It all started with a simple thought to know my neighbours better. I meant feathered neighbours: birds. So, I decided to dedicate a month (in March and April 2018) to simply observe them in my surroundings. I live in East Bangalore, and hence undertook this project in ITPL, 200 metres away from the main road, behind Hoodi Lake. Based on what I had casually noticed, I expected to find about 30 species.
On Day 1 of my observation, my experience unfolded with a Black Kite feeding on a pigeon, and I subsequently noticed that this repeated almost thrice a week. I tried to observe at different time intervals in the morning to know when and how this kite hunted pigeons, but unfortunately missed each time. One day, I was looking around from my terrace, when I noticed some movement on the floor of a balcony of an unoccupied apartment. Looking closer with my binoculars, I saw a Brahminy Kite pouncing on a pigeon, and the Black Kite looking at the scene from the top of the balcony. The Brahminy Kite managed to kill the pigeon and fed on it, but the Black Kite simply flew away.
On another occasion, I spotted a Red-wattled Lapwing chasing away a Black Kite which was eating its usual meal (of a pigeon) on the rooftop of an abandoned house. The lapwing pair kept guarding this house, where I later observed them mating; this explained their protective behaviour, and it was quite obvious why no intruder was entertained.
On the first weekend, when I had more time to observe, I spent some extra time at each spot, and discovered exciting things happening all around. While the resident Black Drongos were intolerant of visitors like Rosy Starlings, an Indian Golden Oriole went somewhere with a Chestnut-tailed Starling and returned after ten minutes. I couldn’t see or understand what they were really up to.
I also spent a few hours near the lake, enjoying resident birds like Little Grebe, Common Coot, herons and egrets, and some winter migrants such as Garganey, Northern Shoveler and Wood Sandpiper.
Further, to my surprise, I saw a bird that I had never seen earlier: a rufous colour bird—a little bigger than a Barn Swallow—hopping on trees and reeds. Its shape looked like a cuckoo but it was definitely not a Common Hawk-cuckoo. After a while, it hopped and sat on a wooden log near me, allowing me to have a good look. Its wings and head were rufous in colour, with black and white stripes on its chest and belly. Unable to identify it, I photographed it; later, I referred my field guide and confirmed that it was a Grey-bellied Cuckoo, a lifer for me.
By the end of the 7th day of my observation, the bird count had reached 48 species! The last bird I spotted in that list was a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills on a Peepal tree, at 6:30 pm. This was only the second time—after a year’s gap—that I had spotted hornbills in my surroundings. The last time I had spotted it had been at the beginning of April, and coincidentally, at almost at the same spot.
During this entire project, I also noticed the trees that the birds perched on, the fruits and flowers they fed on, and the branches they chose to nest on. Once such amazing tree I found was a Silver Oak, which supported at least 10 species of birds. While some birds just enjoyed the tree’s shade, others feasted on its yellow flowers; it was also home to a few birds!
One morning, I was looking at a flock of Little Grebes taking a dip one by one, when an alarm call caught my attention. A Common Coot couple seemed threatened by a Brahminy Kite, who swooped down to pick something up – probably just nesting material. The coots made a continuous, shrill “cheep-cheep” call that had me wondering whether their chicks were around. After a few minutes of careful observation, I noticed a red, furry little thing following one of the parent coots. Yes, there was a chick, and it seemed to have hatched barely a few days ago.
On the second weekend, I visited all the spots again. I spotted the Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Common Hawk-cuckoo, Green Bee-eater, and Brahminy Kite at almost the same locations as the previous weekend. It seemed that in spite of their flying capabilities, they were mostly territorial.
Another morning, I saw a Red-vented Bulbul sitting with something green in its beak. Looking closer, I found that it was a Praying Mantis. Since it wasn’t eating such a tasty meal, it occurred to me that it might be waiting to feed its chicks. In spite of me watching it almost without blinking, it managed to vanish somewhere; after a prolonged observation, I noticed it coming out from a small plant. When I carefully walked a bit closer, I found three chicks in a bowl-shaped nest made in this short, 3-foot-tall tree. The bulbul mom was feeding her young ones protein-filled meals: from Praying Mantises to spiders and ladybirds.
I made another interesting observation while on my balcony – I saw a Southern Coucal plucking eucalyptus twigs and collecting it on the Silver Oak tree. Every day, it made several trips between the two trees to build its nest. Because of its large size, it usually took a short flight from the Silver Oak to a Spathodea tree and then flew onwards to the Eucalyptus tree; again, while returning to its home tree, it would stop for some time on the Spathodea, hopping from its lowest to its topmost branch, before taking off. After a few days, I noticed that the coucal was plucking coconut leaves, probably to stitch the eucalyptus twigs together, followed by tender peepal leaves. I could almost imagine the structure of its nest, though I couldn’t take a good look at it.
While noticing my neighbours’ interesting lives, I also encountered some distressing sights. One such incident was near the lake, where a Cattle Egret hung dead, its feet completely entangled in a thick thread probably discarded by people.
Another accident involved a White-browed Wagtail, where its feet were entangled in some thread, restricting its movement. During all my observations, it was either trying to get rid of that thread or simply resting with its legs folded. It seemed that it would either break its feet someday, or fall prey to a raptor. In the initial days of my project, three wagtails used to be together, but because of this incident, one couldn’t move much and had to get separated from the group. However, it was heartening to see how the other two wagtails sometimes visited their friend with the entangled legs.
By the end of a month’s observation, I went from identifying species to identifying individuals. The exciting journey ended with a total count of 60 species! It is wonderful to know that so many of them exist around us – that too in a concrete jungle. My strong belief is that with just a little effort to understand birds and other creatures around us, we can actually make our surroundings a better place for all of us to live in and evolve together, co-existing harmoniously.