Posts Tagged 'indian birds'

Bird Migration

An article by Mohan Pai

 
 

BIRD MIGRATION

Mystery of Nature



The Arctic tern flies a phenomenal round trip of 34,000 km per year from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back !

 
The longest known migratory journey is performed twice a year by the Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) which from the Arctic winter travels south, right across the world to the Antarctic summer and back again – a distance of over 17,000 km each way.

Arctic tern

 

What is bird migration ?
 
Bird migration refers to the regular seasonal journeys undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. These however are usually irregular or in only one direction and are termed variously as nomadism, invasions, dispersal or irruptions. Migration is marked by its annual seasonality. In contrast, birds that are non-migratory are said to be resident or sedentary.
 

Indian Migratory Birds
 
Indian subcontinent plays host to a number of migratory birds in summers as well as winters. It is estimated that over hundred species of migratory birds fly to India, either in search of feeding grounds or to escape the severe winter of their native habitat. This is because winds usually prevail at higher altitudes and at the same time, the cold temperature at these altitudes helps them in diffusing the body heat, which is generated by their flight muscles. The timing of the migration is usually a mixture of internal and external stimulus.
Migrating birds start on a journey when they feel that they have put on enough fat to provide them energy throughout the journey. Then, the tendency to aggregate into flocks is another determinant of the time of migration. Even after the flock, which has to fly together, has gathered, the birds keep on feeding till the weather conditions become favorable. Thus, apart from the internal clock of the birds and their flock, it is also the availability of food and the weather conditions that play a role in the determination of the time of migration.
 

Why birds migrate?
 
Food, water, protective cover, and a sheltered place to nest and breed are basic to a bird’s survival. But the changing seasons can transform a comfortable environment into an unlivable one — the food and water supply can dwindle or disappear, plant cover can vanish, and competition with other animals can increaseMost wild animals face the problem of occupying a habitat that is suitable for only a portion of the year. Fortunately, however, nature has provided methods for coping with the situation. One method, known as hibernation, involves entering a dormant state during the winter season. The other method, known as migration, involves escaping the area entirely. Because of the powers of flight, most birds adapt to seasonal changes in the environment by migrating. How they do it ? Some birds make the long journey in easy stages, stopping to rest on the way. Others fly great distances without pausing to rest and feed. Some fly by day, some both by day and by night, but most of them speed on their way through darkness after the sun has set. Birds usually travel in flocks. The V-shaped formation of cranes and geese attracts much attention as the bird’s speed across the sky. Swallows, flycatchers, warblers, shore birds and water-birds being to gather in flocks- each with its own kind-and, after a great deal of excited fluttering, twittering and calling, they rise up into the air and away they go. Usually the male birds go first to their breeding grounds in bachelor parties and the female birds follow them in a few days!
Griffon Vulture
 
The movement of birds with the changing seasons was known from the earliest times, but people had strange ideas as to why the birds traveled, or where they went. To explain their absence from a place in a particular season, they said that the birds buried themselves in the mud and slept there throughout the winter! Later, detailed studies of migration started. Information was gained by directly observing the habits of birds, and also by ringing. Bird movements are also studied by creating artificial conditions and studying their effects on birds. Today, most of the information on migration has come from ringing young and adult birds. Ringing is done by capturing a bird and putting on to its leg a light band of metal or plastic. The band bears a number, date, identification mark, and the address to which the finder is requested to return the ring. The bird is then set free. The place where such a bird is shot captured or found dead gives clue to the direction and locality to which the bird has migrated.


Bird Sanctuaries in India

 
Among the most famous bird sanctuaries in India are, the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, the Corbett National Park and the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, part of Project Tiger. These sanctuaries offer wide variety of bird species.
 
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is one of India’s pioneer wildlife conservation centers. Considered to be the best sites for bird watching in the world, the sanctuary annually hosts thousands of visitors who come to view the spectacular wildlife Spread over an area of 30 square km of marshy swamp, kadam forests, woodland and shallow lakes, the sanctuary offers habitat to both nesting indigenous birds as well as migratory water birds. An amazing number of more than 330 species of birds have been spotted and identified in the sanctuary. The Siberian Crane, the finest and rarest of migratory birds, are the cynosure this sanctuary and are regular visitors.Siberian Crane is believed to have existed in this world for over one million years. However it is of great concern that only 125 pairs of these pure white, crimson-billed cranes estimated to survive worldwide. Profusion of marine vegetation, frogs, fish, insects and mollusks, as well fine setting for migratory birds go a long way to make Keoladeo Ghana National Park an ideal place for pelicans, storks, herons, egrets and kingfishers. Breeding females stay in peaceful co-existence and it is of no surprise that one tree can have nests of different birds. The sanctuary is know to have been the best breeding ground for more than a thousand species of birds. Migratory birds start arriving in the month of October. They include a variety of Geese, Ducks, Raptors, Geese, Warblers and Waders.
 
Extending over an area of 800 sq km, the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the forest hills of the Aravalli ranges in the state of Rajasthan. It provides habitat to more than 200 species of birds including the Gray Hornbill, Crested Serpent Eagle, Black/Red Headed Bunting, Wryneck Woodpecker Babbler, White Breasted Kingfisher, Little Brown Dove, Small Minivet, Golden Oriole, Great Gray Shrike, Pale Harrier and Tailor Bird. An example of typical dry deciduous forest, the sanctuary remains lush and green during the monsoons and dry during the rest of the seasons.
 
Other place is the Pong Dam reservoir is 65 km Pathankot and 115 km from Dharamsala. Nestled in the sylvan surroundings of the Kangra valley, the sprawling Pong Dam wetland has emerged as a major habitat for migratory birds in the country as also an attraction for bird watchers. The most common bird species that have arrived and often visit this lake every year include ruddy-shell ducks (surkhab), bar-headed geese, mallards, coots, pochards and pintails besides rare red-necked grebe and gulls. These species come from as far as China, Siberia, Central Asia, Pakistan and Ladakh. According to a census, more than one lakh migratory birds visited the lake last year.
 
Apart from being home to the tiger, Corbett National Park is also noted for the bird watching. Considered to be one of the best bird watching sites in the world, the park is home to some 600 species of birds. This number exceeds the total number of bird species found in Europe and is about one fourth of the diversity found in India. A case in point is that out of the 69 species of raptors found in India, 49 can be seen in Corbett. Spreading out on an area of 520 sq km, the Corbett National Park is a hot destination for bird-watchers. Bird-watchers from across the world make a beeline to this park during winters when the bird diversity is at its zenith.

 

Painted Storks – Pic by Geeta Shankar

Threats and conservation

Human activities have threatened many migratory bird species. The distances involved in bird migration mean that they often cross political boundaries of countries and conservation measures require international cooperation. Several international treaties have been signed to protect migratory species including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 of the US and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement.The concentration of birds during migration can put species at risk. Some spectacular migrants have already gone extinct, the most notable being the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). Other significant areas include stop-over sites between the wintering and breeding territories. A capture-recapture study of passerine migrants with high fidelity for breeding and wintering sites did not show similar strict association with stop-over sites.Hunting along the migratory route can also take a heavy toll. The populations of Siberian Cranes that wintered in India declined due to hunting along the route, particularly in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Birds were last seen in their favourite wintering grounds in Keoladeo National Park in 2002.Structures such as power lines, wind farms and offshore oil-rigs have also been known to affect migratory birds. Habitat destruction by land use changes is however the biggest threat and shallow wetlands which are stopover and wintering sites for migratory birds are particularly threatened by draining and reclamation for human use.

Refereces: Salim Ali ‘The book of Indian Birds’, Wikipedia, Indian Wildlife.htm, HSBC’s Environment Forum

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Vanishing Species – Indian Owls

An article by Mohan Pai

 
The Indian Owls


Owls are considered Demon Birds and attract foreboding and superstitious epithets. Their nocturnal nature, their devil-like horns, their sudden screeching from ancient tree-hollows in cemeteries or their piercing lidless stare – all of these have long earned them pride of place, along with the bat, in the spook hierarchy of folk tales and horror films.
Added to this are the tantriks and medicine men, who use them in black magic rituals and ‘miracle cures’ for their gullible clientele. The most common purpose is witchcraft. As the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi, the owl is associated with wealth. So, those who hope to strike it rich with the help of the occult visit tantriks around the festive seasons of Dipavali and Durga Puja. The tantriks perform owl sacrifices, anoint their clients with sacrificial owl blood and give them an owl claw, guaranteed to bring in a massive fortune! Even educate, urbane citizens of Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Kolkatta indulge in this gruesome ritual.
Clients are willing to fork out up to Rs eight lakh for a gold-and grey barn owl or a great horned owl (Eurasian Eagle Owl) and these are endangered species and hard to find. The owl trade is tough to trace now. Owls are procured specifically on request and kept well out of sight.
Owls are also used in street performances, ‘blessing’ amulets for onlookers to purchase.
In South Indian cities, however, owls are not so welcome due to prevalent superstitious beliefs. But word of growing demand for the owls and the astronomical prices they can fetch has made its way down south. Trappers are descending into forests and grasslands, and coming out with sackfuls of Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls and Scops Owl to be trafficked to the north, according to recent reports from Kerala. Trappers are active in Chennai too.
Indian Eagle Owl
– Bubo bengalensis
Also known as Rock Eagle Owl, Bengal Eagle Owl.
The Rock Eagle Owl also called the Indian Eagle Owl or Bengal Eagle Owl, Bubo bengalensis is a species of large horned owl found in South Asia. They were earlier treated as a subspecies of the Eurasian Eagle Owl. They are found in hilly and rocky scrub forests, and are usually seen in pairs. They have a deep resonant booming call that may be heard at dawn and dusk. They are typically large owls, and have “tufts” on their heads. They are splashed with brown, and gray and have a white throat patch with black small stripes.They are seen in scrub and light to medium forests but are especially seen near rocky places. Humid evergreen forest and pure desert are avoided. Bush covered rocky hillocks and ravines, and steep, scored banks of rivers and streams are favourite haunts. It spends the day under the shelter of a bush or rocky projection, or in a large mango or similar thickly foliaged tree near villages. Their diet consists of mice and any small rodents and mammals, and sometimes birds.The deep resonant two note calls are characteristic and males deliver these “long calls” mainly during dusk in the breeding season. The peak calling intensity is noticed in February. Young birds produce clicks, hisses and open up their wings to appear larger than they are. Nesting adults will fly in zig zag patterns and mob any potential predators (including humans) who approach the nest. When feeding on rodents, they tear up the prey rather than swallow them whole. The nesting season is November to April. The eggs number three to four and are creamy white, broad roundish ovals with a smooth texture. They are laid on bare soil in a natural recess in an earth bank, on the ledge of a cliff, or under the shelter of a bush on level ground.
The Indian Eagle Owl is confined to peninsular India, Sind in Pakistan and Marakan in Burma (where it may now be extinct), it faces a high risk of total extinction in the near future (conservative estimates put the country-wide population of breeding birds at less than 2,000 pairs).Endangered condition An inhabitant of the deeply scored ravines and gullies, it clings to a precarious existence as human pressure drives it out of its preferred habitat (land development activities,using ravines and gullies as sewage dumps, the rock faces are intensely mined for slowly but steadily fills up the canyons). The indiscriminate use of pesticides in the environment, which steadily build up in the tissues of this bird, rendering it infertile (adding to its mortality), is another apparently insurmountable problem. Add to this local mythical beliefs (which consider owls as creatures of ill omen and harbingers of death) and the general apathy towards the plight of this species by environmentalists themselves, and their future looks very bleak indeed.Peculiar ‘who-whooo’ call It spends the day sitting motionless in a cleft in a rock face or under a bush, relying on its cryptically coloured plumage for camouflage. At dusk it sets out from its hiding place, preceded and accompanied by its peculiar and distinctive ‘who-whooo’ call, which though not loud, has a curious far-carrying quality.
Predatory nature
The various species of rodents found in these parts (gerbils, mice, mole rats and rats) constitute the prey base of ‘Bubo bubo’ (a single owl has been known to consume nearly 300 rodents in a year), and the predatory nature of the species keeps their numbers in check. At times other birds, snakes, lizards, frogs and even other owls are consumed.
Breeding habits
The breeding period in these parts of its range is from December to April. Sometimes three, but more commonly two, eggs are laid on the ground in a sheltered spot among the rocky cliffs (no nest is made) at staggered intervals. After an incubation period of approximately 45 days, the eggs hatch, again at irregular intervals, so much so that when the last chick emerges the eldest is 15 days old and capable of feeding by itself. Usually only one chick survives (cannibalism is all too frequent – the larger chick killing and eating its younger nest mates). The survivor matures rapidly, and is capable of flying in less than 45 days. Unfortunately, most details concerning the natural history of this bird remain unknown and shrouded in myth.
What used to be called the Great Horned Owl (Bubo Bubo Bengalensis) in Salim Ali, is now sometimes merged with The Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo Bubo) (Grimmett). However, some others (Grewal) maintain the subspecies distinction between and bengalensis and hemachalana, calling the first Eurasian Eagle owl (this is the Himalayan race), and the latter the Rock Eagle Owl. One characteristic is that the Rock Eagle Owl has streaks on the neck going down to the belly – which this bird seems to have.
Short-eared Owl
– Asio flammeus

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a medium-sized owl that frequently flies during daylight, especially at dusk and dawn, as it forages for rodents. This owl is usually found in grasslands, shrub lands, and other open habitats. It is nomadic, often choosing a new breeding site each year, depending on local rodent densities. During the day, they may be found roosting on the ground or on open, low perches. The population of Short-eared Owl is declining throughout most of its range.
Identification:
Short-eared Owls are so named for the erect but barely visible ear tufts atop their heads. As the most aerial of all owls, this tawny-colored owl can be mistaken for the Northern Harrier at a distance. At 38 cm, these owls are medium-sized, with long, narrow wings. Tawny overall, they are spotted above and boldly streaked below, although streaking fades on the paler belly. Dark eye-patches offset the large golden eyes that adorn their broad facial disks. In flight, their outstretched wings expose the buffy patches above and black wrist-marks below. Their easy, wavering flight is characterized by stiff, erratic wingbeats and is very moth-like in appearance.
Calls: Silent except in the nesting season, the male Short-eared Owl gives a muffled “poo, poo, poo” in short series. When alarmed, both sexes bark out high, raspy, nasal notes “cheef, cheef, cheewaay”. Nests: Short-eared Owl nests beginning in April on the ground in a small depression excavated by the female and sometimes in ground burrows. Females select the nest site and only sparsely line it (if at all) with grasses, weeds and occasionally feathers. Often concealed by low vegetation, the nest is safe haven for the 4-14, 39 mm, creamy white, unmarked eggs of the clutch. The number of eggs laid is said to be dependant on the abundance of rodents. While the female alone incubates the clutch for 25-28 days, the male feeds her during this time. Young birds hatch asynchronously producing variously sized siblings in the nest. Both parents rear the young birds and fledging occurs in 31-36 days post-hatching
Food:
Although Short-eared Owls predominantly hunt small mammals, they also consume small birds and insects. These owls hunt at dusk and dawn and may hunt communally when prey is abundant. The primary feathers of their wings are modified to eliminate the noise of airflow, creating virtually silent flight for hunting. Soaring low over open country, these owls swoop down from the air or their perches (hawking) to snatch-up their victims with their sharp talons.

Spotted Eagle Owl
-(Bubo africanus)
The Spotted Eagle Owl is one of the smallest of the Eagle Owls. On average they weigh around one quarter of the weight of the largest of the Eagle Owl family, the Eurasian Eagle Owl. The Spotted Eagle Owl is found throughout most Africa south of the Sahara, with the exception of very dense forests. Up until 1999, it was considered that there were two subspecies of Spotted Eagle Owl found in Africa, but one of the subspecies, (Bubo africanus cinerascens), is now treated as a separate species, the Vermiculated Eagle Owl (Bubo cinerascens). In Africa there is now only one subspecies, (Bubo africanus africanus), and there is a second subspecies, (Bubo africanus milesi), is that is found found in the southern western parts of Arabian peninsula. The Spotted Eagle Owls hunt predominantly at dusk, spending most of the day concealed in trees, on rock ledges or even in burrows of other animals. They will take a large variety of prey, from small mammals, birds in flight, reptiles, scorpions, crabs, frogs, bats & insects. They are often seen hunting around streetlights in towns, which is where insects, & consequently bats hunting insects, tend to congregate at dusk. When preying on insects, it is necessary for the owls to eat a very large number, as they are quite small & take a lot of effort & energy to catch. Despite this, many Spotted Eagle Owls live on a diet of predominantly insects. When preying on mammals, the Spotted Eagle Owls will usually use the technique of still hunting, often catching the prey on the ground with a single steep swoop from their perch. If the prey is energetic, the Spotted Eagle Owls will often chase the prey for considerable distances. Investigations into the birds that the Spotted Eagle Owls prey on show a large variety, including terns, hornbills & even Lanner Falcons (Falco biarmicus). Basically, the Spotted Eagle Owls are very versatile when it comes to prey, feeding off anything they are able to catch, which enables them to survive fluctuations in prey populations. Spotted Eagle Owls usually mate for life. They usually nest on the ground or in disused nests in trees, though they have also been known to lay eggs on window ledges of large buildings. When nesting & incubating the eggs, most of the defence of the nest site is done mainly vocally, rather than by attacking. Their breeding season starts in July and lasts until late January or early February (as they live in the Southern Hemisphere, this corresponds to late winter/early summer breeding seasons of the owls in the Northern Hemisphere). 2 to 4 eggs are normally laid, and the female does all of the incubation, rarely leaving the nest, except to feed on prey brought to it by the male. Incubation takes around 30 to 32 days. At around 7 weeks from hatching, the young are able to fly competently, often following their parents calling loudly for food. The young are dependant on their parents for up to 5 weeks after learning to fly.

Given sufficient food in their territory, Spotted Eagle Owls may start breeding at 1 year old. As with all of the birds of prey, they suffer fairly high mortality rates in their first year of life, but if they survive that first year, then they are likely to live around 11-12 years in the wild.. Spotted Eagle Owls do not have a tendency to avoid populated areas, and many of their deaths are as a consequence. Quite a lot of their hunting is done by the sides of roads & many are killed by collisions with vehicles. Another cause of deaths is flying into, or becoming trapped by, fences & overhead cables. But by far the largest cause of deaths of Spotted Eagle Owls in Africa is pesticides, many of which are banned in Europe and America, such as DDT. Their natural predators include amongst other things, is the Osprey.

Indian Scops Owl
– Otus lettia


Small to medium sized owl, with distinctive ear tufts. Upper-parts light sandy brown marked with black and buff, under-parts grey (gray) or rufous buff, with darker arrowhead streaks and fine vermiculations. Distinct pale collar, and dark eyes.

References: Wikipedia, Shruti Ravindran in Outlook, www.aranya@auroville.org.in, www.birding.in, www.owlpages.com

Vanishing Species – The Saurus Crane

An Article by Mohan Pai

 
 The Saurus Crane
(Grus antigone)
World’s tallest flying bird, the Saurus cranes mate for life and is perhaps the best example of conjugal harmony and fidelity in nature.
Saurus cranes mate for life. The bond is so strong, these birds are a symbol of marital fidelity in many Asian cultures. As with many other crane species, the saurus crane performs a courtship dance mainly during the breeding season. They bow and curtsy, opening up their wings and throwing back their head as they utter their trumpeting call. The Saurus is the only resident crane in India.

The Saurus crane is a large, tall grey bird standing 1.5 to 1.75 m. with long bare red legs and naked red head and upper neck with a wing span of 2.4 m. Cranes are believed to have evolved during Cenozoic period (in the last 60 million years).

Habitat

The Saurus pairs about cultivations and marshland. Distributed in Northern, Central and NE India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar. The Burmese sharpii is darker than Indian antigone.

Habits

Essentially a dweller of open well-watered plains. Normally seen in pairs, occasionally accompanies by one or two young. Said to pair for life, and conjugal devotion has one for the species popular reverence and protection resulting in tameness and lack of fear of man.

It attains flight by slow rhythmical wing strokes, neck outstretched in front, legs trailing behind; swifter than it appears and seldom high up in the air. It is the world’s tallest flying bird (nearly six feet tall).
It gives a loud, sonorous, far-reaching trumpeting sound uttered from ground as well as on wing.
During breeding season pairs indulge in ludicrous and spectacular dancing display, bowing mutually, prancing with outspread wings and leaping around each other.

Diet

Grain, shoots and other vegetable matter, insects, reptiles, etc.
NestingThe nest is a huge mass of reed and rush stems and straw, in the midst of a flooded paddy field or a marsh. Lays two pale greenish or pinkish white eggs, sometimes spotted and blotched with brown or purple. Both birds are vigilant in guarding the nest, boldly attacking dogs and cattle encroaching in its neighbourhood.
The young can swim before they walk and quickly learn to get their own food.

Excerpts from the book “The Dance of the Saurus” by S. Theodore Baskaran:

“Winter in Western India and there is a nip in the air. The slanting rays of the early morning sun lift the mist slowly, revealing a brilliant carpet of yellow flowers in the mustard field. And at the edge of the expanse are two Saurus Cranes. Few other sights are so stirring to a birdwatcher as a pair of these cranes. They are always seen as twosome.

They bond for life and their marital devotion is legendary. In the world of birds , one that lasts just for breeding season, like the hornbill’s, and the other, that lasts for a lifetime like that of the Saurus. In Gujarat, one of the strongholds of these cranes, there is a touching custom. If a husband and wife are given to quarreling frequently, the elders persuade them to go and watch a pair of Saurus in the field, echoing the ritual spotting of the star Arundhathi in a marriage ceremony.
“… Due to rapidly expanding agriculture and human settlements, wetlands are disappearing fast and what is left is polluted with pesticides and industrial effluent. … Increasingly, these cranes choose to nest in paddy fields, which are after all, temporary wetland. The farmer suffers heavy losses as bird takes a toll of paddy. So they try to prevent the Saurus nesting in their fields and each season quite a few pairs fail to breed. In the Kheda area, traditional breeding ground of the Saurus where you get the highest concentration of nesting pairs, every year there is a decline of fifteen per cent and that is an alarming rate indeed.”

References: The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, The Dance of the Saurus by S. Theodore Baskaran
 
 Pic: Courtsey, E. J. Peiker
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Vanishing Species – Great Pied Hornbill

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Great Pied Hornbill

(Buceros bicornis)

Another of our big bird on its way to extinction

Hornbills attract naturalists the world over on account of their large size, bizarre bill, projecting casque, colourful beaks, feathers, and peculiar breeding habits. Most of the hornbill species nest in cavities of old trees. The breeding pairs usually exhibit high nest site fidelity as they tend to use the same nest site every year. After selecting a suitable nest hole, the female goes in and incarcerates herself by sealing the entrance leaving a narrow slit, through which she, and later her chicks, receive food from the male.

The Great Hornbill, Buceros bicornis also known asThe Great Pied Hornbill, is the largest member of the hornbill family. Great Hornbill is distributed in the forests of India, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, Indonesia. Their impressive size and colour have helped make them a part of local tribal cultures and rituals. The Great Hornbill is long-lived with a life-span approaching 50 years in captivity.The Great Hornbill is a large bird, nearly four feet tall with a 60-inch wingspan, tail feathers reaching 36 inches and a weight of approximately six pounds. The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque is hollow and serves no known purpose (“tame” hornbills are known to enjoy having them scratched) although they are believed to be the result of sexual selection. Male hornbills have been known to indulge in aerial casque butting flights. Females are smaller than males and have blue instead of red eyes. The male spreads the preen gland secretion which is yellow onto the primaries to give them the bright yellow colour.

 

The largest of the nine hornbill species found on the Indian subcontinent, the Great Pied hornbill also has one of the widest ranges, living everywhere from sea level to heights of nearly 5,000 feet.The Great Pied hornbill can have wingspans of nearly five feet, with tails that can measure three feet. It is an incredibly beautiful bird as well, covered in black plumage, with a yellow bill that curves downward. Most distinctively, the hornbill’s head is topped with an ivory formation, also known as a casque. The Great Pied hornbill’s diet consists mostly of fruit, which it collects inside its beak during feedings. A male hornbill will collect as much food as it can, swallow it, and then return to its mate, and regurgitate the meal into her mouth. The wing beat of a Great Pied hornbill can be heard more than a half mile away.

The Malabar Pied Hornbill occurs more frequently and abundantly in the northern part of the Western Ghats, with a key conservation area being the Amboli-Madei-Mollem-Dandeli region spanning three states. The strongholds of Great Pied Hornbill populations appear to be localised at a few sites in the southern half of the Western Ghats (e.g., Anamalai hills).

In India, nine species of hornbills occur, of which four species have been recorded in the Western Ghats. They are the Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornius), Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), Malabar Grey Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris). The Malabar Grey Hornbill is endemic to the southern portion of the Western Ghats. In Nilgiris and the adjoining hill areas, the hornbills are known by various names by the different groups of indigenous people. The Great Pied Hornbill is known as Ongil by Kurumbas, Haradaya by Kattunayakkas, Peraanthi by Irulas. In the adjoining state of Kerala, where Great Pied Hornbill is the state bird, it is known as Malamuzhakki and Pondan Vezhambal . All the hornbill species are known by a common name aanthi by Irulas. Intensive bird surveys in Nilgiris and the adjoining Coimbatore district covering seven localities indicate the presence of all four hornbill species here. While Malabar Pied Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill were sighted in only one locality, the Great Pied Hornbill was sighted in three localities and Malabar Grey Hornbill in two localities. Studies conducted by other ornithologists in the southern part of Western Ghats indicate that these birds are also sighted frequently in Anamalai hills, Mundanthurai-Kalakad hills, Silent Valley, Parambikulam, Periyar Tiger Reserve and in the forests of North Kanara districts.Trends indicate that the pied hornbills are threatened with local extirpation.

The largest among these four species is the Great Pied Hornbill which is most vulnerable to local extinction in the Western Ghats. This species requires large stretches of evergreen forests. Being large birds, they have to find a sufficiently large sized nest hole in order to house the female and chicks during the long breeding cycle that extends to more than 100 days. Also the slightest disturbance at the nest site can result in the male refusing to feed the nest inmates, thus threatening the survival of the female and chicks. The levels of disturbance are on the increase due to increasing deforestation activities. According to Raghupathy Kannan, who conducted a study on the Great Pied Hornbill in Anamalai hills, poaching of the female and chicks during the breeding season is an immediate threat to these birds

In human culturesLocal tribes further threaten the Great Indian Hornbills with their desire for its various parts. The blood of chicks is said to have a soothing effect on departed souls and before marriage, tribesmen use their feathers for head-dresses, and their skulls are often worn as decorations. Conservation programmes have attempted to provide tribes with feathers from captive hornbills and ceramic casques to substitute natural ones.

A Great Hornbill by the name of William is the symbol of the Bombay Natural History Society. Sir Norman Kinnear described William as follows: “Every visitor to the Society’s room in Appollo Street will remember the great Indian Hornbill, better known as the “office canary” which lived in a cage behind Millard’s chair in Phipson & Co.’s office for 26 years and died in 1920. It is said its death was caused by swallowing a piece of wire, but in the past “William” had swallowed a lighted cigar without ill effects and I for my part think that the loss of his old friend was the principal cause.”

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http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/

For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
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For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
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For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
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