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  • Writer's pictureAnoushka Dasgupta

Flights of fancy - Birds commonly found in Bengaluru


The symphony of bird sounds in the urban jungle of Bengaluru is quite literal music to one’s ears. Bengaluru hosts a smattering of birds that are commonly found flitting around the city. This article will shine light on the birds and their common quirks that feature in ‘Birds in the City: Bengaluru Edition’ board game. 



Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)



Common Myna (Image courtesy: sarangib/Creative Commons License/Pixabay)


A frequent sight in Bengaluru, is the brown-bodied Common Myna that has adapted to the city as it has grown through the decades. With a glossy black head, white tail tips and wing linings, and characteristically bright yellow beak, legs and regions surrounding the eyes, this is the friendly neighbourhood bird that announces its presence with its loud repertoire of calls. These calls vary according to context – harsh alarm calls to melodic songs to woo potential mates. 


While it is native to Asia, this species has spread across so many parts of the world that it is considered to be a highly invasive species in some of them. A highly adaptive bird, the Common Myna has a wide range of habitat choices ranging from open and dry woodlands or cultivated lands to urban areas of human settlement. 


These birds are omnivorous, and often walk around searching and feeding on seeds, grain, insects like crickets and moths and their larvae. In fact, their affinity towards grasshoppers is where this Acridotheres (grasshopper hunter in Latin) genus of birds gets its name from. They are also bold in their hunt for food, often following grazing cattle and ploughs that leave flushed insects in their wake. 


Common Mynas are said to mate for life, and woo each other like partners at a dance – with bowing and a fluffed plumage to impress the female. They often live in groups, and can be found foraging together at abundant food sources. It also helps them to evade predators. . That being said, they are extremely territorial about their nesting areas and can even physically fight to drive out other pairs from their nesting territories. 

These birds that are so commonly found and heard across the country are one of the species that run aplenty in Bengaluru and are easy to spot. 




Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus)



Red-whiskered Bulbul (Image courtesy: Nafis Ameen/Creative Commons License/Wikimedia Commons)


A lively and loud song, called pettigrew is often heard from the treetops of Bengaluru before you see them. This musically undulating three-four note whistle belongs to the Red-whiskered Bulbul, a bird that is native to South Asia, ranging from India to China and Thailand. They are comfortable enough with human settlements to be found in both open scrub bushes and lightly wooded areas to urban parks, gardens and orchards. 


The Red-whiskered Bulbul is a medium-sized bird around 20 cm in length. With a brown upper body, a whitish underbody and darker wings and tails, this bird is characterized by the pointed black crest and glossy red feathers behind the eyes that resemble whiskers. 

They are resident birds that mainly feed on fruits, flowers and berries, but occasionally partake insects and spiders. Males bow and perch with dropped spread wings and tail, with croaks to impress their mate. When they build nests, they are cup-shaped and made of twigs, leaves and grasses, but they are also known to re-use old nests of their own species as well as others. Both parents participate in feeding the young. 


Red-whiskered Bulbuls can be highly aggressive particularly towards birds smaller than them. However, they tend to be social and live in groups, particularly during breeding season and when food is abundant. Today, in highly urbanized cities like Bengaluru, one can almost equate their social abilities to how well this adaptive passerine species has habituated to human-dominated environments. 


Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis)



Spot-billed Pelican (Image courtesy: J.M.Garg/GNU Free Documentation License/Wikimedia Commons)


It is only fair that Bengaluru, a city with multitudes of lakes, should play host to a variety of waterbirds. One such waterbird is the Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), a large waterbird that inhabits large lakes, marshlands, rivers and other similar water bodies. A large bird that measures around 127-152 cm, the Spot-billed Pelican is predominantly white in colour, with a grizzled head, a 28.5-35.5 cm long yellow-orange bill and pinkish pouch under the bill with large spots. 


This species that has been assigned ‘near threatened’ status by the global IUCN 2022 Red-List, used to be widely found in South Asia (mainly in India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia), but is now dwindling in numbers. Breeding season in these areas are usually between October and March. These pelicans often breed in mixed groups along with other water birds like storks and egrets. Their courtship displays entail the male extending its bill pouch by moving its head in swinging motions in all directions, and throwing the bill over its back towards the tail, while often accompanied by bill claps. While reported to be largely silent, they have been reported to make grunting and groaning sounds in a breeding colony, and hissing and croaking sounds from chicks.


Their main diet is fish, which they catch in their bill pouch. They usually forage alone or in small groups. These pelicans are rarely aggressive and their populations are predominantly sedentary, outside of local movements. 


White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)



White-throated Kingfisher (Image courtesy: Charles J. Sharp / Creative Commons License /Wikimedia Commons)


In contrast to the quiet Spot-billed Pelicans, is another commonly found waterbird with a loud trilling call – the White-throated Kingfisher . This species occupies a wide range of habitats ranging from water bodies like ponds, canals and creeks, to plantations near abundant water like coconut palms on beaches and mangroves, and to dryer regions like bamboo forests, trees lining roads, light dry forests. 


This is a medium-sized kingfisher, measuring around 26.5-29.6 cm in length. The birds have a chestnut head, lower belly and flanks, with its characteristic bright blue back, wings and tail and white neck and breast. 


Their diet preferences are as varied as their habitat preferences. Their wide assortment of prey include fish, insects like grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches and winged ants, small scorpions and centipedes and reptiles like lizards and chameleons. 


White-throated Kingfishers have varying breeding seasons based on their geographical location. In India, these birds start breeding during early monsoons, during which time the birds start calling from high prominent posts and call out, while opening their wings periodically to display white patches on the wings. The female is also said to respond in kind via a repetitive clicking call and body movements like partially opening her wings. Some populations of this bird species show migration over short distances, and they are a common sight in Bengaluru.


Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)



Rose-ringed Parakeet (Image courtesy:  Dick Daniels /Creative Commons License/Wikimedia Commons)


A bird that has held a cultural significance to man for centuries, is the parakeet. These birds have fascinated humans by their ability to mimic human speech in a coherent manner. They have also been popular as pets since Ancient Greek civilization. A medium-sized bird, the rose-ringed parakeet, is one that is commonly found in Africa and the Indian subcontinent. It has particularly adapted well to human development and urbanization, as is seen from its wide habitat range – natural savannas with short grass and open scrub, open areas like savanna woodlands but also human dominated spaces like cultivated open agricultural land, gardens, orchards and even crowded human settlements. 


The Rose-ringed Parakeet has a distinct pale green body with a long tail and a dark red upper mandible that has a black tip. The male and female differ in one aspect of their appearance – males have a rose pink ring around the neck, which gives this species its name, while adult females have an emerald or grey ring instead.


Their diet consists of fruits like guava, dates and mangoes, and seeds of millet and maize and nuts. To this effect, the species has also been touted as one of the most notorious bird ‘pests’ that feeds on cereal and fruits. 


These birds can be heard producing high-pitched screeching sounds and are quite noisy in their groups. They usually breed from January to April in Asia, and occasionally reside in loosely structured colonies. 


In Bengaluru, large droves of these parakeets have been commonly observed in areas around Orion Mall and Banashankari Circle.


White-cheeked Barbet (Psilopogon viridis



White-cheeked Barbet (Image courtesy: Vengolis /Creative Commons License/Wikimedia Commons)


The loud trill of the White-cheeked Barbet can be heard even in crowded urban cities like Bengaluru. This bird species is one of the most common birds of the Western Ghats. This 16.5-18.5 cm long bird is mostly green in colour, with a dark brown head, a characteristic white patch on the cheeks and a brownish pink beak. 


The White-cheeked Barbet inhabits evergreen and moist deciduous forests of the Indian peninsula, particularly the southern Western Ghats, and in woodlands and areas close to human-dominated areas like plantations and parks. It is, in fact, the most common barbet seen in Bengaluru. 


They do not migrate and only travel short distances in search of food. They primarily feed on fruits and flowers in their arboreal habitat, but also feed on the occasional insects like termites and butterflies. Famously frugivorous, these barbets also meet most of their water requirements through fruits like figs. They rarely leave the shelter of the canopy, except in search of food on some occasions. 


They are highly aggressive and territorial birds, particularly against birds of other species. They have also been observed to chase away three-striped palm squirrels. While pairs may nest close-by, pairs of this species do not nest in the same tree. The courtship process involves feeding the mate during the courtship period and nest building. They nest in tree cavities that they build by excavating and discarding wood chips from the nest.  


These birds are a well-studied species that is abundantly found as they have adapted well to human settlements and modifications to their environment. 


Shikra (Accipiter badius)



Shikra (Image courtesy: Ravi Vaidyanathan / GNU Free Documentation License/Wikimedia Commons)


A common bird of prey seen in Bengaluru is the Shikra. Like many birds of prey, these birds have a sharp and curved triangle-shaped part in their upper mandible that is used for cutting. These birds are small, but with relatively long grey tails. The upper body is grey while the underparts of shikras are whitish with bars, and they have short legs and toes. Males of this species are smaller and have striking deep red irises, while the slightly larger females have less red irises.

 

They are found in dry, deciduous and broadleaf  woodlands and savannas. They are occasionally also found in gardens with exotic tree plantations. 


These predatory birds hunt from high perches and make surprise dashes to the ground or a lower surface. Their prey includes small reptiles like lizards and geckos, small birds, rodents, squirrels and some insects. They are seen to flap and glide while flying from perch to perch. 


Breeding season sees shikras at their most vocal selves, but their main two-note calls at other times include harsh calls during flight, shrill sounds and loud ringing ones during mating. Spirals and tumbling aerial displays are a part of the mating display. They often reuse nests and nesting sites, and breeding pairs can be found nesting within a few kilometers of each other. 


It is one of the most common hawks in India. In fact, these master hunters were one of the most commonly used birds by falconers to train and hunt animals in their wild habitats. Renowned for its swiftness and accuracy among human organizations like the Indian and Singapore Air Force, the hunting bird has made its mark even among humans.


Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus)



Asian Koel (Image courtesy: Challiyan/ GNU Free Documentation License/Wikimedia Commons)


The distinct loud coo of the male Asian Koel is a common sound to encounter in parks and woody areas of the city. The males of this species are glossy black while the upper parts of females are dark brown and spotted or streaked in a pale shade. Females also have striped white underparts. This cuckoo species has a long, broad tail and short, strong legs. 

The Koel inhabits areas of open woodlands like orchards and parks. Asian Koels, like other cuckoo species, are brood parasites who lay eggs in the nests of other birds like crows and mynas. During mating season, the male bows to the female with lowered wings and tail, and produces staccato bursts of calls, which are reciprocated by the bowing female. They also show courtship feeding through a ripe fan palm or suchlike fruit offered by the male. The male is known to distract the other birds like crows, while female koels lay eggs in the crows’ nests. Interestingly, these birds have also mastered the art of deception by producing sounds similar to the host bird, like the harsh caw of a crow. Even their eggs are similar in appearance to that of the hosts. Their nestlings and those of the host parents grow up together while occasionally the koel chick, the first to hatch, will push the other eggs out of the nest.


They are noisy birds, and the males are usually territorial, and have designated spaces during breeding season that do not overlap. They are usually solitary birds, but often gather in groups at trees with ripe fruits. Unlike many other cuckoos, their diet mainly consists of fruits like figs and cherries, although some insects and caterpillars are also a part of their food plan. They usually pluck ripe fruits directly off the tree and swallow the fruits whole. The females also often eat the eggs of the bird whose nest they lay their eggs in. 


This curious bird is often found in Bengaluru at locations where ripe berries and fruits are found. 



Black Kite  (Milvus migrans)



Black Kite (Image courtesy: Sri D /Creative Commons License/Wikimedia Commons)


Another bird of prey found commonly in Bengaluru and many other Indian cities is the Black Kite. This species is found in a wide variety of geographical locations including Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia, and shows variations in appearance based on their locations. There are many subspecies due to this, and this results in a dynamic breeding season. Their habitats are as varied as their distribution, as they inhabit all kinds of habitats, ranging from grasslands, to savannas and woodlands, and even semi-deserts. They are often found near water bodies as well as arid areas. The Black Kites have also adapted extremely well to human-dominated spaces, and can be found in villages and urban areas. 


These birds measure around 44-66 cm in length. They are reddish_brown with a slightly forked brown tail, but subspecies vary in terms of bill colour and plumage. They are generally solitary breeders on trees, or may form small groups up to ten pairs. They also reuse their nest sites every year. Black kites are noisy birds, even outside mating and nesting seasons. They can be identified by their long squealing sounds. 


While they naturally prey on living animals like small rodents, bats, lizards, amphibians, insects and fish, they have acclimatized to human settlements, and also feed on animal remains from fisheries and garbage dumps. These highly adaptive birds are a common site swooping and soaring around the skies of Bengaluru.


Purple-rumped Sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica)



A male Purple-rumped Sunbird (Image courtesy: Anton Croos /Creative Commons License/Wikimedia Commons)


A sunbird that is found exclusively in the Indian subcontinent is the Purple-rumped Sunbird. They are small birds, 10 cm in length, and males and females look distinct from each other. Males have a maroon upper side, with a metallic green crown and shoulders, and a metallic purple throat. Females, on the other hand, are less brilliantly coloured, with a brown upper body and whitish throat and flanks. The belly in both males and females are lemon yellow. 


They are found particularly at the edge of the forests, or solitary trees, gardens and in lone trees. Being a type of sunbird, they are known for feeding on nectar from flowers, but they also feed on insects and spiders. Among fruits, they consume grapes and fruits of the mistletoe. These sunbirds are seen foraging either alone or in pairs in search of food. 

These birds have a sharp twittering of different high-pitched sounds. They lay eggs throughout the year in India, with the males helping the female to build the nests. They build oval nests in trees as well as inside buildings. 


Anoushka Dasgupta is a freelance science writer and aspiring researcher, with a Master’s in Biotechnology and a passion for behaviour ecology and conservation. Her work has appeared in The Wire, The Print and magazines of the Indian Institute of Science.

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