How to help an Indian Pitta in distress get back on to its wings

An injured Indian Pitta found at Chennai Mathematical Institute was cared for and returned to good health by Saju Varughese in October 2019, with advice provided by Susy Varughese. Photo: Saju Varughese  

IIT-M professor Susy Varughese lives on the campus, and is accustomed to hearing and seeing migratory and resident birds.

Known inside and outside the campus for her interest in birding as well as the nature walks she organises, now and then she hears from people whose heart breaks to see a bird in distress.

These are birds that would have entered buildings, either exhausted or disoriented. Sometimes, also injured.

“Three species — Orange-headed Thrush, Indian Pitta, and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo — are known to suffer in this manner more frequently than most others,” says Susy.

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Sometimes, she has guided people on what to do when they come across a bird that needs care. Sometimes, she has herself offered that care.

In Chennai, every year, there are reports of the Indian Pitta facing this problem — in September-October, when its winter sojourn has barely begun; and then in April-May, when it is coming to a close.

That is the pattern one notices, explains Susy. At the beginning of the season, exhaustion, heat trap (it can be hot even during wintertime, especially in the early part of it) and disorientation due to the urban environment may be causing it.

Susy on how to help an Indian Pitta that is not in the best of health and spirits:

1. “If you ensure the bird has good rest, by placing it in a cool place, it may usually recover sufficiently in a day or less than that. If the bird is in fine fettle, you may release it in the wilderness. Having the bird in an air-conditioned room may be good in one sense because it may be very hot when a migratory bird is flying out of the city during summer.”

2. “Generally, I would not recommend feeding them, if the help needed is one of a short duration. Indian Pittas feed on earthworms. So, if they have to be fed, you can put earthworms along with the soil, and the bird will pick them up and eat them, if it feels up to it. Never force-feed the bird.”

3. “This applies to all birds, not just the Indian Pitta. Keep water in a shallow bowl. There is also a method now of how to give water to birds. Use a clean paint brush, dip it in water, and brush it on the bill, it would swallow mostly. The water can be mixed with glucose. The bird will swallow the water if it is on its way to recovery. If it does not take the water, it is an indication that it probably needs a veterinarian’s attention. Do not try to force-feed the bird; you will likely end up suffocating it.”

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 10:20:13 PM |

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