Damp grass, wet-red-mud and cloudy skies made way for a perfect stroll around tanks and reservoirs during the monsoons. It was during one such outing that I realised how several birds use these wild spaces. I was observing a bunch of small, colorful, energetic birds feeding on the seeds of grass. Since they were small, I tried to approach them closer for a better look. However, with the slightest disturbance, they moved to the nearest suitable reed bed in a packed formation only to go about their business again. So, I sat down in one place at a distance and trained my binoculars on these birds. I could hear the distinct nasal squeaks from their conical bills that were very different from the louder croaks, twitters, chirps, squeals and whistles of other birds. The flock comprised of three different species of birds. Their bright colors also added some sense of relief to a set of weary eyes. I was watching small, sparrow-like birds called the munias. The name munia (which includes avadavats) refers to about six species of small, seed-eating birds.

Distribution

Munias occur commonly or sporadically in the larger part of Karnataka. While most species are found distributed all over the state around meadows, farmland, open-land, scrub, open-forest etc, the Black-throated Munia is a species that frequents forest clearings, in the moist and elevated areas of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. The other species – Red Avadavat, Black-headed Munia, White-rumped Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Indian Silverbill – are all similar in size and habits. Indian Silverbills are partial to drier areas unlike the other species.

Seasonal movements

Munias may be subject to seasonal movements. Their presence is largely dictated by the availability of their food resources. For instance, one may encounter these birds during times when crops bear seeds. Monsoons and other seasonal conditions may also affect their presence.

Food

Munias are known to be seed eaters, consuming the seeds of grass and their likes. Like many other predominantly seed-eating birds, they may also feed on insects.

Nesting

Munias build their ball-shaped nests with a lateral entrance. They use grass blades or hay for this purpose. Nests may be found in bushes, small trees, or even in suitable alternatives such as transformer grills, sodium vapour lamp casings (light pole), overhanging bushes near a well etc. During the nesting season, watching munias flying back and forth from their nesting site holding long blades of grass can be interesting to watch.

Association with other birds

Quite often, one can see them in the company of the other seed-eaters like the weavers, and they can form mixed flocks that fly to reed beds and ipomea clumps when disturbed. They are known to roost together in mixed flocks. Occasionally, munias are known to explore the abandoned nests of weavers.

Popularity and pet trade 

The colorful munias with their small stubby tail, large beak and eyes are very popular photography subjects. While watching them with a group of people, you are bound to hear someone exclaim ‘how cute’ the birds are! An alert bird with it’s stretched out head, one clinging on a reed stalk, a flock hopping on a wet meadow, or bend-feed-stutter-hop-feeding of munias on the meadows can be a treat to watch and make them endearing.

Unfortunately, their rather easily available diet (seeds), small size, and flocking habits have made them popular cage birds. As if their wonderful colors was not enough to brighten up one’s mood, some caged birds are even subject to torturous paintings with florescent colors on their bellies.

Having had a peep into the world of munias, now, let’s meet the munias of Karnataka.

Red Avadavat Male
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava – male
 
Red Avadavat Female
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava – female
Red Avadavat – The scientific name of the Red Avadavat – Amandava amandava – is suspected to be a corrupt term for Ahmedabad, from where they were once shipped in cages. A study on their hopping and feeding activities in relation to the varying light conditions (twilight) and seasons have also been made.
 
Indian Silverbill
Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica
 
Indian Silverbill 2
Indian Silverbill Lonchura malabarica
Indian Silverbill – Silverbills are known to explore and occupy the abandoned nest of Baya Weavers. This behavior however may not be exclusive to the silverbill, since the Black-throated Munia and other munias also have been noticed to do this.
 
Black Headed Munia
Black Headed Munia Lonchura atricapilla
Black-headed Munia – Salim Ali describes the mobbing of weaver nests by this species, and also their behavior of exploring active weaver nests. It is a treat to watch these colour birds go about their activities.
 
White Rumped Munia
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
 
White Rumped Munia 2
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
White-rumped Munia – This species was also referred to as the Sharp-tailed Munia. Salim Ali describes their flight as ‘disorderly undulating rabbles’, referring to their undulating asynchronous flight.
 
Scaly Breasted Munia 2
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
 
Scaly Breasted Munia(1)
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
Scaly-breasted Munia – Immature birds sport a plain brown plumage devoid of the colorful plumage of the adults. A study on the nests of Scaly-breasted Munias suggests that the orientation (direction) of nest-entrances are structured to withhold strong winds and rain since they breed during the rainy season. The juveniles, even after they have fledged the nest, are known to occupy it as a ‘dormitory’ for sometime. These too are known to occupy Baya Weaver nests.
 
Black Throated Munia
Black-throated Munia Lonchura kelaarti
Black-throated Munia – This species occurs in relatively elevated and moist areas (in Western Ghats) than other munias that are more widespread in the plains and the countryside.