Flocks of birds frolicking in the sprawling Punchakari wetlands abutting the Vellayani lake is not an unfamiliar sight to ornithologists. On Tuesday, however, wildlife photographer P.B. Biju had a suspicion he had seen something unfamiliar among the fluttering flocks of weaver birds feasting on seeds and small plants.
Early on Wednesday morning ornithologist C. Susanth who rushed to the spot officially, identified the first-time visitors to Punchakari — the Redheaded Buntings. This is also the first recorded sighting of these ‘passerine’ birds in Kerala.
The sighting of the Red-headed Bunting (Emberiza Bruniceps) has sent these ornithologists into a tizzy even though they had sighted some Black-headed Buntings in the same area on Sunday. “The Black-headed Buntings were sighted in 2008 at the Kattampally wetlands in Kannur. This is the second sighting and the first at Punchakari. However, the sighting of the Red bunting was totally unexpected,” Mr. Susanth told The Hindu.
Normally these winter visitors are seen in open cultivated areas of western Tamil Nadu and southern Karnataka apart from Haryana, rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhyapradesh, Maharasthra and Andhra Pradesh. The Red-headed Bunting breeds in Central Asia, and in some parts of Britain and Europe. In all likelihood these birds flew over from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Mr. Susanth said. “These birds prefer dry areas. I don’t know whether their arrival signals the coming of a dry spell here. That has to be confirmed after further studies. We saw the birds just after 10 a.m. when the day was beginning to get hot,” he added.
The breeding Red male can be distinguished by its bright yellow underside, green upper parts and a brownish-red face and breast. During winter these colours turn shabby. The female Red has a grey-brown back and a greenish head. The male Black-headed Bunting (Emberiza Melanocephala) has bright yellow under parts, chestnut upper parts and a black hood. It breeds in southeast Europe and in Iran.
According to Mr. Susanth, a team of ornithologists would observe the Buntings for a week more, if the birds are here for that long.