ENVIRONMENT The winter migratory birds have flown back to their native lands, and the spotlight is now on the resident species

They came in millions, steely blue-and-white barn swallows, all the way from Eurasia to escape the harsh winter. Once summer set in, they flew back to their homeland. Sandpipers, with a dull brown and grey or streaked plumage, have bid goodbye. So have the migratory pin-tailed ducks and garganeys. The spotlight is now on resident birds. Step out, and you will spot jet black drongos, red-vented bulbuls and purple sunbirds perched on neighbourhood trees, pecking on fruits. “They are native birds that can be spotted through the year,” says P.R. Selvaraj of a bird watching society.

Some other common resident birds are black kites, the greyish-brown, pale-billed flowerpecker (a small, stout bird that feeds on chakkarapazham or small cherry fruits), and the yellow-billed babbler. “The golden oriole, the yellow-and-black Eurasian migratory bird, is still around. You can see it perched on fig, banyan and badam trees. It will fly back shortly,” he adds.

The foothills, dried-up ponds, and places near water bodies are ideal bird-watching spots. You can set out early in the morning and watch the birds through the day. Books such as Richard Grimmett’s Birds of The Indian Sub-Continent or Salim Ali’s Book of Indian Birds could be handy guides, says Selvaraj. Some of the birds to watch out for are the Indian Roller (earlier called Blue Jay), a blue bird with a brown head. You can see it near wetlands, fields and arid lands at dawn. The chestnut-bellied sand grouse, which has a brown-greyish body and is the size of a pigeon, can be sighted too. Summer is ideal to study the nesting behaviour of birds, says R. Mohammed Saleem of Environment Conservation Group (ECG), who is camping in Maharashtra to catch a glimpse of the endangered Great Indian Bustard. “It’s quite an experience,” says Saleem about the nesting of the pied bush chat, which he observed on the outskirts of the city. “It builds its nest in small openings on mud walls or in rock crevices. It’s fascinating to watch the bird bring worms to feed its chicks. The parents take turns to feed the chicks. They take great pains to clean the nest of bird droppings too,” he adds.

Sparrows, mynahs, blue rock pigeons (we see them in 100s), Indian Robin (the male is black and the female is brown) can be seen nesting near farmlands; they provide worms, grains and spiders for the chicks. “The birds must not be disturbed. They abandon the nest if they sense any disturbance. It might endanger the chicks,” he warns.

You can listen to the call of the kuyil (cuckoo) in summer, says K. Ratnam. An avid birdwatcher, he has authored many books on Indian birds. “The male kuyil is black while the female has a striped body. They can be spotted on mango and neem trees enjoying the fresh foliage of spring,” he says. He believes the lack of rainfall and the cutting of trees have affected the birds. However, he spotted the golden-backed woodpecker, white-breasted kingfisher, and tree pie (brown body, long tail and white head). Macro-photographer K. Jayaram says summer is when ground nesting birds such as the yellow-wattled lapwing and red-wattled lapwing build their nests on abandoned agricultural lands, dry lake beds, dried-up ponds, or wastelands. “You need a good pair of binoculars, a field guide and the company of a seasoned birdwatcher to observe birds. Forest fringes, tree canopies, foothills, orchards and public gardens and even your neighbourhood is a good way to begin,” he adds.