Chennai is a good place to be if you take an interest in birds. The city and its outskirts attract a wide variety of the feathered creatures. There is, in fact, a bird-watcher community that promotes such activity and lists locations or ‘spots’. Amid growing worries over shrinking bird habitat, men and women in camouflage costumes with cameras and long lenses are not a rare sight on weekend trips to these spots.
Photographs: Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Information source: Relevant websites
Black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus): Seen widely in agricultural areas and light forests of tropical southern Asia. Have a forked tail and grow up to 28 cm. Known for being hostile towards bigger birds invading their territory. Feed on insects. Photo location: Nayapakkam.
Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus): Found in the subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia. More heard than seen, fairly large at 39-46 cm. Males are glossy black and female dark brown with white spots and stripes. Lay eggs in nests of other birds like crows. Dependent on fruits. Photo location: Ambattur.
Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus): Migratory bird found in Southeast Asia and peninsular India. Bright in colour and slender in build, they eat flying insects and often catch them in the air. Reach up to 23-26 cm and live in flocks. Photo location: Sholinganallur lake.
Cinereous tit (Parus cinereus): Seen in several parts of Asia. Growing to about 14 cm, they live on insects as well as fruits. Have been found using abandoned nests of other birds like woodpeckers and barbets. Move around in pairs or small groups. Photo location: Nayapakkam.
Common tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius): Visible across tropical Asia, these are small birds ranging from 10-14 cm. Common in gardens, a greenish upper body helps them hide behind vegetation. Have a loud call and eat insects. Don’t mind domestic leftovers either. Photo location: Mogappair.
Common flameback woodpecker (Dinopium javanense): Also known as common goldenback, found in the subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Grow up to 28-30 cm. Feed on insects, invertebrates, larvae. Prefer subtropical/tropical forests, mangrove forests. Also seen in urban areas. Photo location: Ambattur.
Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis): Found in India, Nepal, parts of China and Indonesia. Large birds at about 48 cm, they are weak fliers. Often seen on the ground. Feed on insects, small vertebrates, bird eggs and also fruits and seeds. Have been found living on snails in Tamil Nadu. Photo location: Nayapakkam.
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea): Seen in ponds, rivers, marshes and sea coasts of Asia, Europe and parts of Africa. Nearly a metre tall, they feed on aquatic creatures caught in shallow water. Diet includes fish, small mammals, amphibians and insects. Adapt to cities if habitat and food isn’t a problem. Photo location: Sholinganallur lake.
Oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis): Residents of the subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, the National bird of Bangladesh lives in urban gardens as well as forests. Males have black upper part, females greyish black. Feed on insects, sometimes on nectar, gecko or fish. Grow up to 19 cm. Often seen close to the ground. Photo location: Vedanthangal.
Paddyfield pipit (Anthus rufulus): True to their name, seen in cultivation and open grasslands of Southeast Asia. Grow up to 15 cm. Move on the ground to catch insects, worms, beetles. Grey-brown upper body makes them look rather undistinguished. Photo location: Nallur village in Kanchipuram.
Indian pond heron (Ardeola grayii): Seen at the edges of water-bodies in the subcontinent between Iran in the west and Myanmar in the east. Grow up to 40-50 cm. Live on fish, aquatic insects, crustaceans. Outside wetlands, feed on dragonflies and bees. The back turns pink during breeding season and in summer, adults have long neck feathers. Photo location: Mogappair.
Purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus): Seen in West Asia, the subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Less than 10 cm. Males are glossy metallic purple and females olive brown above with a yellowish underside. Live mostly on nectar. Chicks are fed insects. Prefer thin forests, urban gardens. Photo location: Nayapakkam.
Purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica): Endemic to the subcontinent and common in urban areas, seen everywhere other than dense forests. Around 10 cm, males are brightly coloured. Females are slightly smaller, olive above and yellow below. Fond of nectar, they also eat insects. Photo location: Mogappair.
Grey-headed swamphen (Porphyrio poliocephalus): Part of the purple swamphen group, found in the subcontinent, Middle East and China. About 50 cm in height, live near water-bodies and marshes. Diet includes plant shoots, leaves, roots, stems. Also, small crustaceans. Photo location: Pallikaranai wetlands.
Red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer): Found everywhere other than Africa and Europe. Live in a wide range of areas in the plains. Feed on fruits, flower petals, nectar and insects. Identified by a short crest and dark brown body with scaly pattern. Grow up to 20 cm. Photo location: Mogappair.
Spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis): Inhabitants of inland and coastal waters. Seen in southern Pakistan, across India, up to Indonesia in the east. A smaller variety of pelicans, they are still large birds, between 49-60 inches. Form colonies, live mainly on fish. Photo location: Kelambakkam lake.
Tri-coloured munia (Lonchura malacca): Also known as black-headed munia, these members of the finch family are found mainly in India, Sri Lanka and southern China. Prefer wet grasslands but also seen in tropical lowland forests. About 12 cm, they eat grains and seeds. Photo location: Nayapakkam.
White-breasted kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis): Also known as white-throated, this kingfisher is found in vast parts of Asia. About 28 cm, they can reside away from water-bodies as well and other than fish, feed on insects, snakes, snails, crabs, even small birds. A strong bill means they have few predators. Photo location: Mogappair.
White-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus): Distributed across Southeast Asia, near urban and nonurban marshlands. Grow up to 30 cm. Characterised by long toes, short tail, yellow bill and legs. Seen mostly on the ground, they examine the edges of water for small fish, insects and aquatic invertebrates. Fly when threatened. Photo location: Mogappair.
White-browed wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis): Endemic to the subcontinent, the specific name comes from the city of Madras. Found in open freshwater wetlands, they are the largest of the wagtail family at about 21 cm. Feed on insects, adapt to urban environments. Photo location: Siruthavur lake.
Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus): Found in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Grow up to around 35 cm and live near ponds, marshland and shallow lakes. Feed on insects and crustaceans. Distinguished by long legs. Photo location: Pallikaranai wetlands.
Little-ringed plover (Charadrius dubius): Freshwater birds found in Europe and parts of Asia. Forage for food in muddy areas. Live on insects and worms. Nest on the ground on stones with little or no vegetation. Grow up to 18 cm. Migratory in nature. Photo location: Siruthavur lake.