse are superficially pigeon-like birds, with a dense, cryptical- 
ly coloured brownish plumage. They have short necks, very short 
legs, and tapering tails with elongated pin-pointed central feathers 
in many species. They inhabit open semi-desert areas and fallow 
cultivation in flocks, often of considerable size, and have the well- 
known habit of resorting to favourite drinking places at fixed hours. 
The Common Sandgrouae (PttrocUs exustus)- plate 8.4 J -Hindi : 
Bhat tutor, is a typical example. It is somewhat smaller than a pip^on, 
yellowish sandy brown and pin-tailed, with a narrow tkek band 
across the breast and brownish black belly. The cJ-ccka, 
throat are dull yellow. The female is streaked, spt-> -d «i*d Darred 
all over excepting the chin. She also has the black band across the 
breast. In overhead flight the pointed wings and tail, and the 
characteristic double call note then uttered, proclaim its identity. 
The birds keep in flocks of a dozen or more on dry fallow land. 
Their general coloration is remarkably obliterative, rendering the 
squatting birds completely invisible on the bare ground they 
frequent. Though often keeping at considerable distance from water, 
the flocks flight regularly to quench their thirst in the morning 
and evening, converging on a favourite jheel or tank at the appointed 
hour from every direction. The birds give excellent sport with the 
gun as they fly to and from t!ieir drinking places. The flight it 
strong and very swift, accompanied by the distinctive penetrating 
double note kut-ro clearly heard as the birds pass overhead, 
often long before they actually come into view. The food of 
•■ndgrouse consists of grass- and weed-seeds, grain and shoots 
glranrd on ihe ground, along with which a great deal of grit is 
•wallowed. They lay their eggs on the bare soil, sometimei in a 
shallow unlincd scrape. The normal clutch is of 3 eggs, pale greyish 
or yellowish stone in colour, spattered with numerous specks and 






62 



COMMON BIRDS 



spots of brown. The chicks are covered with protectively coloured 
down and are able to run about as soon as hatched. The male 
parent conveys water to them by soaking his belly feathers while 
wading in to drink, with which he subsequently iuckles the chicki. 
Just as in the case of duck and teal, there is no real difference 
between pigeons and dovet; pigeons are merely large doves, and 
doves are small pigeons. There is one group of pigeons that is 
entirely frugivorous and to it belong the green pigeons known in 
Hindi as Htoi&l. Of the many species found in the subcontinent, the 
commonest is the Common Green Pigeon (Trerm phoenicopttra)— 
plate 9.44 It is a stocky bird of the size of the domestic blue pigeon, 
yellow, olive-green and ashy grey, with a lilac patch on the wing- 
.houldcrs— less pronounced in the female— and a conspicuous 
vellow bar across the blackish wings. Tbeytllow (not red) legs dis- 
tinguish this species from all other Indian green pigeons. It is met 
with in flocks in open wooded country as well as forest, and is 
commonly found in the vicinity of towns and villages, even entering 
city gardens where there are suitable fruiting trees to attract it. 
It is gregarious and almost exclusively arboreal, only rarely des- 
cending to the ground. The birds clamber deftly among the fruit- 
laden twigs, often clinging upside down and lunging out in that 
position to pluck a banyan or peepal fig just out of reach. When 
.uspicious of danger, they 'freeze', and so perfectly does their plum- 
age blend with the surrounding green leaves that in spite of their 
large sis* they become completely invisible until some slight move- 
ment here and another there gives them away. The unsuspected 
numbers that will flutter out of a large fig-laden banyan tree when a 
gun is fired is often quite bewildering. The flocks spend the day doing 
the rounds of fruiting trees, resting on the topmost branches between 
the intervals of gorging. The birds are regularly seen sunning them- 
selves with fluffed-out plumage on the tops of leaflras trees in the 
early mornings and at sunset. Their flight is swift, strong and 
direct, and attended by a peculiar metallic clapping of the wings. 
Green pigeons live almost entirely on fruit, the various species of 
wild fig (Fiats) forming the bulk. They have very pleasant soft and 
mellow whistling calls ranging up and down the scale and with 



COMMON BADS &} 

a peculiar human quality. The nest is a skimpy platform of twigs 
like a dove's, concealed in the foliage of modcrate-sixed trees. 
Characteristically of the pigeon family, the eggs invariably number 
2 and are white and glossy. 

The Blue Rods Pigeon (Catumfat twia)- plate 9.45 —Hindi: 
jrdAgiir, is our well-known slaty grey bird with glistening metallic 
green, purple and magenta sheen on the neck and upper breast, 
two dark bars on the wings, and a broader one across the end of 
the tail. It ranks with the crow and the house sparrow as one of 
our most fa m ili ar birds. The wild form, which is the ancestor of 
all our divergent fancy domestic breeds, affects open country with 
clins and rocky hills and avoids heavy forest. In most localities, 
however, it has freely interbred with domestic stock and dege- 
nerated into a confirmed commensal of man. Almost every Indian 
town has its resident pigeon population. The birds become 
thoroughly inured to the din and bustle of the most congested 
bazars and lead a life of pampered indolence, roosting and nesting 
on or within the buildings. Warehouse and factory sheds, mosques, 
and railway stations and goods yards are particularly favoured 
haunts, and here they become an unmitigated nuisance for the 
filthy mess they make. In the wild state colonies of pigeons are 
commonly found occupying holes in shafts of old wells, crumbling 
buildings, ancient hill forts, and ledges and fissures of rock scarps 
whence they flight back and forth to glean in newly-sown or harvest- 
ed fields of cereals, pulses and groundnuts. The call notes are 
well known: a deep gootngoo, gootr-goo by the male with puffed-out 
throat, usually as he bows to his mate and slowly turns round and 
round in front of her. The nest is a sketchy pad of twigs and straw. 
The eggs, as typical of the family, are 2 in number and unmarked 
white. 









The Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chintttsis)-* plate 9,46 (top)— 
Hindi : Chhokaf&kkta or Ptrki, is between the myna and the pigeon 
in lite. It is a small slim pigeon with conspicuous white-spotted 
pinkish brown and grey upperparts, with a white-speckled black 



64 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



65 



'chessboard* on the hindneck. It is met with in pairs and small 
parties in openly wooded, well-watered country and cultivation, 
gleaning on dusty paths and in stubble fields, etc. Where unmolest- 
ed, the birds become very tame, entering gardens and even nesting 
on rafters of bungalow verandahs, unperturbed by the comings and 
of the inmates. Its call is an oft-repeated pleasant though 
mournful kroo-krvk-krU-kfoe , , ,krt»>-kroo-kroo, the number of 



goings 
rather 



to 6. The nest is of the customary type— a 



kroos varying from 3 
sketchy and flimsy pad of a few thin twigs in a shrub, or on a Jedge 
or cornice in a bungalow. The usual 2 white eggs form the clutch. 
Another dove, slightly larger than a myna, is the Red Turtle 
D*v* (Strtptoptlia tT<wpuharka)-PLW v 46 a -(bottom)— Hindi : Serin 
flkhia Girwi/akka or Itwa. The female differs from the male (illus- 
trated) in having the mantle pale brownish grey instead of bright 
pinkish brick-red. She looks a smaller edition of the Ring Dove 
(Hindi : Dhor/Vkkta). The Red Turtle Dove is met with m small 
numbers in open cultivated country, also in semi-desert. Though 
not uncommon, it is perhaps the least abundant of the doves m our 
countryside and, unlike the other species, is seldom found m close 
association with man. Its call is a somewhat harsh rolling gr&o-g in- 
gpe ^^firr-^w-^uickly repeated several times. Its nest is the 
usual sketchy dove platform or pad of twigs, built m a branch 3 
to 6 metres above the ground. The normal clutch of 2 white eggs 
can usually be seen through the flimsy fabric of the nest from below. 

The Order PSITTAGIFORMES contains a single family, 
PsiTTACiDAE-Parrots. These birds are characterized by short, stout 
and strongly hooked bills, short legs, and climbing or zygodactyl 
feet Li. with two toes pointing in front and two behind rhey 
are all predominantly green plumaged ornamental birds, but highly 
destructive to crops and orchard fruit and possessing few redeeming 
qualities from the economic point of view. Our commonest species 
i s thcRoaerlngedPai-akeet (PsiUamtakmnvri)- PLATE 9.47 -Hindi : 









TsiU or Lybdr fa/a, slightly larger than a myna and with a long 
pointed tail. It is a grass-green parakeet with the typical short 
stout deeply hooked red bill, and a black-and-rosepink collar. 
The female lacks the collar, but otherwise is like the male. The 
Roseringed Parakeet also ranks with the crow, sparrow, myna 
and pigeon amongst our commonest and most familiar birds. 
It bands itself into very large flocks or rabbles in cultivated and 
urban areas where food is plentiful, and is a serious pest to the 
farmer and fruit-grower causing enormous depredations to his 
standing crops and ripening orchard fruit, gnawing at and wasting 
far more than it actually eats. It is a common sight at roadside 
railway stations to see swarms of parakeets clinging to sacks of 
grain and groundnuts awaiting transport, calmly b-ting into 
them and helping themselves to the contents. The parakeets have 
common roosts in groves of trees often within the precincts of noisy 
cities, to which battalion after battalion flies noisily every evening 
from long distances after marauding on the surrounding country- 
side. Then familiar sharp screaming calls ktiM,' ke*ak t kttak, 
■ arc uttered both while at rest and on the wingrnrhis species as 
well as the Large Parakeet, known a* Rsi tdta or Hiram&n tola, is a 
popular cage bird and can be taught to repeat a few words and 
sentences rather indistinctly, and to perform various table- top 
tricks such as muzzle-loading with gunpowder and firing off a toy 
cannon. The eggs — 4 to 6, pure white roundish ovals — are laid 
in old barbet- or woodpecker holes or in holes in cliffs or walls of 
inhabited houses, several pairs often nesting colonially. The 
Large Indian or Alexandrine Parakeet (Psiltacula eupatria) is 
distinguished by its larger size, more massive bill, and a conspicu- 
ous maroon patch on the shoulder of the male. The female lacks the 
maroon patch as well as the black-and-pink collar. It is found in 
more wooded, less urban localities. Large numbers of nestlings 
©f both species are brought for sale in bird markets. 



£ 



66 



COMMON BIRDS 



The Order CUCULIFORMES include* the cuckoos, which have 
& practically worldwide distribution, Many of the Old World 
species are notorious for their habit of brood parasitism, i.e. laying 
their eggs in the nests of other birds and foisting on them the res- 
ponsibility of hatching them and rearing the young. Classical 
of the parasitic cuckoos is the European Cuckoo (Cuculus canons) 
which extends into Kashmir and the western Himalayas and has 
a resident race in Assam. But the commonest example of this group 
in the subcontinent is the Koal (Eudynamys sccUpacea)- plate 10.48- 
Hindi : Koel or Kdkila . It is about the size of a crow but slenderer 
and with a longer tail. The male is glistening metallic black all 
over, with a striking yellowish green bill and crimson or blood-red 
eves' The female is brown, spotted and barred with white. The 
Koel, though actually a very common and widespread bird of 
gardens and groves, is perhaps better known by its voice than by 
its appearance. It is entirely arboreal and never descends to the 
ground. During winter it is silent and thus often overlooked and 
presumed to have migrated. But with the approach of summer 
and its breeding time, it regains its voice and becomes extremely 
noisy. In the hot season the loud, shrill, crescendo calls of the male — 
laio^kwHt-faM — resound in the countryside throughout the day 
and far into the night. They begin with a low kuoo and rise higher 
and higher in scale with each successive kUoo until, at the seventh 
or eighth, they reach a frantic pitch and break offabrupdy. The 
bird soon commences it all over again, and so on and on ad nauseam. 
The Koel's 'song' has been much lauded in romantic Hindi poetry 
and song, and in small doses it is indeed quite pleasant to hear. 
But it is apt to become monotonous and even nerve-racking by its 
incessant shrieking repetition, and it is not without reason that 
the bird is sometimes miscalled the Brainfcver Bird which is in 
reality the Hawk-Cuckoo or P&petha. The female Koel has no song. 
She only utters a shrill kik-kik-kik as she dashes from tree to tree 
or hops among the branches. The food consists chiefly of banyan 
and pcepal figs, various berries, and hairy caterpillars. The laying 
season corresponds with that of its normal hosts the House and 
Jungle Crows. Like other parasitic cuckoos the Koel builds no nest 



COMMON BIRD* 



«T 



of its own but deposits its eggs in crows 1 nests leaving them to be 
hatched, and the young to be reared, by the foster parents. The 
eggs, which may be distributed over several crows* nests, are pale 
greyish green, speckled and blotched with reddish brown. They 
closely resemble crows' eggs but are smaller. 

An example of the so-called non-parasitic cuckoos, i.e. those 
that build nests and take care of their own family affairs, is the 
Crow-Pheasant or Concal (Centropus sinensis )-pi ATE 10.49— Hindi : 
M&hdkB or A BAa, about the size of a Jungle Crow. It is a clumsy but 
strikingly coloured bird, glossy black with chestnut wings and long, 
broad, graduated black tail. The Crow-Pheasant is a dweller 
of open scrub country abounding in bushes and small trees, and 
interspersed with patches of tall grass land and cultivation, It it 
often found in the neighbourhood of human habitation and freely 
enters gardens. It is largely a terrestrial or ground-living species 
and spends its time walking about purposively through the under- 
growth in search of food, tail almost trailing on the ground and 
wings frequently snapped open and shut to stampede lurking 
insects. In its quest the bird also clambers among the bushes and 
hops with agility from branch to branch in trees. Its call is a deep 
resonant ook repeated at slow but regular intervals, especially during 
the hot weather, and can be heard a long way off. A variant of this 
call is a quick-repeated rather musical cwp-coop-coop-ewp in runs of 
6 or 7 and up to 20, repeated at the rate of 2 or 3 coops per second. 
The calling is promptly joined in by another bird in the distance 
and then continued as an irregular duet. The bird also produces 
a medley of harsh croaks and gurgling chuckles, some distinctly 
weird. In the breeding season the male goes through a fantastic 
display before his mare, fanning and cocking his tail over the back 
and strutting in front of her with wings drooping. The crcrw- 
pheasant's flight is feeble and laboured, and only for short dis- 
U(mt* Its food consists of grasshoppers and other large insects and 
• a t#r pillars, field mice, lizards, small snakes, etc. The bird is high- 
ly d#«1rw tive to the eggs and nestlings of small birds and hunts 
for (firm mrihodically on the ground and amongst shrubbery. The 
ttrsh **T the Coucal is much esteemed by quacks as a remedy for 



m 



COMMON BIRDS 



various bronchial ailments. The bird belongs to the group of non- 
parasitic cuckoos and, unlike the Koel, raises its own family. The 
nest is a large untidy globular mass of leaves and twigs with a side 
entrance, placed fairly low down in a thorny tree. The eggs — 3 or 
4 — are white, unmarked and with a chalky surface. 

• 

The Order STRIGIFORMES— Owls— is represented by two 
families namely Tytoninae (Barn Owl) and Strioidae {True 
Owls). The former is characterized by its pinched monkey-like 
facial disc as typified by our familiar Barn Owl ( Tyto alba) of almost 
worldwide distribution. The True Owls have large round heads 
and large round forwardly directed staring eyes. Some species 
possess erectile horn-like feather-tufts above the eyes. One of our 
commonest species is the Spotted Owlet (Athent brama)- plate 10, 
SO Hindi i Khus&tiia or Chughad, about the size of a myna but plum- 
per. It is a squat, white-spotted greyish brown little owl with typical 
large round head and forwardly directed unblinking eyes. It frequ- 
ents open plains and foothills country, and is usually abundant 
and thoroughly at home in the midst of human habitations. Ancient 
mango, banyan and suchlike trees with holes and fissures usually 
harbour a pair or two, and one has but to tap on the trunk to bring 
forth an enquiring little face to the entrance, or to dislodge a pair 
sitting huddled together on some secluded bough. The birds fly out 
fussily to a neighbouring branch whence they bob and stare un- 
blinkingly at the intruder in clownish fashion, sometimes screwing 
the head completely round in the process. They are largely crepus- 
cular and nocturnal, hiding during daytime and issuing forth at 
dusk. They may be seen in the twilight perched bn fence posts, 
telegraph wires and the like, pouncing from time to time on beetles 
and grasshoppers crawling on the ground, or flying across noiseless- 
ly from one vantage point to another. Occasionally a bird will 
launch ungainly aerial sallies after winged termites as they emerge 
from the rain-sodden ground, or after beetles round a street lamp, 



COMMON BIRDS 



69 



seizing the insects in its claws, returning to the perch and tearing 
them to shreds by raising the foot to the bill like a parakeet. Some- 
times a bird will hover clumsily like a kestrel to espy creeping prey. 
The food consists mainly of beetles and other insects, but lizards 
and baby mice and birds are also taken. These owlets are noisy birds 
and have a variety of harsh chattering squabbling, and chuckling 
notes, two individuals frequently combining in a discordant duet. 
The eggs, 3 or 4, are laid in hollows or holes in buildings — ruined 
or in occupation — sparsely lined with grass, feathers, etc. They are 
white roundish ovals. 

The other commonly seen owl is the Great Horned Owl (Bubo 
Mo)- piate 10,51-Hindi : GhUgkQ. This is about the size of a Pariah 
Kite but more robust. It is a large heavy dark brown owl streaked 
and mottled with tawny buff and black, with two conspicuous 
black ear- tufts or 'horns' above the head. It can be easily confused 
with the Brown Fish Owl {Bubo ztylonensis) but is less rufous and 
more yellow-brown generally. Moreover its legs are fully ft&ihtrtd 
and not bare as in the Fish Owl. The bird spends the day resting on 
the ground under shelter of a bush, or on some shady rocky projec- 
tion in a ravine or river bank. It is by no means so completely 
crepuscular and nocturnal as the Fish Owl and. may frequently be 
seen on the move during daytime. Normally the birds e mer g e from 
their daytime retreat at sunset with a deep, solemn, resounding call 
Bu-bo (the second syllable much prolonged). This is not particularly 
loud but has a peculiar penetrating and far-reaching quality. They 
may then be seen perched on the top of some boulder or other 
exposed eminence whence they glide off effortlessly, sometimes for 
peat distances, to their accustomed hunting grounds. In addition 
to the normal call they have a variety of weird growls and hisses 
expressive of excitement or emotion. The food of the Horned Owl 
ciwwits mainly of small mamma h, birds, lizards and other reptile* — 
also large insects and occasionally even fish and crabs. In agricul- 
tural arras field rats and mice form a considerable proportion of the 
HM. By maintaining a constant check on these fecund and destruc- 
tive vermin, they are of very great economic value to man and deirnr- 



70 



COMMON BIRDS 



ing of the strictest protection. The eggs— 3 or 4 — are Uid without 
any nest on bare soil in natural recesses in earth banks, or in niches 
and on ledges of rock cliffs. Like all owls' eggs, they are roundish 
ovals creamy white in colour. 

_ 

Of the two families which represent the Order CAPRIMULGI- 
FORMES in the Indian subcontinent, the one that chiefly concerns 
us is that of the Nightjars (Caprimulqtdae). The Nightjars, or so- 
called 'Goat-suckers', are crepuscular or nocturnal birds with soft, 
concealing coloured plumage as in owls, very short and weak legs, 
and excessively wide gapes for catching flying insects on the wing 
in poor light. Stiff bristly feathers projecting from the gape further 
help to enlarge the catchment area. Several specks of nightjars are 
found of which perhaps the commonest and most generally distri- 
buted is the lnd*w Nightjar (Caprimulgus asiaticus)— plate 10.52— 
Hindi Chhip&k or DM chin. It is about the size of a myna, soft-plum- 
aged grey, brown, buff and fulvous, mottled and black-streaked, 
producing a complicated camouflaging pattern. White patches on 
its wings are conspicuous in flight. It is seen singly crouching on 
the ground in scrub country by day, hawking insects in the air at 
dusk or squatting on kutcha earth roads. Its food consists entirely of 
insects — beetles, moths, etc, — which are caputred on the wing with 
the aid of the enormous gape. The flight of nightjars is peculiarly 
silent, moth-Hkf and wandering, but the birds can turn and twist 
in the air in pursuit of prey, or to avoid obstacles, with am a z i n g 
agility — now circling, now napping, now sailing. When squatting 
on roads their large eyes gleam like rubies in the headlights of an 
oncoming car, and the birds are adept at dodging clear when with- 
in an ace of being run over. The call of this species is the familiar 
ehvk-ckuk-cfotk-tfmk-r-r-Tt well likened to the sound of a stone glid- 
ing over a frozen pond. It is uttered after dusk and all through the 
night, from the ground or from the top of a tree-stump or mound. 
Two birds some distance apart will frequently engage in a duet, 
answering each other for considerable periods. The birds are noisy 



COMMON BIRDS 



71 



in the breeding season, particularly during moonlit nights. No nest 
is made, the eggs— usually 2— being laid on the bare soil in thin 
bush jungle. They are long cylindrical ovals, pale pink to deep 
salmon in colour, spotted and blotched with reddish brown and 
inky purple. , 






The Order APODIFORMES includes the Swifts— slender stream- 
lined birds with long, narrow, bow-shaped wings especially adapted 
for extreme speed of flight. The birds spend most of the daylight 
hours on the wing, dashing about hawking their insect prey — 
midges, tiny bugs and beetles— with the aid of their capacious 
gapes. They have very short legs with all the four toes directed 
forward, precluding the possibility of their perching, for example, 
on telegraph wires, like swallows. They can only cling to vertical or 
inclined surfaces with their needle-sharp hooked claws. The most 
familiar representative of the family Apodidae (True Swifts) is our 
House Swift (Afius affinis)- plate 1 1.53 (bottom)— Hindi : Mil or 
B&tclsi, It is somewhat smaller than a sparrow, smoky black with 
white throat, white rump, short square tail and long, narrow point- 
ed wings. The bird keeps in the neighbourhood of ancient forts, 
ruined mosques and buildings as well as occupied dwelling houses. 
Parties are seen flying about gregariously all day long, hawking tiny 
winged insects and uttering. their merry twittering screams. The long 
streamlined wings enable swifts to fly almost incessantly at great 
speed. Large disorderly rabbles may commonly be seen in the even- 
ings wheeling around, or 'balling', high up in the air uttering their 
■hrill, joyous twittering cries, and quite obviously enjoying thero- 
trlves. The birds build in clustered colonics plastering their nests 
hrlirr-ikelter along the angle of the wall and ceiling in buildings, 
■ml under arches and gateways, even in the heart of ' ongestrd 
hasart. rhe nests are round untidy cups made entirely of straw 
Mini, etc- cemented together with the birds* saliva. The entrance 
linir may be merely a slit between the wall and the nest. The 
«"tl»— 2 to A— are pure white elongated ovals. The same colonies 



72 



COMMON 8rRD5 



or 'villages* are occupied year after year if left unmolested, the 
sites becoming traditional. 

The Order CORACIIFORMES is represented by the families 
Alcedinida* (Kingfishers), Meropidae (Bee-eaters), Corachdae 
(Rollers), and Bucerotidae (Hornbills). 

The Small Blue Kingfiaker (AUeda atffci) -plate 1 1.54-Hindi : 
ChhotS kUkiln or Shtouf&n is slightly larger than a sparrow. It isa 
dapper little blue and green kingfisher with deep rust-coloured 
underparts, short stumpy tail, and long straight pointed bill. It is 
usually seen singly by stream, tank or puddle, perched on a low 
overhanging branch or flying swiftly close over the water. Rarely 
it also ventures out on rocky seashores. 

As it sits on a low branch over water, the bird constantly bobs its 
head up and down, turning it this way and that, and jerking up its 
stub tail to the accompaniment of a subdued click. All the while it is 
intendy scanning the water below for any fish or tadpole that may 
come up near the surface. On sighting the quarry it drops on it with 
a splash, bill foremost, going under but presently reappearing with 
it held crosswise between the mandibles, and dashes off to a nearby 
perch where the victim is battered to death and swallowed. Oc- 
casionally it also hovers over the water and plunges after prey m the 
spectacular manner which is such a speciality of the Pied King- 
fisher. A sharp ckkkt*-chkh*« is uttered as the bird dashes at top 
speed low over the surface from one corner of its beat to another. 
Besides small fish and tadpoles, it eats water beedes and their larvae 
and other aquatic insects. Its favourite nesting sites are earthen 
banks of streams, tanks and ditches, into which are burrowed 
horizontal tunnels up to a metre or more in length, ending ma 
widened egg chamber. This is unlined but usually littered with the 
smelly remains of cast-up fish bones and beede elytra. The normal 
clutch consists of 5 to 7 eggs-pure white roundish ovals with a 

AdOthar, perhaps commoner and more familiar, blue kingfisher 



COMMON BIRDS U 

i* the Wbitefareaated Kingfisher {Halcyon smyrnr-:h) which is less 
dependent for its sustenance or water than most species, r*ce ithas 
switched over largely to a diet of terrestrial insects. It It about the 
sire of a myna, brilliant turquoise blue above, with deep chocolate- 
brown head, neck and underparts. A conspicuous v. lute 'shirt front*, 
and the long, heavy, pointed red bill confirm its identity. A large 
white patch en the black wings shows up in flight. 

The Pi«d Kingfisher {CayU rwfi*)-PLA re II. 55 -Hindi: JToryB/8 
yilkila or K&ronu is a bird that is not easy to overlook. In size it is 
between a myna and a pigeon, of speckled and barred black-and- 
white plumage with the typical stout dagger-shaped kingfisher bill. 
The male is similar to the female (illustrated) but has a gorget 
of two, more or less complete black bands instead of a single one 
tlighily broken in the middle. Single birds or pairs frequent rivers, 
jjheeli, village tanks, backwaters and tidal creeks perching on a 
favourite stake or rock, nicking up the tail and bobbing and turning 
the head from lime to time* Its sharp, cheery notes chtrruk> ehimtk 
uttered on the wing are unmistakable when once heard. The most 
characteristic thing about the Pied Kingfisher, however, is its specta- 
cular mode of hunting. Flying over the water, its attention is un- 
ceasingly directed below for any small fish that may venture near 
the surface. Immediately one is sighted the bird stops dead in its 
flight and, with face to wind and body tilted upright as if sta ndin g 
on its tail, it 'hangs' in mid-air poised over the spot on rapidly 
beating wings, the workmanlike bill at the ready. As soon as the 
quarry rises to within striking depth the bird closes its wings and 
hurls itself like a bolt from a height of 6 or 8 metres going completely 
under the water. It presently reappears with the quarry held cross- 
wise in its bill, and with a shrug to shake off the water makes for a 
fvrnrliy perch where the struggling victim is battered to death, 
manoeuvred into position, and swallowed head foremost. The 
I, mm I itiittMii mainly offish, but tadpoles, frogs and aqua nc insects 
ar# sImi taken. The nest is at the end of a horizontal tunnel dug 
Into an rm I hbauk or cutting. It is usually unlined, but freely litter- 
ed with smelly east-up fish bones. The eggs — 5 or 6 — are pure white 






74 



COMMON BIRDS 



glassy roundish ovals. 

The Himalayan Pied Kingfisher {CetyU tugubris), much larger 
and with a prominent crest, replaces this species in the Himalayas 
above about 800 metres. 

The Small Green Bee-eater (Merofts ori«iAiuj)— plate 11.56— 
Hindi : Pairing a , is a slim grass-green bird about the size of a sparrow. 
Its head and neck are tinged with reddish brown, and the central 
pair of tail feathers arc prolonged into blunt pins. The slender, 
long, slightly curved black bill, and a conspicuous black "necklace* 
on the throat are other pointers to its identity. The bird is met with 
in pairs or loose flocks in open country and is partial to cultivation, 
forest clearings, and village grazing grounds. Loose parties are 
usually seen perched on telegraph wires, fence posts and bushes 
whence the birds launch swift and graceful aerial sorties after 
winged insects, circling back to the perch on outspread motionless 
wings after each capture- Here the struggling quarry is whacked 
and battered before being swallowed. The notes constantly uttered 
on the wing are a pleasant jingling tit, tit or tt$*-lree-trec. Large 
congregations resort to favourite leafy trees to roost at sunset. Great 
noise and bustle prevail before the birds finally settle for the night, 
the entire concourse flying out in a milling rabble every now and 
again without apparent cause, circling round the tree with much 
excited trilling, and gradually resettling. They sleep huddled to- 
gether in litde groups along the branches, plumage fluffed out and 
head tucked under the wing, and are late risers as birds go, seldom 
being on the move till the sun is well up. Their food consists of 
dragonflics and other winged insects, and bee-eaters sometimes do 
damage to apiary bees. The birds often nest in colonies excavating 
horizontal tunnels up to a metre or more long in sandy soil, in the 
sides of earth cuttings and borrow-pits — sometimes obliquely in 
sloping ground. The tunnel ends in an expanded unlined egg cham- 
ber. The eggs — 5 to 7— -are white roundish ovals. 

A near relation, the Bluetailed Bee-eater {Merops pkilippuuu), 
distinguished by its larger size, a black stripe through the eye, chest- 
nut throat and blue tail, is also common in open country, and found 



COMMON BIRDS 



75 



chiefly at tanks and jheels. It moves about a good deal seasonally 
but its local migrations are as yet not properly understood. 

The family Corachdae is represented by the familiar fadha 
Roller or Btoe Jay (Coracias benghalensis)- plate 9.57 -Hindi : 
NilkSnth or Sabz&k, This is a striking Oxford-and-Cambridge blue 
bird about the size of a pigeon, with a biggish head, heavy bill, 
rufous-brown breast, and pale blue abdomen and under the tail. The 
dark and pale blue colours in the wings show up as brilliant bands 
inflight. The Roller is essentially an inhabitant of open cultivated 
country and avoids dense forest. It. is usually seen perched on an 
exposed tree-stump or telegraph wires whence the surroundings can 
be surveyed to best advantage. From such look-out posts it swoops 
down to the ground now and again to pick up an insect, returning 
with the morsel to the same perch or flying leisurely across to an- 
other nearby where the victim is battered and swallowed. Crickets, 
grasshoppers, beetles and other insects comprise its food almost 
exclusively, and the birds do great service to agriculture by the 
destruction of these injurious pests. Occasionally lizards, mice and 
frogs are also eaten. The Roller has a variety of loud raucous calls 
and is particularly noisy and demonstrative during its aerial court- 
ship displays. The male then indulges in a series of fantastic aeroba- 
tics, rocketting into the air, somersaulting, nose-diving, and rolling 
Jroro side to side to the accompaniment of harsh grating screams, 
with bis brilliant plumage flashing in the sun. The nest is a collection 
of straw, feathers and rubbish in a natural tree hollow. The eggs--* 
■ *— *re glossy, pure white roundish ovals. 

An allied species, the Kaanmlr Roller (Coronas garruhu) which 
replaces the peninsular bird in Kashmir, is a common Africa-bound 
l**»age migrant over Sind, Kutch, Saurashtra andjiorthern Gujarat 
in »rptember-October. It is easily distinguished on the wing by its 
uniformly blue-black flight feathers (see inset on plate). Its entire 
wmlrrtJde, including the breast, is pale blue. 

Olar tola representative of the family Upupidar is the Hoopt* 

<''**•*¥') »-i ah ll.58-Hmdi://«4*^,anarreitingfawnK:olour- 



11 



COMMON DUOS 



cd bird with black and white zebra markings on its back, wings anc 
tail. A round and full fan-shaped retractable crest and long slend* I 
slighdy curved bill are additional posters. Its size is about tuat 
of a myna. The Hoopoe is usually met with in pairs or small parties. 
It is fond of lawns, gardens, groves and lightly wooded open ««mtry 
often in the neighbourhood of towns and villages. TV bird* walk 
or run about on ground on their squat legs with a somewhat 
waddling quail-like gait, busily probing into the soil and amongst 
the fallen leaves with bill partly open like a forceps. While- dig^ng, 
the crest is retracted and projects in a point behind the oca*, 
sumrestivc of a miniature pickaxe. On alarm or excitement, the 
crest is nicked open fanwise. The bird flies off in an undulating 
undecided sort of way to resettle at some distance, whereupon the 
crest is again raised. Its call is a soft and musical hoo-po or «*#»*" 
repeated several times and often intermittently for over 10 ramutes 
at a stretch. When calling, the bird lowers end bobs its head so that 
the bill lies almost flat against the bwt. At ether times the bead 
is jerked forward at each successive call, as if barking, and the 
crest opened and shut from time to time. Besides the koo-po calls, it 
has a variety of harsh caws and chuckles. Its diet consists of :usect.«, 
grubs and pupae many of which are serious agricultural pests. The 
birds are therefore highly beneficial to man. The nest is in a hole 
in a wall, roof, or under the eaves of a building, or a natural tree- 
hollow, untidily lined with filthy rags, hair, straw and rubbish, 
and is notorious for the stench it emits. The eggs -5 or 6-are white, 
but usually become much soiled and discoloured during incubation. 

Our last family of this Order is Bucerotidae, the Hornbills. They 
are large frugivorous and arboreal birds characterized by their 
outsized bills. The Malabmr Pied HornWll {Anthracocaos coron&m) 
-HAif 8 59~Hmdi: Dhinckm, is atypical example, tt is rather 
larger than the Pariah Kite, chiefly black and white. The outer 
fathers of Lhc longish aad broad black tall are wholly whiU .The 
ponderous yellow-and-black hornshaped bill, surmounted by a 
pointed Arf-'Uri casque is its most striking feature. This distinguishes 
it from the very similar Large PW HtemMI {A. mdabancut) 



COMMON BIRDS 



77 



which has the outer tail feathers black, only tipped with white. 
Moreover, the sides of its casque are convex and not flat. The latter 
has a more northerly range, being found from Kumaon to Assam. 
The female of the Malabar species differs from the male (illustrated) 
in having the naked skin round the eye whitish. 

All hornbills have more or less similar habits. They commonly live 
in wooded country with scattered trees of banyan, peepal and other 
species of wild fig — these fruits forming their staple food. They 
also eat lizards and baby birds and rodents on occasion. The birds 
keep in parties which fly from tree to tree in follow-my-leadcr 
fashion in their characteristic noisy undulating style — a few rapid 
wing strokes followed by a dipping glide with the primaries upcurv- 
ed They all have a large variety of loud raucous roars, screams and 
squeals. Their nesting habits are unique. A natural tree hollow is 
walled up with the bird's droppings as plaster and its bill as trowel, 
imprisoning the female and leaving only a narrow slit through 
which the male feeds her throughout the incubation period of the 
eggs. The wall ^broken down and the female released only after the 
young hatch out, both parents then exerting themselves jointly to 
forage for them. The Pied Hornbill , like most members of the family, 
nests chiefly between March and June before the monsoon sets 
in. The eggs— 2 to 4— are white when freshly laid, but become 
sullied during incubation. 



The Order PICIFORMES includes the families Capitonidae 
(Barbets) and Picidae (Woodpeckers). Barbets arc mostly bright 
coloured but rather dumpy and inelegant arboreal fruit-eating 
birds with large heavy bills overhung round the base by well-deve- 
loped stiff bristles. The family is exemplified by the familiar Cc,p- 
prr smith or Cricrsonbreaated Bat-bet {Mtgalaima haemacephala) 
-PLATB 1 1 ,60- Hindi : ChhotS b&s&nthh, slightly larger and more dumpy 
than a sparrow. 

It k a heavy-billed grass-green bird with crimson breast and 



7S 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BUtDS 



79 



forehead, yellow throat, and green -streaked yellowish undcrparts. 
The short truncated tail look* distinctly triangular in flight - 
silhouette. The Coppersmith is equally at home in outlving forest 
or in the heart of a noisy city, provided there are large fruiting 
trees of banyan, pecpal and other wild figs to furnish its staple fovd. 
On such trees coppersmiths sometimes Collect in large numbers to 
feast in company with mynas, bulbuls, green pigeons, hornbills and 
other frugivorous birds. Moths and winged termite? arc occasional- 
ly captured by ungainly and ludicrous aerial sorties from a branch. 
They are entirely arboreal birds and never descend to the ground. 
The loud monotonous calls tuk, ..tuk... tuk and so on, repeated every 
two seconds or so, monotonously and incessantly throughout the 
day, have been aptly likened to a distant coppersmith hammering 
on his metal. They are amongst the most familiar bird voices of the 
countryside. While uttering them the bird bobs its head from side 
to side producing a curious ventriloquistic effect. Coppersmiths 
lay their eggs in holes excavated by the birds themselves in decaying 
softwood branches, such as of the coral or drumstick trees, at 
moderate heights from the ground. No lining is provided. The 
normal clutch consists of 3 eggs, glossless white, without any 
markings. 

Another widely distributed bar bet, oftener heard than seen in 
forests owing to its concealing green coloration, is the Large Green 
Barbet [M. zeplanua). It is about as large as a myna, chiefly grass- 
green with brownish head and neck, and a patch of naked orange 
skin round the eyes. Its loud familiar calls, kutroo, kutroo and so on, 
resound endlessly in the forest. 

The woodpeckers are particularly well represented on the Indian 
subcontinent. This group is of great importance to forestry since 
the birds live largely on grubs of wood-boring beetles and other 
insects injurious to trees. They arc extracted from the borings and 
pupal galleries within the trunks and branches of trees by means 
of the specially adapted chisel-shaped bill and worm-like extensile 
barb-tipped tongue, capable of being shot out far beyond the bill. 
One of our commonest woodpeckers is the Mahratta Woodpecker 






{Picmdts mahrattmsu)— plate 1 1.6 1— Hindi; K&tpharn (all wood- 
peckers). This is a small woodpecker about the size of a bulbul with 
longish, stout, pointed bill and stiff wedge-shaped tail. The upper 
plumage is irregularly spotted black-and-white, with a brownish 
yellow forecrown and scarlet crest. The undcrparts are whitish, 
ilreaked with brown on the breast and flanks and with a scarlet- 
crimson patch on the abdomen and under the tail. The female lacks 
I he scarlet on the crown. The Mahratta Woodpecker frequents 
light deciduous jungle, mango orchards, and even semi-desert 
country with sparse scrub and stunted trees. The birds usually go 
about in pairs flying from tree-trunk to tree-trunk, alighting low 
down and scuttling upward in jerky spurts, directly or in spirals, 
halting at intervals to tap on the bark or peer inquisitively into ere- 
vices for lurking insects. The stiff pointed tail is pressed against the 
ttrrn to serve as a supporting tripod. Their diet consists of grubs and 
cints secured by means of their barb-pointed extensile tongue. The 
call notes commonly uttered are a sharp tlick, dick, or click-r-r-r. The 
flight, as of all woodpeckers, is swift and undulating, attained by 
a series of rapid wing-beats followed by short pauses. They nest in 
holes chiselled out by themselves in rotten branches at moderate 
lieights. When the branch is horizontal, the entrance hole is placed 
on the under surface to keep out rain. The nest-hole is usually 
u nl i ned . The full clutch consists of 3 eggs — glossy whi te and roundish. 
Perhaps an equally common species in the Peninsula is the 
Goldenbaeked Woodpecker (Dinopium baighalense ) , which is larger 
than the Mahratta — distinctive golden yellow and black above, 
Imffy white below streaked with black. The entire crown and 
occipital crest is crimson in the male, only partly so in the female, 
lltii woodpecker is also found in village groves and gardens and in 
lightly wooded country. 



Nearly one- third of the total number of bird species found in India 
tolnng to the last Order PASSER 1 FOR MLS, popularly known as 



J 



&J 



COMMON BIRDS 



Perching Birth or Song Birds. It embraces a large number of super- 
ficiary divergent families, but all characterized by the possession 
of cetiaui -veli-di* fined anatomical features such as the structure of' 
the leudons of the leg and foot, of the skull and palate, and the 
muscles of the syrinx, i>, the lower end of the windpipe or trachea, 
which is the organ of voice production in birds. Only a few promi- 
nent Families of this Order and their more familiar representatives 
are dealt with here. 



Family Pit4idae — Pittas, or the so-called Ant Thrushes, arc 
brightly coloured ground-haunting birds chat live on the forest 
floor and dig with their stout bills amongst the damp earth and 
mulch for insects and grubs that comprise their food. They have 
strong longish legs on which they hop along like thrushes, flying 
seldom and only for short distances when disturbed. Some species, 
however, undertake long migrations. 

The Indian Pitta (Pitta brackjtura)- plate 1 2. 62 -Hindi: Naorfag, 
is a gaudy coloured stub-tailed royna-sized bird — green, blue, ful- 
vous, blatk and white, with crimson abdomen and under the tail. A 
round white spot near the tip of its wings flashes conspicuously in 
flight. It is fond of nullahs and ravines in scrub jungle with plenty 
of undergrowth, and may be met with both near and away from 
human habitations. Though mainly terrestrial, it roosts at night 
in trees. It moves on the ground in long hops like a thrush, turning 
over or flicking aside dead leaves and digging with its bill for food. 
The stumpy tail is constantly wagged, slowly and deliberately, up 
and down. When disturbed the bird flies up into a low branch, 
descending again to resume feeding as soon as the disturbance is 
past. Its commonest call is a loud, clear, double whistle wheet-tew 
uttered chiefly in the early morning and at dusk, but also at other 
times in cloudy overcast weather. This is given from the ground as 
well as from a branch at the rate of about 3 or 4 calls in 10 seconds, 
and the calling is sometimes kept up for over five minutes at a 
stretch. The calling bird pulls itself upright and jerks its head well 
back as in swallowing water. Tlirec or four birds often reply to one 
another from different directions. The nest of the Pitta is a large 



COM WON BIRDS 



81 



globular structure composed of fine twigs, grass, roots, dry leaves, 
etc. , with a circular entrance-hole at the side. It is built in the fork 

of a low tree; sometimes on the ground under a bush. The eggs 

4 to 6— are glossy china white with spots, specks and hair-lines of 
dull purple. 

Family Alaudidae : Larks are small terrestrial, often social, birds 
of cryptically patterned plumage of brown, grey, sandy, black and 
.vhite. Some species are crested. They inhabit bare open country 
and pastureland. Some forms are migratory, others resident. Many 
have very beautiful songs delivered mostly from the air while soar- 
ing or hovering. 

The Created Lark (Galerida eritteta)- plate ] 2.63 -Hindi : Qibtdui 
a slightly larger than a sparrow and distinguished by a prominent 
upstanding pointed crest. It is greyish earthy brown above, streaked 
with blackish; pale sandy below, streaked with brown on the breast. 
The birds are usually seen in separated pairs or family parties of 
♦ or 5 running about on the ground in open semi-desert country 
in search of food -grass and weed seeds, and small beetles and 
other insects. From time to time a bird mounts a clod or stone to 
utter its liquid whistling notes. The normal call is a pleasant tee-Br. 
During the breeding season the male indulges in a modest song 
flight, soaring a few metres up in the air, flying about aimlessly over a 
restricted area on leisurely fluttering wings, singing its short pleasant 
ditty and then sailing down on stiffly outspread and slightly quiver- 
ing wings to alight on a stone or clod. The song is shorter and much * 
inferior lo the lively and sustained melody of the skylark. In spite- 
of this, the Ch&ndUt is a popular cage bird and thrives well in capti- 
vily. The nest is a shallow cup of grasses lined with finer material 
■nd hair. It is placed in some slight hollow in the ground in open 
country under shelter of a grass-tuft or clod. The normal dutch 
rnnmis of 3 or 4 eggs, dull yellowish white in colour, blotched with 
brown and purple. 

Two smaller and more rufous-coloured crested larks between 
Ihttn occupy most of peninsular India, namely, Sykes'a Created 
Lark {Gattrida deva), with a few and narrow streaks on the breast. 






g2 COMMON BIItDS 

and the Malabar Created Lark (G. maiobtrica), with the 
pectoral streaks broader and more numerous ■ 

The Aahycrowned or Blackballed Finch-Lark (Eremopttrix 
gruea) Hindi : Diyotn , Duri or Jothtmli, is a squat finch- 

like bird smaller than a sparrow. The male is sandy brown above, 
black below. It has an ashy crown and prominent whitish cheeks. 
The female is sandy brown all over. It is usually seen in widely scat* 
tered pairs or small flocks on the ground in dry open plains country 
with cultivation and waste land. Its coloration is remarkably obli- 
terative and matches the soil to perfection. The birds shuffle along 
the ground in short zigzag spurts turning this way and that as they 
search for grass-seeds, grain and insects which constitute their 
diet. The flight is a series of rapid wing beau, as in hovering, punctu- 
ated by short pauses. The male has a very pleasing little song— a 
combination of sweet warbling and drawn-out Vheeching* notes- 
uttered from the ground as well as while performing his highly 
spectacular aerial display. The bird shoot* vertically upward on 
quivering wings for 30 metres or so, and then nose-dives steeply some 
distance with wings pulled in at the sides. Using the momentum he 
suddenly turns about to face the sky and, with a few rapid flaps and 
wings again closed, he shoots up a few metres once more. At the crest 
of the wave he reverses sharply and repeats the nose-dive, and so on m 
descending steps till when, breath-takingly near to dashing himself 
on the ground, he flattens out and lithely comes to rest on a clod or 
stone. Each dive is accompanied by his pleasant little 'wheeching' 
song. The whole performance is soon repeated. The grace and verve 
with which these extravagant aerobatics are executed make them 
doubly fascinating to watch. The nest of this little lark is a tiny, 
neatly made saucer-like depression in the ground under shelter of 
a clod or diminutive bush in open country. It is lined with fine 
grasses, hair, and feathers, and frequently parapetted with gravel. 
The eggs — 2 or 3 — are pale yellowish or greyish white, blotched 
and speckled with brown and lavender. 

The family Hirundlnidak contains the Swallows and Martins. 
They are gregarious birds, superficially like swifts, which spend 



COMMON BIRDS 



83 



much of their time on the wing hawking tiny flying insects with the 
aid of their widened gapes. Their wings are long and pointed, but 
broader and less bow-like than in swifts. In many species the tail 
is deeply forked. Their flight is agile and graceful. Some species 
breed within our limits, others are migratory from the Palaearctic 
Region. One of our most familiar resident species is the Redrump- 
ed Swallow (Hirund&daurua)- plat* 12.65 -Hindi : M&sjid ababeei. It 
is about the size of a sparrow, deeply foik-tailed, glossy deep blue- 
black above, fulvous-white below, finely streaked with dark 
brown. A chestnut half collar on the hindneck and the chestnut 
rump (conspicuous when banking in flight) are good recognition 
marks. In addition to our resident race (as above), very large 
numbers of a migrant form of this swallow spend the winter within 
our limits, usually seen perched, side by side in their thousands along 
great stretches of telegraph wires. This migratory race is distinguish- 
ed by the streaks on the underside being conspicuously broader and 
by its much paler red rump. 

Swallows spend a considerable part of the day hawking tiny 
midges and other winged insects either high up in the air or by Hurt- 
ing sweeps close to the ground. They are social birds except in the 
breeding season and large congregations may be commonly seen 
hunting together, often in company with swifts and martins. They 
roost at night in enormous swarms in reedbeds and sugarcane fields, 
preferably those standing in water. Their flight — a few rapid wing- 
strokes Sol lowed by a glide— is swift and graceful, the deeply fork- 
ed tail adding greatly to their agility in turning and twisting to 
capture aerial prey. They have a cheerful twittering song in the 
breeding season. The nest of the Redrumped Swallow is a retort- 
shaped structure of plastered mud \. ith a narrow tubular entrance, 
ttuck flat against the ceiling of a rock-cave or dwelling house, or 
under a roadside culvert. The bulbous egg-chamber is lined with 
feathers. The eggs — 3 or 4 — are pure white. Another swallow 
commonly seen in winter in association with the Redrumped 
Swallow is the migratory European or so-called Common Swallow 
(H. nulica). It is glossy steel- or purplish-blue above, pale 
pinkish white below. Its forehead and throat are chestnut, the 



84 



COMMON BIRDS 



latter bordered by a broad glossy black pectoral band. It also has 
a deeply forked tail. 

Shrikes or Butcher Birds (family Laniidas) are mostly birds of 
a size between a bulbul and a myna, with large heads, stout strongly 
hooked bills and sharp claws— altogether like miniature hawks. 
The tail is graduated and the sexes similar. They arc known as 
Butcher Birds on account of thr ir habit, common to many of the 
species, of killing more than they can eat and maintaining regular 
larders where surplus food is impaled on thorns to be eaten at 
leisure. One of our common shrikes, and the largest., is the Gr*y 
Shrike {Lomus excubitor)- pe afe 12.66 -Hindi: S&fid Ictfra, which is 
about the size of a myra. It is a striking silvery grey bird with a 
longish black-and-white tail. A broad black stripe runs backward 
from its bill through the eye. The black wings are relieved by a white 
patch or 'mirror* which flashes into prominence when the bird flies. 
The large head and heavy hooked bill give it a fierce hawk-hke 
appearance. The bird usually keeps singly in dry open country. 
From an exposed perch on some thorn bush it maintains a sharp 
lookout for prey, pouncing to the ground from time to time to seize 
and carry off its victims. They are held under foot and torn to pieces 
with the sharp hooked bill before being swallowed. Each individual 
has a recognized beat or feeding territory which it will frequent 
day after day and jealously guard against interlopers. Its food con- 
sists of locusts, crickets and other large insects as well as lizards, 
mice and young or sickly birds, sometimes much larger than itself. 
Its normal call notes are harsh and grating, but in the nesting 
season a very pleasing little tinkling song is delivered, into which 
are interwoven the calls of a great many other species of birds, the 
shrike being an excellent and convincing mimic. The nest is a deep 
compact cup of thorny twigs lined with rags, wool, feathers, 
etc., placed in a thorny shrub at moderate height. The eggs— 3 to 
6-^vary considerably, the commonest type being pale greenish 
white, thickly blotched and spotted with purplish brown. 

Several other shrikes occur within our limits, one of the com- 
monest being the Rufbusbacked Shrike. (L. schaeh) It is somewhat 



COMMON BIDS 15 

smaller than the Grey Shrike and has tlie lower back and rump 
bright rufous, while the underpnrts are washed with the same. It 
prefers lea arid, better wooded und watered country. 

Oar most familiar representative of the family Orioltdax 
\ Orioles) is the Biackbcadcd Oriole {Omlm Mutthormu)-PLAT? M 
67 -Hindi ; Ptti&k. It is about the size of a myna, a brilliant golden- 
>gUow arboreal bird with jet black head, throat and upper breast, 
said black in the wings and tail. The bright pink bill and crimson 
eyes are its other conspicuous features. In the female the head is 
a duller black. Young birds have a yellow forehead, and the head 
h streaked with yellowish. The bird is commonly seen singly in 
wooded country. Although of a shy and retiring disposition, it free- 
ly enters gardens with large leafy trees in and around villages and 
even in the heart of noisy cities, flashing through the foliage like 
a streak of gold with its peculiar strong dipping flight. Its usual 
call-notes — a harsh cheeah or k&aak and a variety of rich melodious 
flutc-Ukc wtttsdes pttb or pttfafc — are among the more familiar voices 
to gladden the heart of the birdwatcher {q the countryside. Its 
food consists chiefly of fruits and berries, those of the banyan and 
peepal, and lantana, being amongst the commonest. Insects of 
various kinds are also eaten, as is the nectar of flowers like the 
brilliant red Coral (Entkriaa) and Silk Cotton (Salmalia) in season. 
The nest of the Blackheaded Oriole is a beautifully woven deep 
cup of bast fibres with a copious plastering of cobwebs as binding 
medium. It is suspended like a hammock m the forking end-twigs 
of a leafy outhanging branch 4 to 10 metres up. The eggs — 
2 or 3— are pinkish white, spotted with black or reddish brown. 
For protection against crows and other marauders, the not 
is often built in the same tree as holds a nest of the audacious 
Black Drongo. Another member of the family which is also 
common and often found living side by side with this species is the 
Golden Oriole (OrioUts orwius). It is of the same size and of an 
equally brilliant yellow, but lacks the black head and only hat 
a prominent black *>ucak through the eye instead. The Golden 
Oriole breeds abundantly in Kashmir and the sub-Himalayan 



86 COMMON BIRDS 

tracts, but is chiefly met with as a winter visitor in the rest of the 
country. 

The family Dicruridae (Drongos) contains slim arboreal birds 
of about bulbul to myna size mostly of glossy black plumage with 
long tails, either deeply forked or with the outer rectrices curled up 
at the tips, or prolonged into wire-like bare shafts ending in spatula- 
shaped 'rackets*. The best and most widely known member of 
the family is the Black Drongo (Durunu adsimitis)- plate 12,68- 
Hindi : Buj&tga or Kstwai. It is a slim and agile glossy jet black 
bird about as big as a bulbul, with a long deeply forked tail. It b 
commonly seen on the open countryside and around cultivation, 
perched on fence posts, bush tops or telegraph w ; es, etc. From these 
lookouts, the bird swoops down to the ground to pounce on some 
unwary grasshopper. This is either dealt with on the spot or carried 
off to a perch to be held under foot and dismembered with the 
sharply hooked bill before being devoured. Drongos also capture 
moths, dragonflies and winged termites in the air like a flycatcher 
and frequently live by unabashed piracy, chasing other birds — often 
larger than themselves — with speed and tenacity and bullying 
them into jettisoning their rightful prey. The birds often attend on 
grazing catde, riding on the animals 1 backs and snapping up by 
aerial sorties the insects disturbed in their progress through the 
grass. Large numbers of drongos foregather at forest and grass fires 
to massacre the fleeing refugees. Altogether they destroy vast quanti- 
ties of insect pests and are thus invaluable friends of the farmer. 
They have a number of harsh scolding or defiant calls, some close- 
ly resembling those of tlte Shikra Hawk, and the birds become 
particularly noisy when breeding. The nest is a flimsy-bottomed 
cup of fine twigs and grasses cemented together with cobwebs. It 
is built in the fork of an end twig in an outhanging branch of a 
large tree, usually standing by itself amidst cultivation and provid- 
ing an unobstructed view of the surroundings. The eggs — 3 to 5 — 
are whitish with brownish red spots. The birds are very bold in 
defence of their nest, attacking and driving ofF birds as big as kites 
and crows intruding within the proximity of the nest-tree. On 






. 



COMMON BIRDS 



87 



account of the protection thus provided, many mild-mannered birds 
like doves and orioles commonly nest in the same tree as harbours 
a drongo's nest. 

Our two other common drongos that need mention are the 
Aany (D. Uucophtuui) and the Whitebellied {D. auruUxms) . The 
former is slaty black with ruby-red eyes and met with in jungle 
rather than open fields. The latter is somewhat smaller, glossy 
indigo-grey above with a white belly, also found in deciduous 
wooded country, preferably mixed bamboo jungle. 

The family Sturnidae (Starlings and Mynas) is typified by the 
Common Myna {Acridotheres fwftf)- plate 14.69 -Hindi : Dtsi nr/afl. 
Its size is between a bulbul and a pigeon — length about 23 cm. 
It is a familiar perky well-groomed dark brown bird with black 
head, and bright yellow legs, bill and a patch of bare skin round 
the eyes. A large white patch in the wings is conspicuous in flight. 
Along with the sparrow, crow and pigeon, the Myna finds itself 
perfectly at home in the habitations of man, whether in an outlying 
homestead or in the thick of a bustling city bazaar. It is sociable in 
disposition and completely omnivorous — two conditions which 
qualify it admirably for a life of commensalism with man. A pair 
or two will usually adopt a house or compound as theL- own and 
defend it vigorously against intrusion from others of their kind. But 
large numbers will collect to feed in harmony whether on earth- 
worms on a freshly watered lawn, winged termites emerging from 
rain-sodden ground, or on a fig-laden banyan or peepal tree. The 
birds commonly attend on grazing cattle for the crickets and grass- 
hoppers disturbed by the animals' feet, or follow the plough for the 
worms and grubs turned up with the soil, stalking jauntily along- 
side the bullocks, now side-hopping, now springing up in the air to 
seize the fleeing quarry. They share large communal roosts in trees 
with parakeets and crows. The Myna has a varied assottment of 
■harp calls and chatter, a familiar one being a loud scolding ridtt- 
radto-radio. When resting in a shady spot during the mid-day heat, 
the male frequently goes through a gamut of kttk-ketk-k»tk, kak-kok- 
kok„ chuTT-cfwr, etc., with frowzled plumage and a ludicrous bobbing 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



89 



of the head toward* his mate The Myna* not is a collection of 
paper, atraw and rubbish stuffed into a hole in a tree or in the wall 
or ceiling of a building, tenanted or otherwise. The eggs--* or 5— 
are a beautiful glossy blue without any markings. 

The rather similar but smaller Bank Mynn {A. ginginiamts) is very 
common in W. Pakistan and northern and northwestern India 
(Gujarat, Rajasthau, etc.) being particularly partial to railway 
stations. It is pale bluish grey instead or brown, with the naked skin 
round its eyes brick-red instead of yellow. 

Another common myna, particularly in northern and eastern 

India is the Wed Myna {Stomas cvntra)-PLATE 14.70-Hindi : Abtik 
mjn* or StrVU myna, slightly smaller than the Disi. Jt is a trim black 
and white bird with naked orange skin round the eyes, and a deep 
orange-and-yellow bill. It is met with in parties and flocks in and 
around villages and cultivation. But though often entering gardens 
and compounds to hunt grasshoppers and dig up earthworms on 
an irrigated lawn, or to roost among targe leafy trees, thif myna is 
less dependent on man for its needs and does not appropriate nest- 
ing sites in buildings. It is also much more insectivorous and fruit- 
eating and less of an omnivore than its sophisticated cousin, the 
Common Myna. It keeps in flocks, often associated with other 
mynas, feeding at refuse dumps on the outskirts of towns and cities, 
or attending on grazing cattle on the moist grassy margins of village 
tanks. It has a number of high-pitched musical notes, some of them 
rather like snatches from the flight-song of the Blackbellied Finch- 
Lark (q.v.). The ne*t of the Pied Myna is very different from that 
of most of our other mynas, being a large untidy globular structure 
of twigs, leaves, grass and rubbish. It is built in an outhanging 
branch oi a mango, shisham or similar tree near a village or cultiva- 
tion, and it is not unusual for 3 or 4 nests to be in the same tree. The 
eggs— 4. or 5 — art glossy blue, unmarked. 

The Pied Myna must not be confused with the Ro*y Paator or 
Rosecoloured Starting (Sturnus roittts), which visits India in 
enormous swarms during winter. This is black **d rose-pink (no; 
white) but of similar fixe, and otherwise bearing * «*«»g family 
resembUnce. Rosy Pastors are seen in flocks in fields of ripening 



J 



jowar and on the large red flowers of the Coral and Silk Cotton 
trees. 

The family Corvidaz {Crows) needs no introduction. There is 
nobody living in town or country who is unfamiliar with the ap- 
pearance and iniquities of the ubiquitous House Grow (Corvus 
spUndens)— plate 12.71 -Hindi : Kowwa or Disikowwa, Its grey neck 
and slightly smaller size distinguish it from its country cousin, the 
all-black Jungle Crow. The House Crow must certainly rank as 
the commonest and most familiar of Indian birds. It is essentially 
a town-dweller, an unfailing commensal of man and almost an 
element of his social system. Its intelligence and audacity coupled 
with an uncanny instinct for scenting and avoiding danger carry 
it triumphantly through a life of sin and wrong-doing. Nothing 
comes amiss to the crew in the matter of food : a dead rat, kitchen 
refuse, fL h pilfered from the protesting fishwife's basket, the egg or 
toast from your breakfast table snatched almost under your nose, 
are all equally welcome. But its thieving propensities are in some 
measure mitigated by it* services a* an efficient municipal scavenger. 
However, its ceaseless harrying of gentler ornamental and singing 
birds makes it thoroughly unwelcome in gardens, and the bird be- 
<~omes a menace at heronries. Rabbles of crows which habitually 
hang around such places descend upon nests left by the owners 
upon disturbance from human visitors, dig into and carry off the 
c SfF W dismember the helpless hatchlings with utmost callousness. 
Although they destroy locusts and other injurious insects when 
these are swArming. crows also laid ripening crops such as wheat and 
maize, and do considerable damage to fruit in orchard*. Their 
economic status i» therefore a very dubious one. The House. Crow 
builds an untidy platform nest of sticks with a central depression 
lined with coir, fibre, tow, etc. It is placed up in the branchrs of trees 
normally between 3 and 8 metres up. The eggs — 4 or 5 — ire pale 
blue green, speckled and streaked with brown. They closely resemble 
i he rggs of the Koei which cc minority parasitize* crows' nests. The 
Jungle Crow ' K C. tnacnrhvacho<) u larger, uniformly glossy jet black 
with a heavier bill and a deeper, hoarser 'caw'. Its normal habitat 



90 



COMMON BIRDS 



is the countryside, away from towns and cities, but it often keeps 
on the outskirts of human habitations — about farmsteads and out- 
lying villages, profiting from the insanitary conditions created by 
man, 

A rather more elegant relation of the crow is the Tree We 
(Dmdraatta vag abimda)- RATI 12.72— Hindi: Af&AnUH. This is about 
the size of a myna but has a tail nearly 30 cm. long. It is a chest- 
nut-brown bird with sooty head and neck. The broad black tips of 
its longest tail feathers and the greyish wing-coverts are particular- 
ly conspicuous in flight. The Tree Pie Li found in lightly wooded 
country and open forest. It is of a social disposition and goes about 
in family parties which keep up a loud, harsh and grating conversa- 
tion ke-ke-kt'kt-ke etc. The birds follow one another from tree to tree 
in follow-my-leadcr fashion in swift undulating flight—a quick noisy 
flapping followed by a short glide on outspread wings and tail. In 
addition to harsh guttural notes, the birds have a wide repertoire 
of quite melodious calls — one of the commonly heard ones being 
a frequently repeated Bob-4-link or Koklla. This is uttered with the 
back arched, head ducked and tail depressed in a comical manner 
and is obviously directed by the male at his mate in the breeding 
season. Tree Pies keep in the mixed gatherings of frugivorous birds 
on banyan and peepal trees to gorge themselves on the ripe figs. 
Like their cousins, the crows, they are omnivorous and will some- 
times even stoop to carrion. Normally, besides fruits and berries, 
their staple diet is insects, caterpillars, lizards, nestling birds and 
baby rats and mice. They hunt systematically for birds* nests, and 
are highly destructive to the eggs and young of the smaller species. 
The nest is a thorny twig structure like a ctow's but deeper. It is 
lined with finer twigs and rootlets and hidden near the top in some 
densely foliaged tree. The eggs— 4 or 5— are variable in coloration 
and markings, the commonest type being pale salmon- white splash- 
ed and streaked with bright reddish brown. 

The family Campeph agidae includes the Cuckoo-Shrikes and Mi- 
nivet— slim, small to medium-sized arboreal birds, usually grega- 
rious, chiefly insectivorous. The Minivets are a brightly coloured 



COMMON BIRDS 9] 

group typified by the Scarlet Mini vet {Pcrkrocotus fiammcus) — 
plate J 4.73 -Hindi: PAAari mat eh&shm. The bird is slightly smaller 
than a bulbul, the adult male being mainly glossy jet black above, 
orange-red to deep scarlet below. The female and young male are 
grey and olive-yellow above, yellow below, with two yellow bars 
in the black wings. They are usually seen in small parties of 5 or 6 
in leafy treetops. In winter the birds band themselves into flocks of 
30 cr more, often adult males together and females and young males 
together. They keep to the foliage canopy, flitting restlessly amongst 
the leaves, hovering and fluttering in front of the sprigs to stampede 
lurking insects, and following one another from tree to tree. The 
brilliant scarlet plumage of the males flashing in the sun against the 
backdrop of dark green leaves makes an exquisite sight. Their diet 
consists of spiders and insects and their larvae picked off th- leaves 
and buds or captured in mid-air the manner of a flycatcher. The 
calls frequently uttered as the troops move about are a pleasant 
musical whee-twttt or whiriri, whiriri, etc. The nest of all minivets is a 
neat shallow cup of roots and fibres bound with cobwebs and 
bedecked on the outside with moss, lichens and spiders' egg cases. 
It is built in the crotch or on the upper surface of a branch 3 to 15 
metres from the ground. The eggs— 2 to 4 — arc pale green, spotted 
and blotched with dark brown and lavender. 

The smaller and slimmer little Mini vet (P r dnnamomeus) is an- 
other widely distributed mini vet in the Indian Union and both Paki- 
stans. The adult male is chiefly black, grey and orange-crimson. 
The female and young male have no black on head and the red of 
the underparts is largely replaced by yellow : only the red rump- 
patch as in the adult male, is retained. The Little Minivet is oftener 
met with in gardens and thin dry jungle than the Scarlet Minivet 
which prefers better wooded country. 

The family Irenidae covers the Fairy Bluebird which is con- 
fined to the evergreen forests of the southern Western Ghats and 
the Eastern Himalayas. More common and widely distributed 
members are the lora and Chloropses or Leaf Birds, sometimes 
popularly known as Green Bulbuls. The Common lore [Atgithina 



92 



COMMON BIRDS 



tipkia)- plate 14.74 -Hindi: Shoubetgi, about the size of a sparrow, 
is a glossy jet black and bright yellow bird with 2 white wing-bars. 
This is the male : he is usually accompanied by his mate who is 
largely greenish yellow with similar whitish wing-bars- In non- 
breeding plumage the male resembles the female but retains his 
black tail. The lora is a completely ai boreal insectivorous bird of 
gardens, groves of trees on the outskirts of villages, and light se- 
condary jungle. Pairs go about together, hunting for caterpillars 
and insects among the foliage, hopping from twig to twig and cling- 
ing sideways and upside down to search under the leaves. The birds 
keep in touch with each other by mellow whistles and short musical 
chirrups. Its Hindi name Skovbetgi is a good onomatopoeic render- 
ing of one of its sweet long-drawn whistles. The cock has a charm- 
ing and spectacular nuptial display. He chases the hen about, pos- 
turing before her with drooping wings, white rump-feathers fluffed 
out and tail slightly cocked, to the accompaniment of chirrup- ng 
notes, musical whistles and a long-drawn sibilant cha~e*. He springs 
up a metre or two in the air pufliing out and flaunting his glistening 
white rump and parachuting back to his perch in spirals, looking 
like a ball of fluff. The Iora's nest is a neat, compactly woven cup of 
soft grasses and root fibres worked into the crotch of a twig and 
smoothly plastered on the outside with cobwebs. The normal clutch 
is of 2 to 4 eggs— pale pinky white, blotched with purplish 

brown. 

The very similar Marshall's Iorm (Ae. nigroltttea) has a curious- 
ly scattered distribution in Kutch, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya 
Pradesh, and Bengal. It is distinguished chiefly by its white-tipped 

tail. 

Jerdon's Chloropws (Ckbropsis cochinchiwrms jerdoni) — PLATE 14. 
75— Hindi: H&rew3 t is a spruce grass-green bird about the size 
of a bulbul with bright purple-blue moustachial streaks, black 
cheeks, chin, and throat, and slender slightly curved black bill. 
The female has pale bluish green chin and throat, and bright 
greenish blue moustachial streaks. The bird is usually met with in 
pairs or small parties hunting industriously among the foliage of 
trees, clinging to the twigs and sprigs upside down and in all manner 



COMMON BIRDS 



93 



. 



of acrobatic positions in the quest. Its coloration blends so remark- 
ably with the leaves that the bird is oftener heard than seen. Even 
so it frequently passes unrecognized since it is a highly accomplished 
mimic and disguises its identity by faultless imitation; of the calls 
of other birds such as Tailor Bird, Bulbul, Black Drongo, lora, 
Whitebrcasted Kingfisher, and Magpie Robin. The various im- 
personations follow one another without a break giving the im- 
pression of a veritable avian U.N. general assembly in session! On 
approaching the tree closer the observer sees only a single Ghlorop- 
sis hurriedly making off, and can visualize the bird's chuckle of 
delight at having so successfully fooled him. Its food consists of 
insects, spiders, fruits and berries, and very largely also of flower 
nectar. 

The nest is a loose shallow cup of tendrils, moss, and rootlets, 
lined with softer material. It is built at the extremity of an out hang- 
ing branch and usually well-concealed. The eggs — normally 2 — 
are reddish cream in colour profusely speckled with claret all over. 

A closely allied and common species is the Goldfronted Chlo- 
ropsis (C avrifrons) the two being sometimes found side by 
side in the same localities. The male of this is distinguished 
by a bright golden forehead and purple-and- black chin and 
throat; the female is paler and duller with the golden forehead 
less pronounced. 

The family Pycnonotidae contains the sprightly and vivacious 
bulbuls which add so much to the charm of the not-too-severely 
artificial gardens throughout the country. The Redwhiskertd 
Bultml (lycnonolus jocosus)- plate f4. 76— Hindi : Pahari bulbul, 
is a perky garden and shrubbery-haunting bird— smaller and slim- 
mer than a myna— with a prominent pointed forwardly-curving 
crest. The plumage is hair-brown above, white below with a broken 
blackish 'necklace' on the breast, distinctive crimson whiskers, and 
crimson undertail-patch. It is found wherever trees and shrubbery 
provide the prospect of food and shelter — not uncommonly even in 
the heart of noisy cities. On the whole it prefers better wooded and 
liillier localities than the equally common Redvented Bulbul. The 






94 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



95 



birds go about in pairs, but numbers will collect at some tree or 
shrub in fruit. They have no song as such, but their joyous queru- 
lous notes may be heard at all hours of the .day. Their diet consists 
mainly of berries, those of the lantana being a special favourite. 
They also devour considerable quantities of spiders, insects, and 
caterpillars. They are less pugnacious than the Redvented species 
and make charming pets if taken young, becoming exceedingly 
tame and confiding, following their master about the house and 
coming long distances to him when called. The nest, as typical of 
the bulbuls, is a cup of intertwined rootlets, fine twigs and grass. It is 
placed in a low tree, shrub, or garden hedge often in foolishly ex- 
posed situations, and further given away by the fussy coming and 
going of the owners. A very large proportion of the nests with eggs 
and young come to grief at the hands of predators. Occasionally it 
will build in the thatch walls and roofs of inhabited huts, unper- 
turbed by the movements of the inmates. The eggs — 2 to 4 — are 
pinkish white, profusely blotched with purplish brown 
or claret. 

The White cheeked Bulbul (/-'. Itucogmys) is commoner 
in northern and northwestern India where it largely replaces the 
Redwhiskered. It has conspicuous white cheeks, no whiskers, and a 
yellow instead of crimson under-tail patch. The crest varies from the 
rounded tuft of Gujarat birds to the long, pointed forwardly-curv- 
ing one of those from Kashmir. 

The Redvented Bulbul {P. cafer)- plate 14.77— Hindi: Bulbut 
or Guldum, is a familiar smoke-brown garden bird with mop- 
crested black head, scale-like markings on breast and back, and 
a crimson patch below the root of the tail. The rump is white and 
particularly conspicuous in flight. This bulbul is common 
in gardens and light scrub jungle both near and away from human 
habitations, but is largely replaced by the Redwhiskered species in 
better wooded hilly country. Its joyous notes and lively disposi- 
tion make it a welcome visitor to the garden although it sometimes 
proves a nuisance in the vegetable patch due to its partiality for 
green peas and the like. Besides berries which form its staple diet 
it eats moths and caterpillars; winged termites emerging from their 



underground retreats after the first monsoon showers seldom fail 
to attract Redvented Bulbuls which hop about and pick up the 
insects as they leave the hole or spring up vertically in the air 
from a bushtop to seize them as they rise on their wings. 

It differs little from the Redwhiskered species in its general 
behaviour and habits except for being decidedly more pugnacious, 
and it ranks high with Indian bird fanciers as a fighting bird. 
Bulbul fighting is a popular sport on high days and holidays in 
certain parts of the country; there is keen rivalry among the owners 
and punters, and considerable sums of money change hands on the 
mains. Champion birds fetch big prices. The nest, as of other 
bulbuls, is a cup of fine rootlets, leaf stems and grass, built on low 
trees and shrubs — sometimes in a creeper covering the trelissed 
verandah of an occupied bungalow within a metre of the coming 
and going inmates. The eggs 2 or 3 — are indistinguishable from 
those of the Redwhiskered Bulbul, q.v. 



MuscrcAPiDAE is the most crowded family of the order Passeri- 
formes. It is a complex of several superficially divergent subfamilies 
and includes the Flycatchers, Babblers, Warblers and Thrushes, 
united by significant anatomical and behavioural similarities, too 
technical for our present purpose. A few examples must suffice. A 
flycatcher with which many readers are probably familiar is the 
Whites potted Fantail Flycatcher (Rkipidura albegularis)~PUiTZ 15. 
7 # —Hindi : Jfaeh&n or Chikdil. This is a cheery, restless smoke- 
brown bird, about the size of a sparrow with conspicuous white 
eyebrows, white-spotted breast and flanks, and whitish abdomen. 
Its most striking feature is the tail, jauntily cocked and spread out 
like a fan, with the wings drooping on either side. The Fantail 
Flycatcher is at home in sparse secondary jungle as well as gardens 
and groves, even in the midst of noisy congested towns. It regards 
man with indifference and is usually charmingly tame and confiding. 
Pain keep to circumscribed localities, or territories, within which 



H 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



n 



they may regularly be met flitting tirelessly amongst the lower 
branches and From tree to tree, waltzing and pirouetting. The birds 
constantly launch agile and graceful looping- the- loop sallies after 
gnats and other tiny winged insects which are snapped up in the air 
with a tittle castanet-likc click of the mandibles. The note normally 
uttered is a harsh chuck chuck, but it also has a delightful clear whist- 
ling song of several tinkling notes, rising and falling in scale, which 
is constantly warbled as the bird prances about. Its food consists 
chiefly of mosquitoes, flies and other dipterous insects. The nest is a 
beautiful little cup, like a wine glass, built of fine grasses and fibres 
and neatly draped and plastered on the outside with cobwebs. It tit 
similar to the Iora*s nest but differs consistently in having an untidy 
wisp of strips of bark, etc., dangling below — not neatly rounded off 
as in the lora's nest. It is built in the crotch or fork of end twigs in 
a low tree like a mango or chikoo graft, seldom more than about 3 
metres up. 

The normal clutch is of 3 eggs, pinkish cream-coloured, with a 
ring of minute brown specks round the broad end. 

The closely related Whitebrowed Fan tail Flycatcher (R. 
aureola), distinguished by its broad white forehead and white 
imderpar ts, is com man mote or less throughout the Indian 
subcontinent. 

Always exciting to see is the exquisite and fairy-like Paradise 
Flycatcher ( Terpsiphone parodist)- PLATE 1 5.79 -Hindi : Shah bUlbUhr 
Doodhrsj, It is about the size of a bulbul excluding the tail ribbons 
which are between some 25 and 30 cm long. The adult male is 
silvery white with two long ribbon-like feathers, or Streamers', in 
his tail and glossy metallic black, crested head. The female and 
young male are chestnut above, greyish white below, also with black 
crested head. The young male has chestnut streamers in his tail; the 
female is without them and is altogether very like a bulbul in general 
effect. This delightful flycatcher, variously known as Rocket Bird, 
Widow Bird and Ribbon Bird, is a frequenter of shady groves and 
gardens and thin deciduous jungle with bamboo-clad nullahs. Pairs 
usually keep by themselves or in association with hunting parties of 
other small insectivorous birds. The lithe, ethereal movements of 



.. 



the male as he makes his agile twisting and looping sorties after 
winged insects, his streamers cutting whiplash figures in the air, or 
as he flies in graceful undulations from one glade to another, present 
a spectacle of unforgettable charm. However, contrary to expecta- 
tion from such loveliness, the bird possesses no song. Its only calls are 
a lively but haish and grating chi or thf-ckwi supplemented during 
the breeding season by a number of pleasant musical notes uttered 
by both sexes — the nearest approach to song. The food, typical of 
the flycatchers, consists of fiic?> gnats, moths, etc., cap cured most- 
ly on the wing. The Paradise Flycatcher nests -in many parts of the 
subcontinent, but it is one of the commonest breeding birds in the 
Vale of Kashmir and add? immeasurably to the fascination of the 
country for the nature-loving visitor. The nest is a compactly woven 
cup of fine grasses and fibres plastered on the exterior with cobweb* 
and spiders' egg cases. It is built in the crotch or elbow of a twij, 
normally between 2 and 5 me* res from the ground. The eggs— 3 to 
5 — are pale creamy pink with specks and blotches of reddish brown. 

The Babblers are a large and heterogeneous assemblage of small 
to medium sized birds of plain brown to brightly coloured plu- 
mage and chiefly gregarious habit. The following arc some of the 
commoner and better known representatives of this subfamily 
(Timalxinae). 

The Yellow-eyed Babbler (Chrysomma sinensis)- plate 1 5.80 - 
Hindi : BUlSl chashm, slightly smaller than a bulbul, is a longish- 
tailed bird of grass-and-scrub jungle and shrubbery. It is cinnamon 
and ches tout-brown above, white below, with conspicuous orange- 
yellow eyelids and yellow eyes. Like most of the family, it is normally 
met with in small parties of 5 to 7 birds frequenting thorn scrub and 
tall grass jungle, or coarse grass tussocks growing on bunds separat- 
ing cultivated fields. The birds hunt among the brushwood fot in- 
sects, clambering up the grass stems and often clinging to them side- 
ways or upside down in the manner of tits. They arc great skulkers, 
and when alarmed will hop quickly from bush to bush and vanish 
through the undergrowth emitting harsh tittering notes of concern. 
The calls normally uttered are a clear, loud and somewhat plaintive 



98 



COMMON 3IRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



99 



chetp-thup-ckttp. In the breeding season the mates clamber up to ex- 
posed situations on a bushtop or grass blade and deliver a loud and 
pretty cheeping song. Their food consists of spiders, grasshoppers 
and other insects, but like most of their relations the birds are very 
fond of flower nectar, and regular visitors to the showy blossoms of 
the Coral and Silk Cotton trout whenever available. The nest of the 
Yellow-eyed Babbler is a deep cup of coarse grasses lined with finer 
material and copiously plastered on the outside with cobwebs. It 
is wedged into the crotch of a bush, or slung hammock-wise between 
the upright stems of grasses or monsoon plants usually under 2 meters 
from the ground. The eggs— *4 or 5 — are yellowish white in colour, 
finely speckled with purplish brown. 

The Jangle Babbler (Turdaidts striaius)- plate 15.81 -Hindi: Sat 
bhfti or Ghmghai, is an earthy brown, frowzled and untidy-looking 
bird slightly smaller than a myna, with a longish tail that gives the 
impression of being loosely stuck into the body. It is invariably seen 
in nocks of half a dozen or so whence the Hindi name, and also 
'Seven Sisters* in English. The Jungle Babbler inhabits outlying 
jungle as well as well wooded gardens, compounds and groves of 
trees in and around towns and villages. The 'sisterhoods' spend their 
time hopping on the ground rummaging among fallen leaves for 
insects. They habitually form the nucleus of the mixed itinerant 
hunting parties of insectivorous birds that move about in the forest. 
The birds keep up a constant harsh conversational chatter and 
squeaking, and as a rule the best of good fellowship prevails within 
the sisterhood. But occasionally differences of opinion arise between 
the members, and loud discordant wrangling ensues when bill and 
claws arc freely plied and feathers fly. Such lapses, however, are few 
and far between and short-lived, and normal cordiality is soon 
restored. To outside threat or aggression the sisterhood presents a 
solid front; when one member of the flock happens to be set upon 
by a cat or hawk, the others promptly rally to his rescue attacking 
the marauder with boldness and determination and much loud 
swearing, usually putting it lo flight. Their food consists of spiders, 
cockroaches, moths, and other insects and larvae. Banyan and 
peepal figs, Ian tana and other berries, as well as seeds and grain arc 



.- 



also eaten. Babblers are inordinately fond of the nectar of Silk 
Cotton and Coral flowers and contribute significantly towards their 
cross-pollination in their efforts to reach the liquid. The nest is a 
loosely built cup of twigs and rootlets in the fork of a leafy branch, 3 
to 5 metres above the ground. The clutch consists of 3 or 4 eggs of a 
beautiful turquoise blue. Cooperative building and feeding of nest- 
young by several members of a sisterhood besides the actual parents 
has been frequently observed, and may even be the normal practice. 
Jungle Babbler nests are commonly parasitized by the Pied Crested 
and Hawk Cuckoos both of which lay similar blue eggs. 

Another familiar member of the babbler group is the Common 
Babbler (Turdoidts cauda'us)- plate 15.82— Hindi : Dumri or Chttchil, 
about as big as a bulbul with a relatively longer tail. It is slimmer 
than the Jungle Babbler, but like it invariably seen in flocks or 
'sisterhoods' of half a dozen or so on the ground and among low 
thorn bushes. Its earthy brown upper plumage is streaked darker, 
and the long graduated loosely attached tail is finely cross-rayed. 
The sisterhoods spend their time scuttling along the ground like 
rats, running fast with short mincing steps under hedges and through 
thorny scrub and thickets, rummaging for insects and caterpillars. 
They are loth to take wing and usually rely on their nimble legs for 
escape when alarmed or while moving from bush to bush. Their 
flight is feeble— a lew rapid flaps of the roundel wings followed by 
a glide on outspread wings and tail. Their call is a series of short 
pleasant trilling whistles. When agitated, as on sighting a snake or 
cat, the birds utter a musical whistling which-whuh-whuki'Ti-ri-ri-Ti-Ti- 
ri etc. as they nervously twitch their wings and tail and hop from 
bush to bush peering down at the intruder, the entire sisterhood 
combining to hurl a disorderly chorus of loud invectives at him. The 
food consists of spiders, insects, berries, seeds and grain and, flower- 
nectar. The nest is a neat, compact cup of grass and rootlets placed 
in a low thorn bush seldom more than about 2 metres up. The 
eggs— 3 or 4 — are glossy turquoise blue and, as with the Jungle 
and Large Grey Babblers, their nests are commonly parasitized 
by the Pied Crested and Hawk Cuckoos whose eggs match theirs in 
coloration. 



too 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



101 



A closely allied species, the Large Grey Babbler ,T. malcotrm), 
greyer brown with grey forehead and white outer tail feathers 
(conspicuous when tail spread in flight) , is also common in the 
drier parts of the Peninsula generally and plentiful on the Deccan 
plateau. 

The Warblers are mostly tiny birds of sober coloration, smaller 
than sparrows, whose characteristics as a group are difficult to 
describe. Many species are resident and others migratory. The 
subfamily — Sylvunae— is exemplified by the following common and 
familiar representatives. 

The Aaly Wren- War bier (Prima $ocialis)-p\ ATF 118 J -Hindi : 
Pf&tki (for most warblers), is ashy slate-coloured above, fulvous 
white below, with a loose, longish, graduated black- and-whitc-tip- 
ped tail. It is carried partially cocked and constantly shaken up and 
down. The plumage becomes browner (Jess slaty) in winter. This 
little warbler is a frequent inhabitant of large well watered gardens 
with shrubbery and herbaceous borders. Though not shy, it is of a 
retiring disposition and hops about quietly among the bushes with 
cocked and loosely switching tail in search of insects and caterpillars, 
uttering a sharp tu-Ut-Ui from time to time. In the breeding season, 
however, the male courts publicity, constantly climbing up to some 
exposed branch or bushtop and delivering a torrent of spirited 
warbling. He flits about excitedly, jcrk3 his tail up and down, and 
flutters his wings. His jerky see-saw display flight gives the impression 
of the tail being too heavy for him to carry. When suddenly disturb- 
ed off its nest and agitatedly flitting around, this warbler in common 
with the H xt and so our of its other near relations, emits a peculiar 
sharp kii-irit-kit as of electric sparks, presumably by snapping its bill, 
but the source is not prcven. The normal nest of the Ashy Wren- 
Warbler is of the Tailor Bird type — in a funnel of sewn leaves — but 
in situations where the requisite large pliant leaves are not available 
the nest is an oblong purse of woven fibres into which some support- 
ing small 'eaves are tacked with cobwebs. The nest is normally under 
1} metres from the ground. The eggs— 3 or 4 — are k beautiful glossy 
brick-red with w. dark ring round the broad end. 



The In -Han Wren- Warbler (P. mbficam) is rufous earthy brown, 
rather like the Ashy Warbler in winter plumage. It can be distin- 
guished by the absence of the terminal spots on the tail and by its 
preference for drier, less well-watered localities. 

Our best-known warbler on merit and through well-deserved 
publicity in Kipling s immortal lunnU Book is the D&rzi or Tailor 
Bird {Orthotomus suiorius)- plate 1 3.84 —a sprightly little olive-green 
bird with whitish underparts, & rust-coloured crown, and long 
narrow pin-shaped middle feathers to its jauntily cocked tail. It is 
seen singly or in pairs in shrubbery and gardens and is equally at 
home in town and country. The bird is everywhere tame and confid- 
ing and will fearlessly enter verandahs of inhabited bungalows, 
hopping about on the floor to pick i*p bits of thread or wisps of 
cotton wool for its nest, or to hunt an".' lg <he creepers on the ut*?is- 
work or potted plants, within a few feet of the inmate*. Its loud 
cheerful calls towit-towit-towii or prtlty'pretty-prtUp are amongst the 
more familiar bird voices in suburban gardens. Its food, as of other 
warblers, consists of tiny insect and their eggs and caterpillars, but 
the bird is also very partial to flower nectar and may invariably be 
seen probing for this into the showy red blossoms of the Silk Cotton 
and Coral trees. The Tailor Bir J. is justly renowned for its remark- 
able nest which indeed reflects the high water mark of avian archi- 
tectural design. The nest itself is a rough cup of soft fibres, hair, 
cotton wool and vegetable down, but it is placed in a funnel skil- 
fully fashioned by folding over and stitching a broad green leaf along 
its edges. When the leaf is not sufficiently large two or more are thus 
sewn together. The stitching material ii cotton or vegetable down 
twisted into a thread and cleverly knotted at the ends to prevent the 
sewing getting undone by the tens' >n. Crotons, figs and similar 
large- leaved plants or creepers arc selected, frequently those grow- 
ing in pots in a porch or verandah and seldom more than a metre 
or two up. The eggs — 3 or 4 — are reddish- or bluish-white, usually 
spotted with brownish red. 

Thrushes, Robins, and Chats also form an important subfamily 
of the flycatchers Turdxnafj, The Magpie Robin K Ctfiythtu 



_* 



102 



COMMON BIRDS 



saularis)- plate 1 5,85 -Hindi : D&iy&r or D&iyJt, is a common and 
familiar example The male is a trim black-and-white bird usually 
seen with the tail cocked; in the female the black portions arc repla- 
ced by brown and slaty grey. The birds keep singly or in pairs in thin 
jungle, but most commonly in the neighbourhood of human habita- 
tions. In the non-breeding season the male is quiet and unobtrusive, 
skulking in shrubbery and undergrowth and only uttering a plain- 
tive sute-ee and harsh ckr-r > chr-r notes from time to time. But with 
the approach of the hot weather, he regains his voice and asserts 
himself as one of our finest songsters. In his spruce and glistening 
pied livery he cuts a happy figure as from the topmost twig of a 
leafless iree or gate post within his territory he pours out a continu- 
ous torrent of joyous and far-reaching song, which though not so 
rich as the Shama's is no less spirited. The tail is depressed and part- 
ly spread while singing, hut constantly jerked upward and nicked 
open as if to punctuate the melody. The singing continues inter- 
mittently throughout the day and often well into the evening. When 
staking out their territories, and during the breeding season, the 
males are very pugnacious. They show off before their mates as well 
as intruding rivals by a cocking of the outspread tail right over the 
back, chest puffed out ludicrously, bill pointing skyward while the 
bird stiffly struts and nods. The diet is chiefly insectivorous, but they 
will occasionally take berries, and nectar of the showy red flowers 
of the Silk Cotton and Coral trees forms an irresistible attraction at 
all times. The nest is a pad of grass, rootlets and hair placed in, a 
hole in a wall or tree-trunk, or in the top of a drain pipe or derelict 
street lamp. Nest boxes are freely patronized. The eggs — 3 to 5 — 
are some shade of pale blue-green, blotched and mottled with 
reddish brown. 

TluShama (Copsychusmatabariats),- plate 15.86 -mentioned above, 
is the forest representative of the D&iy&r and thus better known to 
townsfolk as a highly prized singing cage bird. It is black above, with 
a conspicuous white patch on the lower back at the base of the lengish 
black-and-white tail. Its underparts are rusty brown. The birdsome- 
times ventures into shady well- wooded hillstations like Mat he ran 
(near Bombay), regaling summer visitors by its rich and beautiful song. 



COMMON BIRDS 



103 



A smaller relation of the Magpie Robin is the Pied Buahchat 
(Saxkoia caprata)- plate 13.8? -Hindi ; Katipiddn, about the size of a 
sparrow. The male is jet black with contrasting glistening white 
patches on the rump, lower abdomen, and wings — the last more 
prominent in flight. The female is plain earth-brown with a pale 
rust-coloured rump. The bird is found patchily, partly as resident 
partly as winter visitor, and keeps in separated pairs in open broken 
country and around cultivation, perched on bushtops and reed 
stems. From here it makes frequent little darts to the ground to pick 
up a grasshopper or bug. Sometimes it captures winged insects by 
springing vertically up into the air or making short flycatcher-like 
sorties. The note commonly uttered is a harsh chtk, chek ending in a 
subdued Irweet. In the breeding season the male delivers a pretty 
little whistling song beginning with a double chik-chik and somewhat 
resembling the song of the Indian Robin. The song is given within 
his territory, during courtship and also as a challenge to intruding 
rivals, and is accompanied by various threatening postures. The nest 
is a pad of grass lined with hair or wool, placed in a hollow in an; 
earth-cutting or wall. The eggs — 3 or 5 — are pale bluish white, 
speckled and blotched with reddish brown. 

The Collared Bushchat [Saxicola torquata) is also found in culti- 
vation and tall grassland during winter. The male has a black 
head, orange-brown breast, and prominent white patches on the 
sides of the neck (the 'collar*), wings and above the base of the tail. 
The female resembles the Pied Bushchat's but is streaked darker on 
the upperparts. 

The Indian Robin (Saxicotoittes Jvlicata)— plate 15.88— Hindi : 
Kslchtiri t h another member of the thrush group and one of the more 
familiar and confiding birds of our countryside, frequently met with 
in villages perched on a thatch roof, roadside hedge or stone, switch- 
ing its cocked tail up and down expressively as it turns facing this 
way and that, uttering its cheery notes. The male is a sprightly little 
bro i and glistening black bird with deep chestnut under its perma- 
nently cocked tail. He has a white patch on his wings concealed or 
almost so at rest but flashing into prominence when he flies. The hen 
is ashy brown with paler chestnut under the likewise cocked tail. 



104 



COMMON fllRDS 



The birds spend their time running about in spurts,, now mounting a 
bush or a termite mound, now descending to pick up some liny insect 
prey* In this quest the birds will boldly enter verandahs of huts and 
bungalows t regardless of the activities of the inmates. The Robin's 
food is exclusively insects and caterpillars; it is partial to white ants 
and commonly in attendance at ant hills. Its song is no more than a 
few sprightly and cheerful notes; this is given by the male chiefly 
in courtship display or when confronting an interloper into his 
territory, when he will also puff out his chest and stretch himself 
menacingly to his full height, tossing the cocked tail forward well 
over his back. The Indian Robin's nest is a cup of grass and root- 
lets, frequently adorned with snake sloughs. It is placed in a hole in 
an earth-cutting, rotten tree-stump, or in a derelict tin can or earthen 
chatty* The eggs — 2 or 3 — are white with a creamy or greenish 
tinge, speckled and blotched with ruddy brown. 

One of our most distinguished songsters in the thrush subfamilv 
is the Malabar Whistling Thrush (Afyiophoruus horsjieldii)- platk IS. 
"89 —Hindi : K&stura. It is a handsome largish blue-black thrush, 
between a myna and pigeon in size, with patches of glistening cobalt 
blue on its forehead and shoulders, and black bill and legs. The 
biro* is a denizen of well wooded rock)' nullahs and torrential hill 
streams, both near and away from human habitations. Its loud and 
rich whistling song, heard during the breeding season, is one of the 
earliest bird voices to greet the dawn. The astonishingly human 
quality of its melody and its aimless rambling up and down the scale 
have earned the bird its rather apt popular name of Idle or Whist- 
ling Schoolboy* Like other thrushes it is silent during the non-breed- 
ing season, the only note then uttered being the characteristic sharp 
kree-ee of the family. The food of the Whistling Thrush consists of 
aquatic insects, snails and crabs. The latter are purposefully batter- 
ed on stones to remove their hard covering. The bird hops Jrom 
stone to stone amidst a swirling stream and snatches at the quarry 
as it drifts past. The tail is constantly flicked open fanwise and jerk- 
ed up and down till it almost touches the perch, evidently in an 
attempt to stampede prey lurking in hollows and fissures in the 
rocks. The Whistling Thrush is much prized by fanciers as a songster 



COMMON BIRDS 



105 



and becomes quite tame if taken as a nestling. The nest is a large 
compact pad of roots, moss and grass reinforced with mud, placed 
under a shelving rock or on a precipitous ledge often near or under a 
cascading waterfall. The full clutch consists of 3 or 4 eggs, pale buff 
or greyish stone in colour, blotched and speckled with reddish brown 
and lavender. 

The closely related Himalayan Whistling Thrush (M. Um 
minckii) occupies a strip of country along the Himalayan foothills, 
extending into Assam and Burma. It is distinguished by a yellow 
instead of black bill, and it has no cobalt patches on the forehead 
or shoulders. 



The family Pari d ae (Tits) contains birds mostly of the size of a 
sparrow or smaller. They are lively and vivacious arboreal birds with 
small stout bills, and some of them possess jaunty upstanding crests. 
They are richly represented in the Himalayas. Of the three species 
found in the Peninsula, the one that has the widest distribution is the 
Grey Tit {Parus major)- plate 1390 -Hindi: RamgangrZ. It is a perky 
sparrow-like bird identified by its uncrested glossy black head, 
glistening white cheeks, grey back, and whitish underparts with a 
broad black band running down the middle. It is found among trees 
in wooded localities, but it avoids humid evergreen forest* The birds 
go about singly or in pairs or small parties, sometimes in association 
with cooperative bands of other insectivorous species. They scatter 
to feed among the foliage, keeping in touch with each other by joy- 
ous cheeping and twittering contact notes. They climb about, cling- 
ing to the sprigs and flowering stems upside down and in all manner 
of acrobatic positions, peering under leaves, probing into flowers, 
and searching the crevices of the bark for insects and their eggs and 
grubs which comprise their diet* In spite of some little damage tits 
may occasionally do to orcliard fruit and buds, they are beneficial 
birds on account of the vast quantities of insect pests they destroy. 
They also eat the kernels of nuts and hard-shelled seeds, holding 
them down under foot and hacking them open by repeated hammer 
blows of the strong bill. In the breeding season the male delivers a 
clear whistling song wlmchichi t wheechxeki, whteckicht, etc. The nest 



106 



COMMON BIRDS 



COMMON BIRDS 



107 



of the Grey Tit is a pad of hair, moss and feathers in a hole in a 
tree-trunk or branch, or in a stone wall. The eggs — 4 to 6 — are 
white or pinkish white, spotted and speckled with reddish brown. 
The other common tit with a peninsular distribution is the 
Yellowch««ked Tit (Partis xanlhogenys) - It is a dainty black-and- 
yellow tit with a prominent pointed black crest and yellow underparts 
with a broad black band down the middle. It inhabits more or less 
the same type of country as the Grey Tit, but may also be found in 
damper localities. 

The Nuthatches (family Sittidae) are small arboreal or cliff haunt- 
ing birds that run along in jerky spurts up and down tree-trunks 
and branches or rock faces searching for spiders and insects among 
the fissures and crevices. They have short square tails and longish 
woodpecker-like bills. A species that is found practically throughout 
the Indian Union and in East Pakistan is the Qwstnatbcllied 
Nnthatch (Sitta castanta)- plate 13. 9 1 -Hindi; Siri or KatphoriyZ, It 
is smaller than the sparrow, slaty blue above, deep chestnut below, 
with longish pointed bill. The underparts of the female are paler. 
It is usually seen singly or in separated pairs creeping like a mouse 
up and around the branches and trunks of trees in light forest. The 
bird is partial to mango topes and groves of large trees around 
villages. Its feeding habits resemble those of both the tit and the wood- 
pecker : like the former, it scours the trunks and branches, scuttling 
jerkily up, sideways or upside down, and peering inquisitively into 
fissures; like the woodpecker, it climbs and taps away on the bark to 
dislodge lurking prey. In this quest, the bird will often cling to and 
run along the undersurfacc of » bough with amazing agility. Its food 
consists of spiders and insects with their eggs and larvae, but like 
the tits it also eats the kernels of various nuts and hard-shelled seeds 
of forest trees, wedging them firmly in some crevice and hacking 
them open with repeated hammer blows of the strong pointed bill. 
The notes it normally utters are feeble mousy squeaks, but it also 
has a pleasant quick-repeated, double, whistling chip-chip. Except 
when paired in the breeding season, the birds move about in small 
scattered parties, frequently in association with tits in the mixed 



roving bands of insectivorous birds in forests. This nuthatch lays its 
eggi in natural tree hollows or barbet holes, lining them with 
leaves, moss and wool. The opening is wailed up with a plaster 
of wet mud which soon dries hard leaving a small neat round 
hole for entrance and exit. The eggs — 2 to 6 — are white speckled 
with red. 

The family Motactluda* (Pipits and Wagtails) contains slim 
elegant birds with longish tails which are constantly wagged up and 
down as they run about on grassy or marshy land, picking up tiny 
insects. The majority of species are winter visitors to our area from 
the Palaearctic Region. One of the commonest of these winter 
visitors is the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)— Hindi ; Dhtb&n or 
Ak&nj&n, which is the size of a sparrow, but slimmer and with a 
longer tail. It is chiefly grey above and white below. In winter 
plumage the black bib is much reduced or wanting, the chin 
and throat being white Uke the underparts. The bird is usually seen 
singly or in twos and threes and small scattered parties, running 
about on the ground with quick mincing steps, wagging their tails 
incessantly as they make short lively spurts to pick up insects, turn- 
ing and twisting this way and that and sometimes taking short up- 
ward leaps in their pursuit. They keep to open country, ploughed 
fields and fallow land, and are commonly seen on golf links and 
maidans even in populous human habitations, hunting uncon- 
cernedly among the multitude of players of cricket and other games. 
The flight, typical of the family, is a series of long undulating curves 
caused by alternate quick flapping and closing of wings. It is 
accompanied by the distinctive call chkhip, chickip, chkhip. The birds 
roost in vast congregations among the foliage of leafy trees or with- 
in reedbeds and sugarcane fields. The majority of our wintering 
watfiAiU breed in northern countries beyond our limits. One race 
of thr White Wagtail breeds in Kashmir. The nest is cup-shaped, 
iiiailr of grass, rootlets and wool. It is placed under a stone or bush, 
»»f Anting the roots of an uprooted tree near a stream or on a shingle 
Ulfl in its middle. The eggs — * to 6— are white, freckled and spoiled 
wllh reddish brown. 






108 



COMMON BIRDS 



The Grey Wagtail {Motatilla caspica) — plate U.^-(top)— is 
another specie* widely found in winter in the better wooded parts of 
the subcontinent, usually seen running about singly near rocky 
streams and trickles, and at rain-water runnels along hill roads and 
forest paths. While the birds are with us the sexes are alike and with- 
out the black chin, throat, and breast which the male acquires in lis 
summer (breeding) plumage as shown in the plate. Its general 
habits do not differ from those of the White and other wagtails. 
The male has a pretty little song in the breeding season. Its nearest 
breeding area is in Kashmir and the western Himalayas. The nest 
and its site are similar to those of the White Wagtail, the eggs— 4 
to 6— being yellowish grey or greenish, freckled with reddish brown. 
Several other grey and yellow wagtails {M.Jtava) visit usin winter. 
It is difficult to distinguish the various species in winter plumage, 
but they can be identified just before their return to their northern 
homelands when many of the birds have donned their distinctive 
summer dresses. The only resident wagtail in peninsular India is 
the Large Pied Wagtail (M. madtraspatensis)- plate 13.92 a(bottom)- 
which is larger than the rest, being about the size of a bulbul. Its 
plumage is black and white resembling in pattern that of the familiar 
Magpie Robin, but it has a prominent white eyebrow and it does not 
carry its tail cocked. This wagtail is usually met rfith in pairs in the 
neighbourhood of jheels and village tanks and is particularly fond 
of clear shingly and rocky smooth- 1 arming streams. The birds are 
not shy and often frequent human habitations, perching on rooftops 
or running about and feeding unconcernedly at dhobi ghats and the 
like. They have a number of loud pleasant whistling calls, and dur- 
ing the breeding season the male sings sweetly from a rock or house- 
top. In a general way the ditty is not unlike some snatches of the 
Magpie Robin's song. The nest is a cup-shaped pad of rootlets, hair, 
wool and dry algae placed in a hole in a wall, beneath a projecting 
rock, among the rafters of an inhabited dwelling, or under the 
girders of a bridge. Whatever the situation, it is always near water. 
The normal clutch consists of 3 or 4 eggs. They are greyish-, 
brownish-, or greenish-white in colour, blotched and streaked witlil 
various shades of brown. 



I 



COMMON BIRDS 



109 



Pipits belong to the same family as wagtails and are similar to 
them in size and shape, and largely in habits too. They are, how- 
ever, all of a sober brown coloration like larks but with slenderer, 
more elongate bodies and longer tails. Some of the species are easy 
enough to recognize by their size, colour pattern and habitat prefer- 
ences; others are so alike superficially that they are almost impossi- 
ble to differentiate in the field. Most of the species are winter visitors. 
One of the more common and widespread of the migratory pipits is 
the Tree Pipit (Anthus frwiWw)-pLATE 1 393 -Hindi: JtSgd or Ch&r~ 
chiri (all pipits). It is rather like the female House Sparrow in colora- 
tion but slimmer, and with a thinner bill and a longer tail. The outer 
tail feathers are white and show up conspicuously when the bird is 
alighting from flight. Its upperparts are black-streaked sandy brown, 
with a distinct pale supercilium or eyebrow. The underparts are 
fulvous white, heavily streaked with black on the breast. Tlie Tree 
Pipit is found in winter more or less over the entire subcontinent in 
deciduous wooded country, mango orchards, and groves of trees near 
villages. It is distinguished from most other pipits by its habit of 
feeding in the shade of trees rather than in the open. Its coloration 
makes it completely invisible among the fallen dry leaves when it is 
not moving. It walks about quietly on the ground, picking up weevils 
and other small insects which constitute its food. On disturbance it 
flies up into nearby trees, descending to resume its activity as 
soon as the coast is clear. The notes uttered on the wing are a feeble 
tstep-Utep. The pretty song of the male, uttered during a short dis- 
play flight, is only heard on its northern breeding grounds beyond 
our borders. 

Our only resident pipit is the Indian Pipit [A. notmsuiandiot). 
It has a very wide distribution in the subcontinent and commonly 
breeds in the plains. It is usually met with singly or in separated 
pairs in open country — on fallow land and village grazing grounds — 
running about briskly and slowly wagging its tail up and down. The 
nolci, uttered on the wing, are a feeble pipit-pipit etc. During the 
breeding season, the male soars and flutters a few metres up in the 
mIi, uttering a feeble cheeping song, and descends to earth again in a 
OOUple of minutes. The nest of the Indian Pipit is a shallow cup of 



NO 



COMMON BIRDS 



gran, rootlets and hair — sometimes partially domed — placed on 
the ground in an old hoof- print of cattle or under shelter of a clod 
or diminutive bush. The eggs — 3 or 4 — are yellowish- or greyish 
white irregularly blotched and spotted with bf own, more densely at 
the broad end. * 

The family Dicaeidae (Flowerpeckers) contains tiny, restless, 
arboreal short-tailed birds with slender, slightly curved, pointed bills 
adapted for probing into flowers. A species with very wide distri- 
bution in the Indian Union and East Pakistan is Ticket)'* Flower- 
pecker {Dicaatm erylhrorkynckos) -plate 13.94— Hindi : Phootcfmki (all 
nowerpeckers). It is an active olive-brown and greyish little bird, 
much smaller than a sparrow and perhaps the smallest in India. 
It looks somewhat like a female sunbird but has a shorter, flesh- 
coloured bill. Its food consists almost exclusively of flower-nectar 
and berries, especially those of the injurious plant parasites of the 
mistletoe family (Loranthus and Viscum) commonly known in Hindi 
as BSndhd. It fertilizes the flowers of the Loranthus parasite by cross* 
pollinating them in its efforts to reach the nectar. The ripe berrie* 
of this as well as Viscum are swallowed entire, the sticky, slimy seeds 
soon being excreted on a branch of a neighbouring tree where they 
adhere and germinate to spread the infestation. Flowerpeckers have 
regular 'beats' or feeding territories within which they make their 
circuits from one infested tree to another. In flight as well as while it 
hops restlessly among the parasite clumps, the bird utters an almost 
incessant ckik-chik-chik, varied occasionally by a feeble twittering 
song. The nest of this flowerpecker is a hanging oval pouch, some- 
what smaller and neater than a sunbird's and without the drapery 
of rubbish on the outside. It is made of soft fibres and vegetable 
down, with the texture of felt, usually pinkish brown in colour and 
suspended from a twig some 3 to 10 metres from the ground, The 
eggs, normally 2, are white without any markings. 

Another common flowerpecker of rather similar appearance and 
habits is the TbickbiUed Flowerpecker (D. agile). It may be 
distinguished by its faintly brown-streaked underparts and the thick 
bluish homy finch-like bill. 



COMMON BIRDS 



111 



The family Nectar iniidae— (Sunbirds or Honeysuckeri) con* 
tains small brilliantly metallic coloured birds like flowerpeckers but 
with longer and slenderer bills specially adapted for eating nectar 
from flowers aided by tubular suctorial tongues. One of the com- 
monest examples is the Purple Sunbird {Ntcktrinia asiatua)-n_ATE 13 
95— Hindi: ShAkarkkorS (all sunbirds), smaller than a sparrow. 
The male in breeding plumage is black with a high metallic sheen 
of green and purple, and with a tuft of fiery orange-red feathers at 

the 'armpits*. The non-breeding male is somewhat like the female 

olive-brown above, pale dull yellow below— but with black wings 
and a broad black streak running down the middle of the breast. 
Sunbirds usually go about in pairs, flitting restlessly from flower to 
flower, clinging to them upside down and in all manner of positions 
to probe into the corolla with their slender curved bill for nectar, 
which forms their staple diet. One will sometimes hover in front of 
a blossom like a hawkmoth and, poised momentarily on rapidly 
vibrating wings, pick up a spider or small insect from it. This, how- 
ever, is not its normal method of sucking nectar as in the unrelated 
Humming Birds of the New World. It utters a short monosyllabic 
wick, wick as it flits among the flower-laden branches. Breeding males 
love to sit in exposed situations such as a leafless treetop or telegraph 
wire, and sing excitedly, pivoting from side to side and nervously 
raising and lowering the wings to display the brilliant yellow and 
scarlet tuft of feathers at the 'armpits', while the tail is flicked open 
and shut. The song is a spirited but rather squeaky thttwtt-cheeu U 
cknwit, etc., rapidly repeated. The nest— typical of the sunbirds— is 
a hanging oblong pouch of soft grasses, rubbish and cobwebs, drap- 
ed on the outside with pieces of papery bark and caterpillar dropp- 
ing!. It is often built in creepers covering the wall of an inhabited 
bungalow, or in a low shrub, usually under 3 metres from the 
greund, The eggs — 2 or 3— are greyish- or greenish- white, marked 
with brown and grey. 

IV P*rplerKmped Sunbird (JV, zeylmica) is another common 
|pN4M in the peninsular plains. The male's head, upperparts and 
WraaM ara mntity metallic green, crimson and purple, and rump 
metilUi Wimh pur pie. The lower parts arc bright yellow. The female 






112 



COMMON BIRDS 



'is similar to that of the Purple Sunbird but with greyish white chin 
and throat, and brighter vellow underparts. 

A family closely allied to the flowerpeckers and sunbirds is 
Zosteropidae containing the dainty little Wlritc-eye (tysterops 
palpebrasa)-PLATE 13.96 -Hindi: BSboonS. It is a tiny square-tailed 
greenish yellow and bright yellow bird with a conspicuous white 
ring round the eyes ('spectacles') and slender, pointed, slightly 
curved bill. It is met with in small parties and flocks of 5 to 20 birds 
in trees in gardens and wooded country. Occasionally much larger 
numbers collect together. They are entirely arboreal birds and spend 
their time hunting for food amongst the foliage of trees and bu*hes 
searching the leaves and buds methodically, clinging in all manner 
of acrobatic positions, and peering and probing into them for lurk- 
ing insects and spiders. In addition to this they eat the pulp of ripe 
fruits and berries, and the nectar of a large variety of blossoms like- 
wise forms an important part of their diet. While probing the flower 
tubes for this, the birds render considerable service in cross-pollina- 
tion. As they hop or flit among the leaves they constantly utter their 
feeble jingling or twittering notes. The flocks break up during the nest- 
ing season when : he male develops a pretty little tinkling song, rather 
reminiscent of the Verditer Flycatcher of the Himalayas. The song 
commences almost inaudibly, grows louder and then fades out as it 
began in 3 or 4 seconds. White-eyes make charming pets, soon be- 
coming tame and confiding and completely inured to captivity. The 
nest is a tiny cup of fibres neatly bound and plastered with cobwebs 
— like a miniature oriole's nest — and similarly slung ham mock- wise 
in a forking twig at the extremity of a branchy It is normally built 
about 2 or 3 metres up in a shrub or small tree. The eggs — 2 or 3 — 
are a beautiful unmarked pale blue, sometimes with a cap of deeper 
blue at the broad end. 

The family Ploceidae contains the sparrows and weavers — 
perhaps the most widely known and recognized birds even by those 
who do not specially bother themselves about them. The foremost 
of these is the House Sparrow {Passer domesiicus — >»plate 16.97- 



COMMON BIRDS 1 1 3 

Hindi : Gaurixya, which has now spread itself practically over the 
entire inhabited globe. The hen differs from the cock (illustrated) 
in being earthy brown, streaked with blackish and fulvous above, 
and with whitish underparts. The Sparrow is an unfailing commen- 
sal of man in hill and plain alike, whether in a congested noisy city or 
outlying hamlet or farmstead. When remote areas are opened up 
and colonized, it is amongst the very first birds to take advantage 
and adapt itself to the new conditions. In winter the birds collect in 
large flocks to feed in and around cultivation. Their food consists 
chiefly of seeds and grain gleaned on the ground, but they also raid 
ripening crops of wheat and other cereals, and their multitudes 
often cause serious damage. In villages and towns the sparrow 
population is largely governed by the presence or absence of horses 
and cattle from whose droppings they pick out undigested grain. 
The birds also destroy vegetable and flower buds and are therefore 
thoroughly unpopular with kitchen gardeners. To counterbalance 
these ravages, however, they render useful service to agriculture by 
destroying vast quantities of insect pests, particularly during the 
time when they have nest-young to feed, since these are raised more 
or less exclusively on caterpillars and soft-bodied insects, mostly 
collected in the standing crops. The breeding male lias a loud, mono- 
tonous and aggravating 'song' tsi t tsi, tsi, or cheer, cheer, cheer uttered 
ad nauseam as with fluffed out plumage, arched rump and drooping 
wings he struts about arrogantly, twitching his partly cocked tail. 
Large congregations of sparrows collect to roost at night in favourite 
leafy trees or thorny thickets and engage in a great deal of noise 
and bickering before settling down to sleep. The sparrow's nest is a 
large collection of straw and rubbish stuffed into a hole in a wall or 
ceiling in a building whether tenanted or not. Its eggs — 3 to 5 — are 
pale greenish white, marked with various shades of brown. 

The Baym Weaver Bird (Ploceus pfnlippinus)— plate 16.98-Hindi : 
Baya, is best known for its remarkable woven retort-shaped nests 
hanging from trees in the neighbourhood of cultivation. The male 
in breeding plumage is shown in the plate. The female, and male in 
non-breeding dress are indistinguishable from each other, both be- 
ing very like the hen House Sparrow, but with a thicker bill, and 



114 



COMMON BIRDS 



shorter tail. Bayas keep in flocks, sometimes of enormous size, in 
open country around cultivation. They raid ripening cereal crops 
and are sometimes responsible for very serious local damage. They 
migrate a good deal locally, their movements depending largely on 
the monsoon and on cultivation, especially of paddy. Vast numbers 
gather to roost in reedbeds and sugarcane fields at night, often shar- 
ing these with House Sparrows and Mynas, Their normal call notes 
are a sparrow-like chit-chit-chit. In the breeding season the males 
follow these up by a long-drawn joyous musical ch**-& sung in chorus 
while weaving and clinging to their nests, accompanied by excited 
wing-napping to attract the prospecting females visiting the nest 
colony. The breeding habits of this and our other weaver birds are 
unique. The male builds a number of successive nests in the same 
colony which are taken over by females one by one when half ready, 
and completed by him only if so accepted. In this way each cock 
may often have two to five nests and as many wives and families all 
at more or less the same time. The nest is a swinging retort-shaped 
structure with a long vertical entrance tube, compactly woven 
out of fine strips torn out of paddy leaves or rough-edged grasses. 
They are suspended in clusters from twigs of babool and suchlike 
trees, or palm fronds, usually over water. Blobs of mud, collected 
when wet, are stuck inside the dome near the egg chamber, whose 
purpose is not understood. The eggs — 2 to 4 — are pure white. 

Two other weaver birds, common but less widely distributed, are 
the Striated (P. memjar) and the Blackthroated Weaver Bird 
(P. btnghaUnsis) . They are most easily differentiated by the seasonal 
breeding plumage of the males. In the former the breast is fulvous, 
boldly streaked with black, and the crown of the head bright yellow. 
In the Blackthroated weaver the crown is brilliant golden yellow and 
the throat white, separated from the whitish underparts by a promi- 
nent black breast band. The woven nests of both are built among 
grass and reeds growing in water or swamps. 

The Red Mania (Estrilda amtndavay plat* 16.99 a(4)-Hindi : La/ 
or LB I mimiS t is smaller than a sparrow. The illustration shows the 
male in breeding dress. In non-breeding plumage the male and 
female are alike : brownish, sparsely spotted with white and with 



COMMON BIRDS 



115 



only the bill and rump crimson. The tail is rounded, not pointed as 
in the Spotted Munia. It is a typical munia in habits and behaviour, 
keeping in flocks in tall flowering grass and reeds usually in damp 
localities such as the margin of a jheel. It lives on grass-seeds and 
insects. Breeding males utter a low continuous twittering song. The 
id is a popular cage bird and more often seen as such than in the 
wild state. Its nest it a globular structure of grass with a side 
entrance, lined with finer grasses and feathers and built low down in 
a bush, Four to seven pure white eggs form the normal clutch. 

The Spotted Mania {Lmchura fmmtulata}- plate 16.99(3) — Hindi; 
Tilia munia or StniuHz, is of about the same size but has a pointed 
tail. In non-breeding and immature plumages, both sexes ate more 
or less plain brown. The Spotted Munia goes about in flocks, some- 
times of over 200 or more, keeping in the neighbourhood of cultiva- 
tion. The birds hop about on the ground gleaning grass-seeds and 
occasionally take winged termites as they em erg e from rain-sodden 
ground. When disturbed the birds fly up into trees uttering feeble 
chirrups. The flock flies in a close-packed undulating rabble as is 
characteristic of the munias. The nest is globular like the Red 
Mania's, with the side entrance usually extended into a short tube. 
Jt is placed in low bushes, but occasionally high up in the head or 
on. the leaves of a palmyra palm 10 to 15 metres up. The normal 
clutch is of 4 to 8 pure white eggs. 



The family Funoxludab (Finches) stands very close to the 
sparrows. It contains mostly bright coloured sparrow-like birds, a 
typical example being the Common Indian or Hodgson's Rose- 
flncii [Carpodaau ajtkrimu}- plate 1 6. 100 -Hindi : TUti or L3l 0j| 
which is a winter visitor to the Indian subcontinent. The male has 
a beautiful rose-pink head, breast, back and shoulders; the female 
h brown with an olive tinge. In both sexes the heavy, conical finch 
bill, the distinctly forked tail, and a pale double bar on the wing are 
MMupkuous features. Before leaving their winter quarters on the 
*|>|m>>«< h of summer, the males assume a more intensely red colour 
uiimaskrd by the wearing away or abrasion of the paler feather 
tdfn, of the fresh plumage in which they had arrived in autumn. The 



116 



COMMON BIRDS 



Rosefinch keeps in small flocks of 10 to 20 birds on the outskirts o 
cultivation, feeding in shrubbery and standing crops. Its food con 
sists of flower buds as well as berries (such as lantana), banyan ant 
pecpal figs, bamboo seeds when available, and ripening jowar 
linseed, bajra and other crops. Flowering trees and shrubs such a 
Semal [Salmalia) and Pangra (Erylhrina) are regularly visited fo: 
the nectar of their blossoms. In the process of reaching the liquid 
the birds* forehead and throat feathers get dusted with pollen anc 
they doubtless play an important part in cross-pollinating the 
flowers. The ordinary call note of the Rosefinch is a musical, whistl- 
ing, interrogative toon"? or choeu? constantly uttered as the birds 
move about. Just before they leave for their breeding grounds, the 
beginnings of the loud pleasant song of the male may sometimes be 
heard. The species breeds in Kashmir and the western Himalayas 
at moderate elevations. The nest is a cup of grass lined with fine 
roots and hair. It is placed in wild cose or similar thorny bushes 1 or 
2 metres above the ground. The eggs — 3 or 4 — are blue in colour, 
spotted and speckled with blackish and light red. 



The last family of the order Passeriformes is Emberizidae 
(Buntings) . Buntings are superficially very finch-like, but on the 
whole with slenderer, more elongated bodies and longer tails. 
Many of them, like the pipits, have a great deal of white in the 
outer tail feathers which is conspicuous in flight. The best known 
among this group are the Blackheaded Bwaffag {Embrrtza nulano- 
rephala) and the Redheaded Banting (E. bnmkeps)-r\ ate I6.101J6.102 
Hindi : GandUm (for both), of which the males are illustrated. Both 
these species are slightly larger than a sparrow and winter visitors 
to our area. The female of the black-headed species is fulvous-brown 
above; that of the Redheaded Bunting is ashy brown. The lover 
plumage in both is fulvous, strongly washed with yellow. They are 
seen in the cold season in large flocks, often of both species mixed, 
keeping to open cultivation interspersed with bush and babool 
jungle. The birds descend in 'clouds' to feed upon ripening crops 
of jowar, wheat, bajra and other cereals and often cause consider- 
able damage. Their depredations do not cease with the cuttincr of 






common snu>s 



117 



the fields but continue on the harvested stacks until the grain is 
threshed and removed. The masses of glistening yellow birds against 
the dark green foliage of the surrounding babool trees look like 
brilliant Rowers in the distance and present a charming spectacle. 
Whilst in their winter quarters with us the only sounds these bunt- 
ings utter are a sparrow- like but musical, rather, plaintive tweet as 
they fly about. The Blackheaded Bunting breeds beyond our 
boiders, in western Asia and eastern Europe. The nearest place 
where the Redheaded species docs so is Baluchistan (West Paki- 
stan), It builds a cup-shaped nest of weed-stems and fibres, lined 
with goats' hair. It is well concealed in shrubbery up to about 1| 
metres from the ground. The normal clutch is of 5 eggs — pale 
greenish white, speckled and spotted with dark brown, lavender 
and grey. 






ORNITHOLOGY or the study of birds is one of the few natural history sub- 
jects which has a growing following in this country, and the interest is mainly 
due to the books that have been written by Dr. Salim Ali who possesses the 
rare ability, among scientists, to communicate his interest to the layman. Based 
on a study of Indian bird life extending over four decades. Dr. Salim Ali 's 
books and research papers have made him an internationally recognised 
authority on Indian birds, a recognition which has been amply confirmed by 
the honours bestowed on him by teamed bodies in India and abroad and 
by the Government of India. 

Mrs. Laeeq Futehally, the coauthor, is an ardent nature-lover and freelance 
writer who contributes regularly to many cultural magazines and periodicals. 
Foremost among her other interests is civic landscape gardening to provide a 
touch of beauty and graciousness to the drab environment of industrial 
centres and make them more attractive places for humans and birds to live 
in. She is the author of an excellent little English reader mainly for young 
learners of the language and for budding bird-watchers, entitled About Indian 
Birds. 



Rs. 20,00 



NATIONAL BOOK TRUST, INDIA