1 BIRDS CLUES FOR FIELD IDENTIFICATIONS By R.J, Ranjit Daniels CES/CTS, IISc., Bangalore August The subject of birds is very vast. Covering all the existing Indian species or the ones in Karnataka alone over a few pages is impossible. Yet a brief and simple idea can be given as what to look for when it comes to recognising or identifying a bird in t he field. Keeping this in mind these notes have been prepared so that even a beginner may find some help. The different character of any bird may very broadly be brought under the following viz., size, colour, shapes of different parts of body, habits and also habitat preference. A. Size The size of any bird can always be said with a bit of approximation or just by comparing with another more familiar bird. For example sparrow, myna, pigeon, crow and kite can be considered the most common and familiar birds around us. Now we can fix size ranges between these birds as smaller or about the same size (±) or in between. Therefore we get birds of sizes Smaller than a sparrow Sparrow ± Between sparrow and myna Myna ± Between myna and pigeon Pigeon ± Between pigeon and crow Crow ± Between crow and kite Kite ± Smaller than sparrow Sparrow ± Between sparrow and myna Myna. ± Sunbirds, flower peckers, munias, warblers, white eye, etc. Weaver birds, larks, swallow swifts, iora, fly catchers, etc. Bulbuls, minivets, babblers, paradise fly catcher, drongos, wagtails, shrikes, bee eater, small green/blue king fisher, chloropsis, etc. King fishers, parakeets, orioles, woodpeckers, fairy blue bird etc.
2 Between myna and pigeon Pigeon ± Between pigeon and crows Crow + Between crow and kite Kite ± Larger than kite spotted owlet, doves, dabchick/grebe, crested cuckoo, Indian roller, etc Sparrow hawk/shikra, black winged kite, Hawk cuckoo, Teals, bitterns etc. Tree pies, lapwings, etc. Crow pheasant, koel Brahminy kite, Harriers, moor- hens, jungle crow, ducks, herons egrets etc. Hawk eagles and some smaller eagles Eagles, Vultures, Geese storks, pelicans etc. B. Colour Black Black and white Green Blue Red Yellow White Gaudy/Glossy colours Crows, drongos, koel (male), Hill myna etc. Horn bills, crested cuckoo, bush chat, Indian robin, magpie robin, pied wagtail, pied king fisher, house swift, etc. Parakeets, barbets, bee-eaters, chloropsis etc. Kingfisher (white breasted), Fairy blue bird, Indian roller, Malabar whistling thrush, etc. Minivets, Trogons etc. Orioles, Iora Paradise fly catcher (male), storks, ibises, egrets, herons etc. Indian pitta, king fisher-(small blue), tree pies, hoopoe, wood peckers, fly catchers, sunbirds etc. Colours like brown and grey or a combination of both are predominant in birds in general and hence they are not being dealt with individually.
3 C. Shape 1. Beak/Bills a. straight, long and sharp : heron, egrets, king fishers (fig.l) b. broad and flattened : ducks (fig. 2) c. short and hooked : parakeets (fig.3) d. longer and hooked : kites, eagles, hawks (fig.4) e. short-conical : sparrows and munias (fig.5) f. slender, curved and pointed : bee eaters, sunbirds, Hoopoe (Fig.6) g. additional structures -- 'casques' : hornbills '(fig. 7) h. special modifications : spoonbill pelicans, flamingoes (fig.8)
4 2. Crests a. fan like : Hoopoe (fig.9) b. sharp : red whiskered bulbul, paradise flycatcher (fig.10) c. at the base of beak : jungle myna, crested tree swift (fig.11), d. crest uniformly over the head : wood peckers (fig.12) e. squared crest : Bulbuls (fig.13) 3. Tails a. forked /'fish-tail1 : drongos (fig.14) b. long ribbons : paradise fly catcher (fig. 15) c. with wires or pins : bee eaters (fig.16) d. with rackets : racket tailed drongo (fig.17) 4. Wings Long and covering tails : kites, eagles, swallows, swifts, lapwings, terns, etc.
5 5. Overhead flight Hawk (fig. 17a), Kite (fig 17b), eagle (fig 17c), vulture (fig 17d) D. Habits 1. Flight a. Slow wing beats : kites eagles, vultures, storks, pelicans b. Very fast : swifts (fig.18) parakeets, doves, swallows (fig.19) c. Hovering : kingfishers, sunbirds, kestrel, black winged kite. d. Neck outstretched : Ibises (fig.20) storks, ducks, cormorants e. Neck retracted : herons, egrets, etc. (fig.21) f. Maintaining a design : V formation - ducks, geese, ibises etc.
6 2. Calls : Night birds like owls, nightjars and hawk-cuckoo can be more often heard than seen. 3. Other traits a. Flicking up spread out tail : magpie robin, Indian robin, fantail, fly catcher, tailor bird. b. Wagging or frequently flicking the tail up and down: wagtails, sandpipers c. Flocking : Babblers, sparrows, munias, parakeet, etc. E. Habitats Tanks, marshes and paddy fields Hill streams Sea shore Farm land and meadows Gardens and orchards Higher elevation Thicker vegetation/woods Forest_floors Drier scrub regions Bitterns, herons, egrets, ibises, storks, ducks, cormorants, waterhen, coot, morhen jacanas, king fishers, wagtails, munias, weaver birds, brahminy kite, sandpiper, red wattled lapwing etc. Whistling thrush, wagtails, king fishers, herons, egrets etc. Herons, gulls, larks, finch larks etc. Crows, mynahs, wagtails, hoopoe, egrets, drongos, larks, munias, weaver birds, warblers, red wattled lapwing etc. sunbirds, bulbuls, mynah, sparrow, tailorbird, warblers, babblers, tree pie, magpie robin, oriole, woodpecker, koels, barbets etc. Hill myna, hornbill, minivets etc. Minivets, babblers, bulbuls, racket tailed drongo, orioles, fly catchers jungle fowl, wood peckers etc. Babblers, ground thrush, Indian pitta, quails, jungle fowls etc. Partridges, yellow wattled lapwing, larks, doves, munias, shrikes, Indian robin etc. The best time to look for birds is either early in the morning or in the evening before dusk. During these times, the birds are usually noisier and it is easier to detect a bird. During the hotter parts of the day, the birds either rest quietly or feed without making much of a noise and this makes it difficult for anybody to notice a bird. Its always good to have a pair of field glasses or binoculars when you are on a bird-watch. A field note book can be meaningful as you can make notes on the size, colour, behaviour or even the characteristic call which make identification much easier. For example, to describe a brahminy kite one can say, a reddish brown bird with white neck and head, sizebetween a crow and kite, tail rounded, flying over a tank or a reservoir'. Such description makes what seemed impossible in the field a possibility elsewhere i.e., the identification of an unknown bird!
7 FURTHER READING 1. Ali, Salim, (1953) : The Birds of Travancore and Cochin, Oxford University Press, Bombay, 2. Ali, Salim, (1972) : The Book of Indian Birds, Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay. 3. Ali, Salim and Ripley, S.D, Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, Vol Oxford University Press, Bombay. 4. Woodcock, M.W., Collins Hand guide to the Birds of the Indian subcontinent, Collins, London.