in our backyard Environment

Catch one of Delhi’s first migratory birds, the Greenish Warbler

The Greenish Warbler is easier heard than seen   | Photo Credit: Amit Sharma

It was August 22, 2020, and with the pandemic travel guidelines slightly lifted, I made a quick dash to Gurugram to catch up with a former intern who was leaving for Oxford University. I hadn’t expected to hear the shrill, loud disyllabic ‘chee-wee’ cry of the Greenish Warbler, in a stray wild patch outside her high-rise apartment. I silently excused myself and recorded the call of this dainty medium-sized (10 cm) warbler on my phone.

A few birds are fairly easy to spot, owing to their size, colour, and behaviour, but not this one, of the leaf-warbler species, the members of which are so similar in appearance it’s difficult to differentiate one from the other: brightly coloured and slim in appearance.

The timid behaviour of inhabiting the canopies of trees (where they feed on insects) and flittering around from branch to branch, often makes a skittish bird like the Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) hard to spot through the thick foliage. The term Phylloscopus has been derived from the Greek words phullon meaning ‘leaf’ and skopos meaning ‘seeker’.

The Greenish Warbler is one of the earliest migrants to travel from its breeding grounds in Europe to our region late in August, before moving further to South India in November, though a few stray birds do stick around until later.

The bird has a pale greyish-olive plumage above and dull clean white breast, with a dusky grey wash to the sides. Like most arboreal warblers feeding in the canopy of trees, the Greenish Warbler has thin legs (dark in this species) unlike the stouter legs in other kinds of warblers that prefer to feed on ground. The spiky bill and reflexes help them catch insects in air.

The species has a strong clearly marked head pattern with a long yellowish-white supercilium (eyebrow), prominent white ring around the eye, and a broad eyestripe. Typically, they have a short square-shaped tail and the wings have a single short, quite broad yellowish-white wingbar. Sometimes there is a second narrower wingbar difficult to see on the field.

Both sexes are similar looking, and they’re mostly found singly or in pairs. They mostly nest in shrubs, to avoid predatory attacks in high trees.

Although found in a variety of habitats and altitudes, they are forest-dwellers. In the city, look for them in wooded areas: gardens with old dense trees, and places like Vasant Kunj, Saket, and North Campus.

One way of identifying them is to look for fidgety birds that flick their wings and occasionally their tails. Another way, is to listen for the ‘chee-wee’.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 5:43:06 PM |

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