Winter will soon be here and heralding the season are the birds that migrate. Sheroo does some bird watching.

The Aviator

The Artic tern is the super champ of them all and covers the longest of distances migrating from Artic North to spend winters in Antartica.( remember our winters are summers there). They travel 20,000 kilometres to get there and another 20,000 on the way back. Whew!

It's that time of the year when you begin to feel the nip in the air and the day quickly makes way for the night. Before we know it winter will be upon us, I think to myself as I amble down a familiar jungle path. Ulooka, the owl, greets me from her tree hollow. She was looking cheerful. “Sheroo, our winter guests have begun to arrive. Haven't you noticed?” she asks.

I look up to see a huge black and white V-formation in the morning sky. It's a group of Demoiselle cranes. These folks are coming in from Central Asia, across the Himalayas.

Playing host

Do you know we get over 300 different species of birds coming in for winter? All our woodlands, lakes, marshes swamps, and water bodies will play host to these foreign guests. So keep a sharp eye out for them.

Other than the cranes, the ducks and the geese, there are flamingos, pelicans, storks, herons, sandpipers, cuckoos and more. Even tiny birds like warblers, flycatchers, swallows too come all the way to spend a milder winter in our warmer climes. These little ones have to be really careful as they could become in-flight meals for predator birds like eagles and hawks who also make the long haul. They play safe by flying in the nights!

It gets unbearably cold in the freezing winter months in the northern hemisphere and birds travel great distances from Russia, Eastern Europe, Iran and Africa to come here. Flying over deserts and high mountain ranges, often non-stop for days, some of them don't make it through the gruelling long flight. Which is why there is a great amount of preparation that goes on before the migration.

First, they gather their band of merry men (and women), for you have strength in numbers. Next they tank up to get the required stamina to fly long and non stop; they eat like there is no tomorrow to build up their fat reserves. Now it's time to check the weather conditions. If the tail wind is favourable, it's time to press the start button. A tail wind pushes the bird in the direction it needs to go and this will help them cruise along with less effort.

It's always foxed me how these folks know the routes. They have been doing it forever without a guide map or a GPS. Amazing isn't it? They use the sun, the stars and the star patterns to guide them so also the mountains, the deserts which they must landmark in their heads. I guess their memories must be great too for they have to fly back home in the same direction come summer. No mean feat this which is why I don't mind the babble and the company.

So get ready to roll out the green carpet for these feathered foreign friends.

Here's to happy landings!

Mail sherook@wildmail.com

A Children for Nature and Animals Unlimited ( CANU) Initiative