Time to pack away your books and look around you. You will be amazed by the number of birds you will find in your neighbourhood. Here’s how you can go about finding out more about the birds.

Tune in to listen to the music of the birds. The cheerful chirping that awakens you every morning is not only distinctive but also pleasant. If you look around, you might be lucky to spot at least seven to eight of the 18 common birds that are listed with the Common Bird Monitoring of India. If you like to watch birds and study them, then all you have to do is form a group and explore. Choose a trail and get going.

On the eve of World Sparrow Day, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, in Chennai, organised a Common Bird Monitoring programme. It was a warm Sunday morning when the trek into the village began. During the course of the day, we spotted 18 birds, identified the call of the birds and also learnt that nesting birds should not be disturbed.

Watch out!

Trekking in Vadanemelli village, near Chennai, the first bird spotted was the Indian roller. These are easy to spot as they love to perch on any man- made structure and overhead telegraph wires. On this trek, you have to be absolutely quiet. The quieter you are, the easier it is for you to hear the various calls and sounds around you.

The calls give you a lead on where the bird is and help you get closer to it. Swallows, jungle crows and mynahs are among the regular visitors. Another interesting bird you may sight is the fork-tailed Drongo. These are resident breeders and you will often see them foraging in groups or perched on electric wires. What makes these birds interesting is their ability to imitate calls of other birds leaving bird enthusiasts rather confused.

Egrets, pond herons and kingfishers can be spotted near water bodies. If you’re lucky, you may spot a yellow wagtail like we did.

Do make it a point to gaze at the sky too, for you may see intermittent aerial visitors. Looking up we saw a rose-ringed parakeet darting across just as we sighted two other birds perched on the Banyan tree — the chestnut-headed bee-eater and a purple-sunbird, sharing space yet keeping to themselves, but unfortunately for them, their peace conference soon came to an end. “Oop oop oop” — the call was loud and clear and then the hoopoe showed up. With a tapering bill that defines it best, it landed gracefully on the top-most branch for its beauty sun bath.

Crossing a stretch of empty land, we heard a soft rustling in the grass. We spotted two bee-eaters, one green-tailed and the other blue-tailed fighting over a catch. As their name suggests they catch flying insects like wasps or bees. But soon their fight gave way to peace and as a gesture of peace they had a dust bath to keep parasites away. We heard the calls of the Indian golden Oriole, Prinia and the Pipit, but sadly we had no sighting of them. On our way back we saw the red-vented bulbul and heard a whistling call similar to the robin. On further investigation, it was revealed that it was the rather mysterious Pied Bush Chat.

Inputs by Mittal Gala, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Chennai

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For websites

If you collect data on sparrows and common birds visit these websites

For house sparrows: http://www.citizensparrow.in/

For common bird monitoring: http://www.cbmi.in/

For submitting a complete checklist: http://www.migrantwatch.in/ or http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

For migratory birds, log on to www.migrantwatch.in or www.ebird.org

For throughout-the-year birds: www.ebird.org

For bird Feeders:

http://www.shopping.natureforever.org/

For more info: www.natureforever.org

You have to register your names and agree to the terms and conditions and instructions before submitting data.

What to do

Wear dull coloured clothes — black, grey, brown, olive.

Listen for bird calls and songs

If you spot a bird but cannot not identify it, make a note of its body characteristics, e.g. size estimate with relation to a common species like a crow, a mynah or a sparrow, size and shape of the beak, markings on head, tails wings, colour and length of legs and so on.

Observe the way a bird moves — walk, perch, tail and flight patterns.

If you spot a bird in its nest and may have eggs/nestlings in it, do not go close to it.

Make a note

Make a checklist of birds every time you have been out for bird watching. You can share your observations with others by submitting it on an online database. Every online database will have its own rules and guidelines and hence it is best that one goes through the instructions beforehand.

This will further help you decide what information you want to include or exclude

  • Date
  • Time (start time and end time)
  • Exact location where data is being collected (a GPS can be used to note down the coordinates)
  • Habitat
  • Climate condition
  • Species observed (this could include a list with estimates of the number of individuals encountered and this will help to estimate the abundance of birds).