Saturday, 20 February 2010


The birds I saw were quite the members of the avian populace, but the seasoned reader would be aware of the bird-watching opportunities in Mumbai. And he would also appreciate the need for a good lens, possibly a Telephoto, for the pursuit. I was missing the lens, but the birds were there alright.
I was honestly astounded by kind of bird-life to be found in a suburban backyard of one of India's largest cities, teeming with people, auto-rickshaws, BEST buses, hand-carts, zipping two-wheelers and annoying cyclists. Its open spaces are being gobbled up by high-rises, that are growing at such an alarming rate, that only the rocketing real estate prices can keep pace with them.

Indian Parrot
Rose-ringed parakeets are the most common species of parakeets found in India and can often be heard in the winter mornings, their calls carrying far through the crisp clear air. They travel in large flocks, and favour certain trees, which bear pods that they feast on. But one morning I also saw them alight en-masse on my terrace parapet, which to me was quite bold of them. One of them kindly obliged to pose for me on a televsion cable wire.
The flock did not shy away while I stood there clicking away for I was worth. They only dispersed in a cacaphony of screeches and went over to a nearby peepul tree when a large black jungle crow flew over.
Female Indian Cuckoo

Now this tree seemed to be a favourite with a lot of different kinds of birds, and one morning I had the privilege of seeing the very elusive female Indian cuckoo sunning herself on a bough. A female cuckoo looks surprisingly like a hawk, with her patterned feathers, her curved bill and her uncannily hawk-like size and shape. Her red eye, so different from the tawny grey eyes of a hawk, is perhaps the give-away though. The male cuckoos or Koels, as they are called in India, can often be heard singing away to glory, and can also be seen much more easily- they are glossy black, and are often sighted as they flee, chased by a pack of crows. This is a very planned action though, for this is when Mrs. Koel gets into her act, laying her eggs into the unwitting crow's nests.

After a couple of sightings like these, I decided to get up early more often. My sacrifice of a warm blanket on a cold winter morning did not go unheeded(yes, it can get cold in Mumbai on winter mornings!) I saw a fork-tailed Drongo on one of those days. This glossy black bird has a very sweet high-pitched whistle, and can be sighted much more often in the country-side, perched on telephone wires to catch the morning sun. Insects are a favourite food, and I've seen these birds twist and twirl above the crop-line as they chase after fleeing insects.

I also had the pleasure of seeing a crow-pheasant, more than once. It lived in a small clearing overgrown with weeds behind my building. It was quite a large bird, with a shiny black head, a beady red eye, and rich glossy coffee brown wings and back. Apparently, it didn't like flying very much, and preferred to stay on the ground, scratching for insects like a hen. It was careful to keep out of reach of the stray dogs that chased it though, and on such occasions, showed that it could indeed fly if needed. It's called 'Bhaaradwaj' in the local language, and sighting it is said to be lucky according to folklore. So I unwittingly found myself glancing out the back window every morning before it was time to go out for the day.
Mumbai Birds

Coppersmith Barbets were among the more exotic birds to be seen. With it's bright red forehead, white breast and green back and wings, this bird makes up in colour what it lacks in size. Smaller than a sparrow, I often first saw them as bright red moving spots in the green canopy. Their monotonic call, however, was much more familiar, (and is what gives them their name - it sounds like a copper-smith striking metal with a hammer).
Mumbai Male and Female Oriole

But the best of them all was a golden-yellow and black beauty, which I had seen flash by my window more than once. I was very happy to see the Golden Oriole one morning, perched on a nearly leafless tree. The yellow was quite shocking actually, especially when the bird flew by, and you were left wondering what that flash of yellow was. It is a larg-ish bird, and very handsome indeed. The black and white bars on its wings give it a very elegant look. And on that day, he had decided to do some sun-basking with the missus. The female oriole was equally elegant, though less strikingly coloured. She too had the kohl-lined eyes and the deep black wing bands, but hers was a more pale green than a shocking yellow. Both of them stayed there for quite some time, in conjugal bliss, at times talking Oriole to each other. As the sun got a little warmer, both of them flew away to a nearby shady tree.

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