Chittu kuruvi, vellai kanni, kuzhai kada… birds of the Kongu region came alive in K. Ratnam’s presentation

A birdwatcher spends hours, sometimes days, gazing at the skies or a patch of green to spot that elusive bird. “Some people wonder what one would get out of this,” said veteran birdwatcher K. Ratnam. “For one, you will cultivate the habit of waking up early in the morning. That’s when you can see and hear their pattalam. Also, you will have to walk long distances — this is good for health.”

The retired Tamil professor was speaking on ‘The Birds of Kongu Nadu’ at the Vanavarayar Foundation’s monthly lecture series. The author of Birds of South India and Birds of Tamil Nadu, Dr. Ratnam has spent most of his life amidst birds. Backed by years of research, his books serve as valuable reference to birdwatchers.

It was a book that he chanced upon in a library that drew Ratnam to birds. Called ‘How to Watch Birds’, it made Ratnam realise that “the world of birds is special”.

The 82-year-old showed sketches and spoke of the birds he spotted over the years in and around Coimbatore. “There are over 325 species of birds in Tamil Nadu, of which about 120 can be seen in this region,” he said.

The chittu kuruvi (sparrow) and kari kuruvi (black drongo) are among the birds that can be seen a lot in the city, he said. The kambi vaal kuruvi (racket-tailed drongo) with its exquisite elongated tail, can be found in the Niligiris, he added.

Drongos are the first to sing in the morning. “They will be up at around 5 a.m.,” said Ratnam. The bright-yellow mambazha chittu can be spotted in the winter. “They prefer sitting on high branches. You can hear them in the evenings. But this bird is rare; you have to be lucky to spot it,” he said.

Ratnam recalled how he saw a vellai kanni (Oriental white-eye) on a tree in Marudhamalai in 1965. “I saw the bird on the same tree recently,” he said. Kondalathi (hoopoe), ee pidippan (bee-eater), meen kothi (kingfisher) neer kaagam (cormorant), kuzhai kada (pelican), naarai (heron)…

Ratnam spoke of where these birds nested and what they preferred eating. “The unni kokku (cattle egret) pecks at ticks on cows and goats. In summer, the bird’s plumes are completely white. After breeding, they change colour — a brownish tinge appears on the neck and back,” he explained.

It’s amazing how a bird’s mind works. It has a keen sense of time and place. Ratnam explained how every day, at 5 p.m. sharp, an egret appeared on the wall opposite his neighbour’s cowshed for its meal of ticks!

Changing environmental conditions have affected birds — sparrows and vultures have reduced in number. The number of peacocks, however, has increased, noted Ratnam. This has resulted in a conflict between farmers and the birds. “We hear of farmers poisoning peacocks due to the losses they suffered because of them,” he said. The issue has to be dealt with scientifically, said Ratnam. He also rued that birds suffer because tanks are leased out and trees cut to widen roads.

Ratnam must have seen thousands of birds in his lifetime. Of them, he’s fondest of the chittu kuruvi. “It’s a beautiful bird…it has adapted itself well to a life amidst humans.”