A red-vented bulbul that lived on my wood jasmine tree
A red-vented bulbul that lived on my wood jasmine tree
Mindsnack #4 – On the joys of bird watching
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

I started bird-watching in 2010 when I stayed home on a six month vacation. Technically I was home to write my master’s thesis but that took only one hour per day.  So much idle time (and very little money) is bound to make one consider a day job. But I was determined to not bother about one until when I was tired of the vacation.

In order to keep my mind occupied I took to minding the cattle (a cow of native breed and its calf). Between the milking times at six-something in the morning and five-something in the evening I took to reading a little. Now, if you don’t know how to read books the act soon becomes a chore and soon instead of reading I was counting the sparrows, mynahs, warblers and babblers that visited our garden.

Bird watching is usually associated with exotic locations and species but even in the thickest concrete jungles there is much to observe and be fascinated by. So do not give up on bird watching because you live in a city without many wooded areas. Besides, every city has lakes, large parks and areas that are birding friendly. Even Chennai redeems itself with the large number of birding spots and variety of species you can find in the city.

Also, it is important to remember that regularly visiting a birding spot and counting birds is for serious bird watchers. Most of us don’t have that kind of time. Birding to me is to observe the birds that live in my neighborhood, those that accompany the cattle grazing on either sides of the road en route my drive to work and the little species perched on power lines.

Mynahs, Jungle Babblers, some Pied Wagtails, Drongos and sparrows inhabit my area. There are quite a few purple-rumped sunbirds – very small birds, very similar to the humming birds. They can be spotted sucking nectar from the flame of woods flowers.

In time you will know which ones live there all year round and which ones are seasonal visitors. You will begin to expect and recognize the same birds that visited you last year.

There is a pair of common wood pigeon that visits us for two-three months in a year. The red-vented bulbuls seem to visit us only in summer and used to nest on the wood jasmine tree. A koel coos endlessly in the summer from a neem tree that reaches my window (the clever bird knows when the dogs are fed and promptly arrives for her share). I once spotted a pair of scaly breasted munias in love. My best find was a pair of pied crested cuckoo’s on the drumstick tree. Their metallic toned calls are a delight!

There are some nice variations within the large species groups. Once you’re familiar with the birds in your region you begin to appreciate the changes when you travel. When you move from the plains of Coimbatore to the Ooty hills you notice the red-vented bulbuls now have a distinctive crest and a whisker. This species belongs to the bulbul family but is called red-whiskered bulbul. The species just got more beautiful in just forty kilometers!

Once you’re familiar with the bird species that inhabit your area you can begin to observe their habits, their choice of nesting spots and feeding grounds.

A lone white-tailed kite visits my area in December – January season. The peculiarity of this species is to hover for a few seconds in the air when it spots a prey and then from a height of some thirty to forty feet dives straight down to grab the prey. It remains one of favorite species and the lone bird has been visiting my area for the last two years.

Lastly, I have not spoken much about the ‘common’ species of birds you can find: crows, sparrows, pigeons and those noise babblers. It is because I wanted to talk about the variety of avian life and highlight some of my favorites. There is much you can learn about the ‘common birds’ too.

If you’re interested in birding it is useful to have a guide book of sorts (I have a copy of Salim Ali’s Birds of Kerala) or you can also install one of those mobile apps. If you are serious do join a birding club or group. In my case I’m happy with spotting and observing the birds in my neck of the woods.