Aerial Acrobats

Electric blue wings that flash brightly among the dull greens and browns of the landscape. Intelligent ebony eyes that watch your every movement curiously. A ubiquitous bird, but one that adds a dash of beauty to India’s varied landscapes.

Meet the Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis), often seen perched upon telegraphic or electric wires. You may have seen this bird’s fantastic breeding display, in which it dips and turns in midair, leading to its English name.  The Indian roller is also known as the Neelakantha (meaning “blue throat” in Sanskrit) due to its unique colouration and as a homage to Lord Shiva, who drank poison to save humanity and captured it in his throat, effectively colouring it blue. It is the state bird of Karnataka, Telangana, and Odisha, and I have frequently come across this bright little resident on wires in rural Karnataka while on field visits. It’s main habitat includes cultivated areas, thin forest stands, and grasslands. The roller has been observed diving into bodies of water, a behaviour interpreted as fishing but in fact this bird’s bathing strategy. They swoop down to the ground after insects and are often seen following tractors to snap up disturbed invertebrates.

Vivid and acrobatic, this stocky little bird is one to look out for in rural India.



Bad Omens

Santosh and Margarita are always perched on the same ledge outside the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) main building. They huddle together, blobby little figures clad in drab downy attire, solemn and often unmoving. Many people don’t bother to look up and thus they remain unnoticed. But they are my old friends, and I proudly named them on my first day at the campus.

Spotted Owlets (Athene brama) are a common occurrence in and around buildings in Bengaluru, though their natural habitat includes the hollows of trees or rocky ledges. A diverse feeder, the spotted owlet will hunt a variety of insects, invertebrates, rodents, and do especially well in urban settings due to their taste for the latter.

In Hindu mythology, this bird is portrayed as the vehicle of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Yet, like most other owl species in the country, it is also thought of as a bad omen, especially when one hears its hoot during the darkest hours of the night.



Purple Pollinators

It flutters like a heartbeat over colourful beds of flowers, tiny and delicate. The nectar within the flower is a staple part of their diet, and unlike the similar-looking hummingbirds of the Western world, these little birds perch on the flowers to drink.

The purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) is a stunningly beautiful little bird. Sexually-dimorphic in colouration, the male is purplish-green on the back, with a yellow and white breast. Females are a drab brown on the upper side with a whitish breast. The sunbird has strong physical adaptations to consuming nectar, namely a medium-length thin curved bill and a brush-tipped tubular tongue. It is a common resident breeder in southern India, Sri Lanka, and Bangaladesh. This bird lives in a variety of habitats but is rarely seen in dense jungles.

Often mistaken for its Western cousin, the hummingbird, the purple-rumped sunbird is a critical pollinator in various ecosystems across India. Light as a feather and elegantly attired, this is one common bird that is a welcome sight no matter how often you spot it.


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