Where does sunbird live?

Tiny jewels with wings - that would describe sunbirds perfectly. As the bird flies busily, dipping its long, down-curved beak deep into the flowers to suck at the nectar, its feathers glint with a metallic sheen when the light catches it. The amazing thing is that tiny though it is (measuring 10-12 cm), you can count a number of colors - crimson, green, orange, blue, scarlet, yellow and mauve - in a single bird! And it is only the males which sport these colours. The females are generally drab olive green or dull brown. The males are bigger and have longer tails. Sunbirds are distantly related to honeyeaters and hummingbirds. They have the same habit of hovering before a flower, their wings a blur of movement. Sometimes they hang upside-down, pushing their tube-like furry tongues into the centre of flowers which are trumpet-shaped or bell-shaped.

Nests are small, delicate cups, constructed mostly of cobwebs with a few strands of dried grass thrown in. Up to four tiny eggs are laid. Both male and female take turns in feeding the young.

There are 12 species of sunbirds in India and the commonest is the purple sunbird.

Picture Credit: Google

What is the basic of basics of birdwatching?

Birdwatching is an interesting, exciting as well as a relaxing hobby for children. But do you know the basics of birdwatching? Read on to find out what we need to do when on a birding trail in this first of a five-part series.

Oodles of patience, hours of silent observation and no sudden movements - these are the prerequisites of birdwatching.

So you've bought your first pair of binoculars (if that's a mouthful, let's stick to binns or binocs!). Congratulations! I hope you have worn your dullest, darkest clothes, because birds have good eyesight and can spot bright yellows, reds and blues from a mile away. That's a green signal for them to scoot!

Locate the bird

First locate the bird with the naked eye when it flies and settles on a branch, and then focus your binocs on the spot. Birds usually sit high up in the canopy or flit amidst dense foliage, so it might be a while before you see one clearly.

Pointing your finger and letting out a screech of joy when you spot it to let others know, are strict no-nos. Birds think you are about to shoot at them if you lift your hand up suddenly. Their hearing is sharp too, which is why birdwatching is best done in very small groups.

You might think that following the sound of a calling bird would give away its hiding place, but be warned! Most birds are master ventriloquists so while you focus on a spot in front of you, the bird might be trilling away happily behind your back!

Peak hours for avian traffic

The time between sunrise and 10 a.m. are the peak hours for avian traffic. You will hear the maximum number of bird calls then and see them out in the open as they search busily for insects, berries and flower nectar.

The activity tapers off gradually by noon. In the stillness of the afternoon, birds sit quietly in the shade of the leaves and there is nary a movement to tell you that a little fella is perched on the twig near your nose!

By four o'clock or thereabouts, there is a stirring, a rustling and a hunting for a quick evening snack. And then there is a great flying to and fro as the birds return to their roosting spots for the night. That is a good time to watch them, too, but the fading light often plays spoilsport and all you can see sometimes are silhouettes.

However, despite tired arms, aching neck and sore eyes, it's all been worth it, because you saw your very first Asian paradise flycatcher in flight, weaving in and out among the leaves like a ghost, his long white tail gleaming in the dim light...

Birding app

Novice birdwatchers need not worry. The Merlin Bird Id app is a truly amazing, easy-to-use aid in identifying a bird by its appearance, calls, songs and the area and month one sees it!

Developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, New York, the free-to-download app has different 'bird packs' which list all the likely birds that can be seen in a particular country or region of the world, including oceans! There are photos, too.

Useful tips

  • Most sanctuaries and national parks conduct birdwatching trails. One of the best times to watch birds is when the trees have shed their leaves.
  • Wear dull-coloured clothes that merge with the surroundings. Avoid any jerky or noisy movements that would disturb a bird.
  • Carry a pair of binoculars with you. A spotting scope would be ideal as you get an upright image unlike the inverted image you get in a telescope
  • Take an illustrated field guide (or get hold of Dr. Salim Ali's "Book of Indian Birds") to help you to identify unfamiliar birds.
  • Ideally, familiarise yourself with the birds in the region before starting the trail. For this, read about their physical features, calls, habitat and the time of the day when you are most likely to see them.

Picture Credit : Google 

Will there be a 'Project Great Indian Bustard'?

Proposed on the lines of Project Tiger, the country's highest court seeks the government's view on the idea. What prompted this? Here's the story and background in five simplified points.

  1. THE PROPOSAL: Coming to the rescue of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), the Supreme Court has mooted the idea of launching 'Project GIB' on the lines of 'Project Tiger. A bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and comprising justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, also sought reports from the chief secretaries of Rajasthan and Gujarat in six weeks on the installation of bird diverters in priority areas and assess the total length of transmission lines in the two States where undergrounding of electric wires have to be done to ensure the birds do not die of electrocution.
  2. COMMITTEE FORMED: The Supreme Court had earlier set up a three-member committee to assess the feasibility of laying high-voltage underground power cables. It had also directed the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments to convert overhead electric cables into underground power cables, wherever feasible, and install bird diverters in priority areas where the birds live. It has now directed the committee to submit an updated status report on the steps to safeguard the birds.
  3. ENDANGERED SPECIES: The great Indian bustard, considered India's most critically endangered bird species, is especially found in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and as per the 2021 report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are on the verge of extinction with less than 249 of them alive. Endemic to India, these birds were once seen across several States in the country. Due to hunting, habitat loss, and accidents caused by windmills and overhead power lines, their numbers dwindled over the last few decades.
  4. RECENT DEATHS: Being hit by overhead power lines is one of the major reasons for the death of these birds today, which is why the focus is on undergrounding such lines. While the work for undergrounding power lines has started in Gujarat, that does not seem to be the situation in Rajasthan, according to reports. Bird diverters too have not been installed in priority areas despite the Supreme Court's direction. This would explain the deaths of seven birds so far this year, which is a matter of continuing concern.
  5. PROJECT TIGER: The Central government had launched 'Project Tiger on April 1, 1973 to promote the conservation of the big cat whose population had dipped alarmingly. The number of tigers in 1973 was less than 300, and according to the All India Tiger Estimation Report, that number rose to 2,967 in 2018. Project Tiger has been viewed by the government as one of the most successful conservation programmes for a single species in the world. And so, it is hoped that a similar project for this critically endangered bird species would save it from extinction.

Picture Credit : Google 

Why is the Bee Hummingbird unique?

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird on the planet. The males often grow only up to 55 millimetres, weighing about 1.95 grams, whereas the females grow up to 61 millimetres from beak to tail, weighing about 2.6 grams. Bee Hummingbirds are an endemic species that are found in all parts of the main island of Cuba and the many islets and islands that make up the Cuban archipelago.

Visiting more than 1500 flowers in a day, these tiny birds feed on nectar, and sometimes on insects and spiders. In this process, they pick up and transfer pollen to their beak and head. An interesting aspect about them is that they feed on the flowers without landing on them-instead, they hover in the air while feeding and as a result of this constant flapping of wings, they need to eat every few minutes. Up to 15 per cent of their time is spent eating.

The downside of being the world's smallest bird is that they are particularly vulnerable to being attacked by other species that consider them similar to insects due to their size. Because of this, they have to watch out for larger birds, mongooses, bees, wasps, frogs, fish, and even spiders. Just like most other species, human activity has also led to a decrease in their number. They are not yet considered an endangered species, but are classified as "near threatened".

Picture Credit : Google 

Which is the slowest bird at level flight?

Both the American woodcock and Eurasian woodcock have been recorded travelling at 8 km/h speed in level flight. Their brilliant camouflage techniques have earned them the title 'timberdoodles.' American woodcocks blend into woodland environments to the point of becoming invisible as they camouflage so perfectly with the leaf litter on the forest floor.

Their bodies are stocky and plump, and they have short wings. Their body structure helps them to navigate the woodland and meadows, which are their natural habitats. Their physical design implies that fast-paced and graceful flight is impossible for them.

However, American wood-cocks increase their pace during migration and speeds between 26 and 45 km/h have been recorded. Even during this time, they usually fly at relatively low altitudes.

Picture Credit : Google

Which is the fastest bird?

The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world. Its diving speed during flight can reach above 300 km per hour, making it the world's fastest animal. The bird has breeding populations on every continent except Antarctica and some oceanic islands, which gives it the credit of being the most widely distributed species of bird of prey.

For a long time, captive peregrine falcons have been used in the sport of falconry. After World War II, the bird suffered a huge decline in population across the globe. In most regions, including North America, the major reason for this loss of population is traced to the pesticide DDT, which the birds accumulated from their prey. The chemical concentrated in the bird's tissues, which affected the deposition of calcium in the eggshells, making them abnormally thin and easily breakable.

In the British Isles, another pesticide named dieldrin caused direct death of peregrine falcons and thus contributed to their decline. Following the banning or minimising the use of organochlorine pesticides, their populations have increased in many regions.

The peregrine has been listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2015.

Picture Credit : Google 

Which bird has the longest wingspan?

The wandering albatross that glides above the sea for hours without flapping its wings has the longest wingspan of any living bird. Its wingspan ranges from 2.51 to 3.5 metres. These birds use their large wings to ride the sea winds and spend most of their lives out in the open sea. They are so efficient at flying that it takes them more energy to sit on a nest than fly!

Albatrosses are a pelagic species, which means they inhabit the open seas. They are found in all oceans except the North Atlantic. They breed on remote islands on the north of the Antarctic Circle, and travel thousands of kilometres from their breeding ground when it is not breeding season. They sometimes cross the equator as well. These birds can fly up to 40 kilometres per hour.

Albatrosses feed during the night, alone or in small groups, making shallow dives while hunting. They mostly consume small fish and crustaceans. They also follow fishing boats and ships to feed on discards and garbage. Albatrosses often overdo their hunting and end up eating so much that they are unable to fly and have to float on the water!

These birds come together in large colonies on remote islands and build their nests from mud and grass. An egg is produced by the female, which gets incubated by the pair in turns. The egg hatches after around 11 weeks, and once the chick is born, the parents take turns to hunt, while the other stays in the nest to take care of the chick. Albatrosses don't have many predators owing to their large size, but they are listed as vulnerable due to increasing pollution, which makes it difficult for them to find food.

Picture Credit : Google

Which is the largest bird?

The largest bird on the planet is, rather ironically, the flightless ostrich. It also lays the largest eggs among any living land animal. Ostriches are also the fastest birds on land with an ability to run at 70 kilometres per hour. They are found in the African savanna and desert lands, where they meet most of their water requirements from the plants they eat.

Unlike other birds, ostriches use their wings as "rudders" to help them change direction while running. Their powerful and long legs cover about 3 to 5 metres in a single stride. These legs are also rather formidable weapons. An ostrich kick can kill a human or a potential predator such as a lion! Their feet have long, sharp claws too. Ostriches live in small herds with less than a dozen birds in one herd. They mostly eat plants, roots, and seeds but also consume insects, lizards, and other creatures that are found in this harsh habitat.

Although there is a popular belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand, this is not true. Perhaps the saying would have originated because of the bird's defensive behaviour. When faced with trouble, ostriches lie low and press their long necks to the ground as a means to become less visible. Since their plumage blends well with sandy soil, from a distance, it gives the impression that they have buried their heads in the sand.

Picture Credit : Google

Birds with an aesthetic sense?

Did you know that bowerbirds are famous for building elaborate structures and even decorating them? Read on to know fascinating facts about the species.

The early European explorers to Australia and New Guinea thought that the elaborate structures they sometimes came across in the forests were built by Aborigines, so artistic and skilled were they. Imagine their surprise when they found that a species of bird was responsible!

The bird is called a bowerbird because of its habit of making complicated 'bowers' or places of courtship to attract and impress the females. The males spend weeks setting up and decorating their bowers. A young male may take several years to perfect the technique.

There are 20 species of bowerbirds of which the satin bowerbird of Australia builds the most elaborate bower. The remarkable structure it builds may reach up to 2.7 m in height. It may consist of a tower of twigs arranged around a central sapling or resemble a miniature house, complete with a door and thatched roof!

Other species clear an area in the forest and set up an 'avenue' or domed tunnel of sticks with just enough space for the bird to enter. Some prepare a lek or display area spread with upturned leaves or 'tiled' with rocks.

Several species give their bowers a coat of paint, using charcoal mixed with saliva or the natural pigment contained in the juice of wild berries. A piece of bark fibre or a tuft of leaves held in the beak serves as a 'paintbrush'. Not content with this, a bowerbird may bring coloured stones, feathers, leaves and flowers to add to the decoration. Iridescent insect skeletons, spider webs and snail shells serve as extra adornment.

Modern-day bowerbirds use discarded buttons, toys, empty tins, coloured straws, broken glass, and even CDs for this purpose! The floor of the bower is often strewn with an enticing bed of soft, fresh leaves.

When the male bowerbird is satisfied with his handiwork, he lures the female inside by calling loudly and when she shows interest, with a dance display. Most male bowerbirds play no part in raising the young. The female lays eggs, which she will incubate by herself. She also cares for the brood on her own.

Quick facts

  • There are 20 different bowerbird species, and the males come in colours ranging from green, orange, red, yellow and black to white, olive-brown and sooty grey. Some have a brilliant crest or a ruff. Females are comparatively dull
  • Bowerbirds live in tropical forests, mangroves, eucalyptus groves and savanna woodlands.
  • They can imitate the calls of other species, as also machines like a chain saw.
  • Satin bowerbirds may reuse and refurbish the same bower for more than 30 years.
  • Different species go for different colours. The striped gardener bowerbird prefers yellow, red, and blue objects, while the fawn-breasted bowerbird favours green
  • Bowerbirds may kill insects solely for the purpose of decorating Competition for females is fierce.
  • The birds fight for choicest pieces, steal baubles from each other and tear apart their rivals’ bowers.
  • Researchers think that they are the only animal species besides humans to have an aesthetic sense.

Picture Credit : Google 

How do migratory birds find direction?

Humans became aware of bird migration - the journey of birds between their breeding and wintering grounds - long ago. However, there's still so much we do not know about this riveting phenomenon. But thanks to science, technology, and research, we also constantly gain newer insights. Here's a look at a recent discovery.

Just like us humans who have an internal system that guides our body on when to sleep, wake up. etc., birds too have a system in place that lets them know when it is time to migrate. Apparently, they also "inherit' from their parents the direction in which they   must fly to reach their destination. Apart from this, they have "at least three different compasses at their disposal: one allows them to extract information from the position of the sun in the sky, another uses the patterns of the stars at night, and the third is based on Earth's ever present magnetic field". And it is this last aspect that the recent discovery throws fresh light on.

While research revealed decades ago that birds possessed magnetoreception - the ability to detect the Earth's magnetic field - it was not clear so far how exactly it worked. This mystery was solved when scientists recently discovered that the levels of a certain protein - named Cry4 - present in the eyes of migratory birds spike up suddenly during the migratory season. When this protein comes in contact with blue light (which is scattered in Earth's atmosphere), it leads to a chemical reaction that helps the birds sense the Earth's magnetic field.

Did you know?

During the first migration, the route gets registered in the birds' brain - apparently, this helps them navigate their subsequent journeys "with an ultimate precision of centimeters over thousands of kilometers". It means they gain an additional resource they can dip into - a mental map, as it were. But, since this absent during the first trip, even a small mistake such as veering off course could be fatal for the young birds.

The levels of a certain protein- named Cry4-present in the eyes of birds spike up suddenly during the migratory season. When this protein comes in contact with blue light (which is scattered in Earth's atmosphere), it leads to a chemical reaction that helps the birds sense the Earth's magnetic field.

Picture Credit : Google 

Elusive hummingbird species spotted in Colombia

An elusive and rare hummingbird has been rediscovered in Colombia by a birdwatcher. The hummingbird Santa Marta sabrewing has been spotted years after it was first recorded in 2010. The news has sent ornithologists across the world into a state of excitement as they celebrate the find.

This is the third time that the species has been documented. It was first documented in 1946 and later in 2010 when the researchers captured pictures of the species in the wilderness.

The bird was spotted by Yurgen Vega during a survey of the endemic birds in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The researcher said that the sighting was a complete surprise and that he was overwhelmed with emotion when he first spotted the bird.

The hummingbird Santa Marta sabrewing, which is only found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia was thought to have gone extinct by many ornithologists. This species of hummingbird has been listed on the IUCN red list of threatened species 'as critically endangered'. The bird also figures in the Top 10 'most wanted' list of the 'Search for Lost Birds' initiative of conservation organisations.

The hummingbird spotted by Yurgen Vega was male. The bird is identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat and curved black bill The bird was spotted to be singing and vocalising. Scientists associate this behaviour to either courtship or defending territory.

John Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy has likened the rediscovery to "seeing a phantom".

The species is believed to live at an altitude of 1200 to 1800 metres in the neotropical forest. During the rainy season, they are known to migrate in search of flowering plants.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is rich with wildlife and home to 24 bird species that aren't found anywhere else. Yet, according to scientists, only 15 per cent of the habitat is intact. The spotting of the hummingbird has further intensified the call to protect these forests which can solely aid in the conservation of the rare species dwelling there.

Armed with this information, the scientists will now focus on identifying stable populations of this species which can help them come up with conservation strategies and learn more about the bird.

What's the IUCN Red List?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species is an indicator of the health of the biodiversity in the world. The global conservation status of animals, plant species and fungi are covered under this. The list indicates the conservation status of the species and helps in formulating conservation plans. It gives information such as the habitat, population size, ecology, threats the species faces and so on. At present, there are more than 147,500 species on the IUCN Red List of which more than 41.000 species figure under the "threatened with extinction" category.

What's 'Search for Lost Birds'

A joint initiative of conservation organistaions Rewild', 'American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and ‘Bird Life International’, the Search for Lost Birds' attempts to find 10 species that haven't been observed in the wild for over a decade but do not figure in the extinct category of IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Picture Credit : Google 

What is guano?

Guano is the accumulated excrement or droppings of seabirds or bats. It is valuable as manure, as it has a high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium - key nutrients essential for plant growth. Before fertilizer began to be made in factories (the first such factory came up in Germany in 1913), countries competed to capture islands populated by seabirds so that they could have access to large deposits of guano. Economies of some countries like Peru flourished through the export of guano. Even today, Peru is the largest exporter of guano which is in demand again because of the growing popularity of organic farming.

Picture Credit : Google 


Here's a closer look at some of the birds that perform great feats of endurance by flying non-stop over land and sea in search of food and warmth.

The Arctic tern

The bird that probably sees more daylight than any other creature in the world is the slender, graceful relative of the seagull, the Arctic term. This 33- to 35-cm-long bird makes the most spectacular migration, travelling over 35,000 km every year. It breeds in the Arctic summer and then flies south, reaching in time for the Antarctic summer!

The terns breed on the Arctic coasts of Alaska, Greenland, Canada, Europe, and Siberia, some nesting within 700 km of the North Pole. They raise their young on the abundance of insects and fish during the short-lived Arctic summer when the sun almost never sets. As winter closes in, they begin flying south. After a journey halfway around the globe, they gorge on the small fish and plankton of the Antarctic ocean throughout the southern summer- once more in almost perpetual daylight!

Shining bronze cuckoo

The Arctic term is not the only avid seeker of the sun. Though it may be the long-distance migration champion, there are other birds that perform greater feats of endurance by flying non-stop over land and sea in search of food and warmth.

The fledglings of the shining bronze cuckoo are abandoned by their parents. With no adult bird to guide them; they fly out each March from their breeding grounds in New Zealand.

They accurately follow the path of their parents to Australia, and from there, turn northwards to Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Out of the total distance of 6,400 km, 2,000 km is over open sea! One mistake can be fatal, for the birds cannot swim.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird flies 800 km non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico to South America every autumn. Scientists are baffled, because the bird weighs just 3.5 gm, not enough to store so much energy.

What guides birds across such distances so accurately? Scientists discovered in 1977 that deposits of magnetic iron oxide in the skulls of migratory birds may act as a built-in compass. Some believe that the instinct to migrate maybe encoded in the genes, compelling the birds to behave as their ancestors did, even without apparent reason.

Picture Credit : Google 


Many large birds such as geese, ducks, and swan fly in well-defined V formations, especially during migrations. It is their method of conserving energy so that they can fly long distances without taking a break. The V formation also helps birds maintain visual contact with one another. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift at the tip of its wing. This reduces the air resistance for the bird flying behind. Thus the bird at the lead position works the hardest to break through the air. Therefore, after some time another bird takes over the position.

Picture Credit : Google


At a time when we constantly speak about the threat of extinction that several species faces across the globe, one bird species has beaten all odds to return from extinction in the wild. Let's find out more about this remarkable conservation story.

When Kin-Japanese for gold died in 2003 aged 36, not a single wild-born Japanese crested ibis was left in the country. Known as toki, there was little hope for a species that was synonymous with Japan.

Wild toki once lived across Japan, as well as in Russia, Taiwan, and South Korea. Toki meat was presumed to have health benefits, and the bird's feathers were used in everything from dusters to hats. Which meant, the bird was hunted mindlessly. Inevitably, by the early 20th Century, only a few dozen birds remained in Japan most of them on Sado island and the nearby Noto peninsula. At this juncture, the species won protected status. Just when things appeared to get better for the species came chemical fertilizers and For birds that fed primarily on paddy, this spelled disaster, and "by 1981 just five wild toki remained in Japan, all on Sado, where officials took them into protective captivity". In a case of strange coincidence, the same year, as many as seven of these birds were discovered in the wild in China. While Japan's captive breeding programme wasn't exactly successful, China's was. In fact the latter gifted two of its birds to the former in 1998. The following year, the couple reached Japan, within months had their first chick, and made national headlines.

Gradually over two decades, their population grew enough for Sado to consider releasing them into the wild. Today, there are about 500 wild birds, drawing tourists to their delicate pink plumage and distinctive curved beak. Meanwhile, "China's wild population now numbers over 4,450, and a South Korean project released 40 toki for the first time in 2019".

Picture Credit : Google