Birds to watch out for in India during the winter

Come winter and India plays host to a variety of winged visitors. Here’s a quick look at some of the more prominent ones and where they can be spotted.

December 16, 2023 11:59 am | Updated 11:59 am IST

Migratory birds fly over the Yamuna River in New Delhi.

Migratory birds fly over the Yamuna River in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: AFP

Winter in India brings with it some exciting guests to our land. Yes, we are talking about birds. Did you know that birds use a sort of a highway to migrate, which is guided by monsoon winds and the flow of jet streams? Imagine a bird super-highway from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean! That’s the Central Asian Flyway (CAF), one of the nine migration flyways in the world. It is also one of the richest in terms of diversity, hosting over 180 species from breeding grounds in Siberia to warmer realms in West Asia, India, and the Maldives. So let’s take a look at some of our flamboyant high-flying winged visitors.

Amur Falcon

Amur Falcon

Amur Falcon | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Embarking on an incredible journey of over 22,000 km across 14 countries, this small raptor (a little larger than a pigeon) uses the winds of the retreating southwest monsoon to fly from its breeding grounds in Russia and China. It crosses into India in the northeast, with flocks numbering tens of thousands. The arrival of the flock in October-November at the Doyang Reservoir, Wokha District, Nagaland, is a surreal experience. Apart from its awe-inspiring migration, the Falco amurensis feasts almost exclusively on insects during their stopovers and help control pest populations that can devastate crops. In Africa, Amur Falcons are natural pest controllers of termites and help farmers all across the agricultural belt.

Wood sandpiper

A wood sandpiper in Sholinganallur, Chennai.

A wood sandpiper in Sholinganallur, Chennai. | Photo Credit: Prince Frederick

The Tringa glareola is a small bird that comes all the way from the sub-Arctic regions to India. It can be spotted in a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, mudflats, and shallow freshwater bodies. It forages by wading in shallow water and probing the mud with its long bills to capture aquatic invertebrates. Popular wintering sites include Chilika Lake in Odisha, Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, and the Punchakari wetland near Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala.

Bar-headed Goose

Bar Headed Goose at Hadinaru lake near Mysore.

Bar Headed Goose at Hadinaru lake near Mysore. | Photo Credit: M.S. Dashan

Taking a holiday in India from its freezing breeding grounds of Mongolia and the Tibetan plateau is the Ansur indicus. Amazingly, these birds fly over the Himalayas at a height of 6,000-8,000m. Think about it: Mt. Everest is 8849m high. The oxygen levels at those heights are half of what we breathe at sea level. Scientists have found that their lung capacity and metabolism is primed for this migration, as their breeding grounds are high-altitude ones. They hug the valleys and fly when there is least wind resistance. They are best spotted at Point Calimere Bird Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu.

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew sandpipers at Achankulam near Coimbatore.

Curlew sandpipers at Achankulam near Coimbatore. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

These elegant and small waders breed in the Arctic Tundra and transform coastal areas and wetlands in various countries including India from October to March. The Calidris ferruginea is best spotted at Chilika Lake in Odisha, where expansive mudflats provide an ideal environment. Pulicat Lake, straddling the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu border, is another haven with its brackish waters and mudflats. Point Calimere Bird Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu is another vital habitat.



Bluethroat | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of the smallest and prettiest birds that migrate to India is the Luscinia svecica. This tiny sparrow-sized bird dressed in resplendent colours comes all the way from the northern parts of Europe and maybe even Alaska. Starting from their breeding grounds, Bluethroats traverse countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan. They can be spotted in various parts of India, particularly in wetlands, marshes, and grasslands. Key locations include Keoladeo National Park and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan and various wetland areas in northern and central India.

Gone Forever?

The Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus ), which was last seen in India in 2002.

Siberian Crane

Siberian Crane | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The small spoonbill sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) was last seen by the renowned ornithologist Salim Ali almost three decades ago. Currently, its population is said to be just 350-500 individuals. And it is no longer seen in India.

The sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) is listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. Even though it still winters in India, the species has seen a rapid population decline due to loss of wetlands. 

What you can do

It is imperative to protect them from the many threats — from hunting and war to destruction of habitats and improper management of their wetlands — that could hamper their safe passage and stay in India. Here are some ways in which you can help our guests feel welcome.

Look for a wetland near you and start researching and noting down the bird life you see around it.

Understand which species visit your area from September to March. Once you know which winter migrants visit your area, delve into its food habits and see if your wetland still provides it.

Talk to local birders and, if you feel that there is a problem, talk to the people in the area and educate them about the birds.

Write a letter to your local politician and explain the importance of the birds and their needs.

Start a bird watching club and share your data so you can continue to monitor them every year and aid scientists in their conservation efforts.

Keep a watch

To capture the grace, beauty and lives of these migrant visitors, here are some simple tools and techniques that all birders use.

Make a small checklist of the winter migrants you are looking for.

Identify the wetland that they normally visit.

Remember to wear dull inconspicuous clothes.

Keep silent and move cautiously.

Use binoculars or a spotting scope.

Last but most important, be patient.

With inputs from Byju H

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.