Less Common Birds

These birds are either somewhat uncommon, or their habitat is a bit removed from the garden / roadside we commonly inhabit. So, to see the great Indian horned owl or the pond heron, you might have to go a bit off the beaten track, but these can be seen in the campus itself. Some others can be seen at Bithoor.

Pond Heron

I was at the reservoir in the Aam ka Bagicha (the mango orchard behind the airstrip near the Alimco boundary) one day in April, rather early in the morning, when this pond heron flew across the water and settled on a tree, it's white wings lit up in the early light.

The pond heron is almost always present when there is water in the reservoir. It can also be found in Bithur. It is a brownish bird, showing mostly white (wing and tail feathers) in flight. The next picture shows a bird that suddenly alighted barely a few meters from us. It stood there for a while before flying down to the water's edge where it sat still for a long time, not catching anything that I could see. In photo 2681, you see two pond herons flying across the reservoir, while a brood of night herons can be seen in the tree at the back.

Night Heron

The night herons come to the reservoir when it has water. They are very shy, but will sometimes fly quite close.

When there's water in the reservoir, you can usually see a flock of night herons, sitting on one of the trees overhanging the water. They don't seem to be very active in the daytime, but they will fly off if you approach.

Left: Superb image by Prateek Gupta. Right: Herons at roost (photo: Prithwijit Guha). Zoom on it to see the pond heron at bottom left.

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfishers are frequenting the little pond where the Shiwali road crosses the Lower ganges canal just outside IIT. You will see them sitting on the high voltage wires that run above, and then it will plunge into the water, though actually emerging with a fish is not that common. Sometimes you will see it hover at the same position, looking down, as in the picture below from Sainath. They will often fly at great speed along the canal, skimming the water surface.

Sainath managed to capture this kingfisher at the start of a dive

Five in a row - another exceptional image from Sainath. Pied kingfisher at Bithoor

Black-winged Stilt

With its long legs and elongated beak, this black and white bird seems behaves like an elegant victorian gentleman in formalwear. It can be seen in or near water bodies.

Black-winged stilts foraging together at the Oxidation tank near hall 8

Female and Male stilts; male has black patch on neck. Right image by Prithwijit Guha, from the mango-grove water tank.

Eagle Owl or Great Horned Owl

Most of the day, this large owl can be seen dozing under the AC on the Maths Dept office (?) on the 5th floor. Take a right out of the elevator, and see it from the first opening on the right. The owl is quite large and can be seen with the naked eye as it dozes for most of the day. (But it is seen a bit less regularly in the summer, it appears).

What used to be called the Great Horned Owl (Bubo Bubo Bengalensis) in Salim Ali, is now sometimes merged with The Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo Bubo) (Grimmett). However, some others (Grewal) maintain the subspecies distinction between and bengalensis and hemachalana, calling the first Eurasian Eagle owl (this is the Himalayan race), and the latter the Rock Eagle Owl. One characteristic is that the Rock Eagle Owl has streaks on the neck going down to the belly - which this bird seems to have.

This is a big bird; with a wing span of nearly 2 meters, it is one of the largest birds on campus.

These two images of the Eagle Owl in flight is from the reservoir, where three or four eagle owls can often be seen roosting. Now you won't be surprised to learn that it is called the Leopard on wings!

One of the reservoir eagle owls, in flight (by Sainath). They have a nearly 2m wingspan, and you can hear their wingbeats from quite far.

Another in-flight image

Spotted Owlet

It is a small owl, and sometimes in the evenings, you may will see it dropping down from trees to sit on the ground, under the streetlamps, and then fly away silently.

This one was photographed at the Okhla Bird Park in Delhi in late morning. It was standing on a branch, and when it saw me, it bobbed its head up and down looking at me, perhaps to get a better depth reading on how far I was.

From a street light on campus (by Prateek Gupta).

Little Cormorant

Little Cormorant. You can see cormorants at the reservoir at the mango orchard, but I found these on some wetlands off Kalyani Road near Calcutta. ID help by Ramit Singal.

This last V-shaped flock may be Large Cormorants (Ramit Sangal).

Sarus Crane

Two images from Sainath.

Sarus mate for life. Here Mr. and Mrs. are out for a stroll near the hostel areaa.

Golden Oriole

The golden oriole is perhaps more commonly heard than seen on campus; sometimes it will be singing from a hedge and you can go around the whole hedge without spotting it. This picture is from the Okhla Bird Park in Delhi.

Ashy-crowned sparrow Lark

Sighted near hall 8 on the morning of Mar 19, 2009.

An ashy-crowned sparrow lark sitting on a mound near hall 8

Crested Lark

This pair was sighted near hall 8 in Mar 09.

Crested lark - male and female

Grey-headed Myna or Chestnut-tailed Starling

The Grey-headed Myna or the Chestnut-tailed Starling may be somewhat uncommon at IIT, it is not mentioned in the checklist, so this ID, though it looks fine, must be assessed carefully.

I saw these birds on my lawn, on two days - October 14 and 16, 2006. They would come in a flock of about a dozen, spread themselves all over the flowering bottlebrush tree, and feast on the flowers for at least half an hour, before flying off at some unspoken signal. I didn't know what they were until I put up this website and Sainath Vellal ID'd them.

It seems the species is normally resident somewhat more to the south and to the east of Kanpur. The Handbook lists them as being south of a "line drawn from Mount Abu to Dehradun", and Kanpur would certainly be in this zone. Other texts (Grewal) note that they are normally resident in two bands in the Northeast and the Southeast, and that they may move in other parts in between. It seems they are somewhat patchy in their movements and it is possible that it is only in winter that they would be visiting Kanpur. Of course, it is possible that this is some other bird, though this seems unlikely - the ID is due to Sainath, and I find the colour, shape and behaviour matching rather well. The next picture shows two birds foraging actively.

Common Hawk-Cuckoo or Brainfever bird

I ran into this chap only once - opposite the RA hostels (near swimming pool), Dec 2009. He took off right after I got off the bicycle, got the camera ready and shot this image. He did a large arc over the overgrown grass, calling loudly and repetitively, and disappeared towards the boundary wall.

This repetitive calling is why he is called "brainfever bird". The three-note song sounds like chokh-gelo - which is its Bengali name - meaning "Lost my eyes". It can get on one's nerves if repeated endlessly (hear it on
YouTube). It's plumage (and also flight characteristics) are deliberately like a hawk, which gives it some protection perhaps.

Common hawk-cuckoo.

Like other cuckoos, this bird lays its eggs as a brood parasite, often with jungle babbler parents.

Indian Roller

This Indian roller dropped in to peep through the windows of the CSE building offices. Dana Ballard, who was visiting from U. Rochester at the time, took this picture from the corner window in CSE building room 205, circa February 2005.

In flight, the Indian roller is a brilliant mosaic of colour. Sometimes it is called "Blue Jay", but Indian roller is the more accepted name. Sometimes you can see an Indian roller near the entrance to the academic area.

White-browed Wagtail

The black and white wagtail can be seen at the hall 8 reservoir, and is quite a common sight in Bithoor, scrambling after food near the ghats and the boats. The black "bib" may reduce or disappears in winter (non-breeding plumage).

White-browed wagtail, or Pied wagtail. from Bithoor, May 5 2007.

Below on the left is a wagtail that was hopping about the tourist boats, occasionally plucking a disreputable insect (here it has something white in its beak). in Dec 2009.

Left image: on boat at Bithoor. Other two are from the oxidation tanks near Hall 8 in March and Dec 2009.

White Wagtail

Sighted at the hall 8 reservoir in Dec 2009.

White wagtail

Yellow Wagtail - Beema race

There are several kinds of yellow wagtail. This one was seen on two occasions near the ganga canal; these images from late March.

ID help from TV Prabhakar and then Ramit Sangal. Yellow-orange belly, brown wings edged with white, white streak above the eye (a bit marginal), sparrow like in shape and appearance, seen on two occasions, in Nov and in March.

Chestnut-shouldered Petronia

Identified as the Chestnut-shouldered Petronia with help from Ramit Singal. This is the bird, earlier known as the Yellow-throated Sparrow, which excited the curiosity of a young boy, who was to become Salim Ali.

Lesser Whitethroat

This bird is very small - about the size of a sunbird. Straight short white-ish bill. March 2007. I had initially ID'd it as a Pale-Billed (Tickel's) Flowerpecker; but Ramit Singal pointed out that it was the Lesser Whitethroat... look out also for their "check - check" calls which includes a little bit of trilling as well. . Indeed, the bill is less light than a pale-billed.

Here are two images of these birds (by JM Garg, from wiki-commons); Whitethroat on the left, and Pale-billed on the right. Note the ccntinuous throat-breast colour on the pale-billed.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Saw the first one October 2006, and the other two are from March 2007. This is a small bird, smaller than a sparrow, and in breeding season (March-April), the male has a hint of crimson on neck and head lighter grey than body; light ring around eye. Image 7001 (from Oct 2006) is missing this neck colouration, but showing a white base under black tail. is non-breeding, may be male or female. Photographed in my garden.

Scaly-Breasted Munia

Short stubby grey bill, brown uppers, white spots on belly and wings - possibly the
Scaly-breasted Munia or the Spotted Munia, but it may be quite something else also.

On 11 November 2005 around 8 AM, I was walking near the airstrip when a flock of these - about 40 - descended on the abundantly blooming kAsh flower stalks beside the road. The reeds often bent dramatically under their weight. They kept pecking at the bases of the flowers, presumably that's where the seeds are.

How do they know where to find the seed, I wondered later. Are they born with this knowledge? If so, do they know also know each type of plant? Probably not. But then, if they learn it as babies, then different groups of munias should exhibit somewhat different behaviours (or cultures). But then, probably the seeding patterns are rather similar across the plants they prefer...

Ashy Prinia

Sparrow size, maybe just a bit smaller. Seen on a neem tree in Delhi. Yet another ID by Sainath Vellal.

The Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis) is also called the Ashy Wren-Warbler.

Orphean Warbler

Seen on a flowering neem tree in April 2007. ID by Ramit Singal.

This bird, seen in Dec 2009, on path to the Am-ka-bagicha, may also be a Orphean:

Black Redstart

This bird is a winter migrant, visible between September to March. It may come onto your lawn quite readily, "shivering" its orange tail while listening, head bent, for insects in the grass. (ID: Barun/Sushmita Banerjee).

Both genders have an orange underbelly ("start" is the region under the tail). The male is black to grey above, while the females, (as in all animals!) are duller and greyer.

Photographed on my lawn and garden in early October 2006.

Black Redstart Male

Black Redstart Female

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Bulbul size, blackish-grey, light grey patches beneath tail are distinctive. Look for the white patches beneath the tail.

These photographs are for a single individual seen end-October 2006 in my garden. (ID: Dipanwita Bera)

White Bellied Drongo

Black head, black beak, black wings, fading into white belly. It has a long deeply forked tail - not visible except vaguely in the flying picture. (ID: Sainath Vellal/ Dipanwita Bera)

Amitabha Mukerjee Dec 23, 2009