Birds of India

Articles: 50 birds I want to see - Part II
March 28th 2011 I Bikram Grewal

50 birds to see before you die!

by Bikram Grewal

Both Sumit and I were overwhelmed by the response to part 1 of this  article. It was written for fun and the birds were listed in no particular  order. I would like to add once again that I have seen some of these birds before, albeit fleetingly, and would like a better view the next time. I would like to encourage readers to compile their own lists and share it with others. Hope you you enjoy part 2 as much as you did the previous one.

Part - 2

26. Blyth's Tragopan (Tragopan blythii)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

One of the four fascinating and colourful tragopans found in India. Beside other details, its yellow face distinguishes it from the others. Like all tragopans they are hunted for their brightly-coloured feathers. It is found sparingly from Bhutan east to the Myanmar border. It is best seen in Nagaland, where it is the state-bird.

27. Nicobar Scrubfowl (Megapodius nicobariensis)

Credit: Lithograph by W T Blandford

These fascinating birds are the only megapode found in our region. Resembling pheasants by their habit of scratching around in leaf litter while foraging. These partly nocturnal birds have the endearing habit of laying their eggs in mounds of rotting matter and letting them being incubated by natural heat. They are found exclusively in the Nicobar Islands, where they are said to be locally common.

28. Yellow-throated Laughingthrush (Dryonastes galbanus)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Another rare laughingthrush from NE India. Very few records exist and certainly no photographs were taken on the Indian sub-species, till Ramki took a few in the deep Nagaland in the Pungro in Kiphere District, which possibly remains the best place to see it. Little is known about it.

29. Bay Woodpecker (Blythipicus pyrrhotis)

Credit: Lithograph from Birds of Malaya

Little known and seldom seen woodpecker of the NE. Prefers bamboo, and regenerating broadleaf forests. Like the equally rare Pale-headed Woodpecker, it is more heard than seen. Found from E Nepal up to SE Arunachal. Also South Assam Hills. Best seen in Namdhapa

30. Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus):

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Small, solitary and secretive bittern, said to breed in Kashmir and Assam, migrant elsewhere but its status is little understood. Recently turned up in Ranthambhore. Probably overlooked elsewhere. Best seen in Dal Lake, Srinagar.

31. Grey Peacock Pheasant (Polyplectron bicalcaratum)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Another of the NE's wonderful pheasants, this shy and elusive bird is resident in the foothills from the Bengal Duars through to Assam and Arunachal. Also found in the famed hill of South Assam. Often hunted for its feathers and for the pot. More widespread than the others, but difficult to see due to its skulking nature.

32. Rufous-vented Laughingthrush (Dryonastes gularis)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Through more common in SE Asia, it is rarely encountered in India, with few and far between records. It is said to be present in E Bhutan up to Arunachal, as well as the South Assam Hills. Like all members of the family it is extremely shy and therefore difficult to see. Said to be found in small groups in dense low vegetation and forest floor. A few recent records from Changlang in SE Arunachal.

33. Ashy Minivet (Pericrocotus divaricatus)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

An unusual minivet from SE Asia, that turns up occasionally in India. Officially recorded from India, only in 1965. Since then it has been seen in several places, as far apart as Kanha, Periyar, Kerala, Himachal and West Bengal. Probably overlooked but difficult to predict where it will turn up.

34. Blyth's Kingfisher (Alcedo hercules)

Credit: Lithograph by EC Stuart Baker (Private collection)

A larger version of the equally elusive Blue-eared, this species is restricted to the NE. Probably more common than reported, due to its preferred habitat of densely forested streams and rivers. Few if any photographs exist from India. Best seen in Arunachal Pradesh' fast flowing streams.

35. Eye-browed Wren Babbler (Napothera epilepidota)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

One of the several species of tiny wren-like babblers found in India. They family are master skulkers, preferring dense, damp undergrowth in forests and secondary growth. A few species climb trees and most are tailless. The Eye-browed has a prominent and long supercilium and is restricted to Arunachal and South Assam Hills. Best seen in Eaglenest Sanctuary.

36. Purple-throated Sunbird (Nectarinia minima)

Credit: Vietnam postage stamp from the web

Readily identified as male by a crimson breast and upper belly, the female has a combination of small size, dull yellowish underparts with an olive-coloured throat. Dwells in thin forests, gardens and dense cover in swampy land, it has a feeble chip chip call, while its song is thin and high-pitched. This typical sunbird can be found in the plains of Northeast India and Bangladesh.

37. Eastern Grass-owl (Tyto longimembris)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Similar to the more common Barn Owl, the Eastern Grass Owl is rarely seen, as it spends most of its time hiding in tall grass. Very few sight records exist and the numbers could be dwindling fast, despite it having a wide range from the Himalayan foothills from Uttarakhand to Assam, South Assam hills. It is also found in the Central and East peninsula and the SW Ghats.

38. Jerdon's Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus):

Credit: Lithograph by J G Kuelemans (Private collection)

Rare and local endemic to the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh . Historically, it was known from just a few records in the Pennar and Godavari river valleys and was assumed to be extinct until its rediscovery, by a young scientist Bharat Bhusan in 1986. It has since been found at six further localities in the vicinity of the Lankamalai, Velikonda and Palakonda hill-ranges, southern Andhra Pradesh, with all localities probably holding birds from a single population, the majority of which are contained within the Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary. Under extreme pressure.

39. Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler (Sphenocichla humei)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Recently split into the Sikkim and Cachar, Pam Rasmussen feels that they are true babblers as opposed to Wren-babblers. Large, but skulking, so seldom seen. The best place to see them is Eaglenest in Arunachal. The Cachar (roberti) is found south of the Brahmaputra and the best place to see them is Khonoma in Nagaland.

40. Andaman Hawk-owl (Ninox affinis)

Credit: Lithograph by J G Kuelemans (Private collection)

Endemic to the Andaman and Nicobar archipelagos, this small hawk-owl is greatly threatened by the ever expanding human population. Several sub-species exist.

41. Andaman (Sunda) Teal (Anas albogularis)

Credit: Lithograph by J G Kuelemans (Private collection)

These small, mainly brown, ducks have a fair amount of white on their heads, thereby distinguishing them from other anas species. They also have larger heads and slim necks than most teal species. Mostly nocturnal they feed on paddy fields in small groups of about twenty to thirty. Once common their numbers have declined substantially. They are resident in the Andamans Islands.

42. Green Cochoa (Cochoa viridis)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Differentiated from the Purple Cochoa by a blue crown and nape and a green body faintly scaled with black on mantle, pale blue paneling across wing and tail with black tip. The Female has green at the base of secondaries. A solitary bird with a pure, drawn-out monotone whistle, found in dense, moist evergreen forests mostly in the Himalayas from North Uttar Pradesh to Arunachal Pradesh.

43. Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Unobtrusive and slow-moving, this pretty bird has a lilac-blue crown, black mask, lilac paneling on wing, lilac tail with a black tip. The female is similar but with a rusty-brown mantle, wing-coverts and brownish-orange underparts. Its song is a broad flute-like peeeeeeeeee, although it keeps hidden among foliage. Found in the Himalaya from Himachal Pradesh east to Arunachal Pradesh.

44. Gould's Shortwing (Brachypteryx stellata)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

This striking bird has chestnut upperparts, slate-grey underparts (blacker around the face), with star-shaped spotting on the belly and flanks. Its song begins with a series of high-pitched notes, which gradually become louder and more closely spaced, running into a series of high-frequency piercing notes. A confiding bird, it often comes out in the open among fallen branches and roots. Breeds in dense rhododendron and bamboo growth and juniper shrubberies, resident in the Himalayas from north Uttar Pradesh east to Arunachal Pradesh.

45. Spectacled Finch (Callacanthis burtoni)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Usually found in pairs or small parties, these rather large, stout-billed finches have pink on the wings and superficially resembles the Mongolian or Desert Finches. Although they have a blackish crown, giving rise to a capped appearance. Their song is clear and melodious while their call is a chat-like wee-tll-ee.

46. Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Recognisable from other finches by a distinctive bill shape with upper and lower mandibles crossing over towards the tip. The male is rusty-red with darker wings and tail while the female is olive-green with a brighter greenish-yellow rump. These noisy, agile, gregarious birds form restless flocks feeding on tops of tall conifers, clambering about the branches and even hanging upside down from cones! They are subject to erratic movements but are found in north Pakistan, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

47. Rusty-capped Fulvetta (Schoeniparus dubia)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Several claimed sightings from north of the Brahmaputra have proved inconclusive, so it is safe to assume that it is found south of the river in the South Assam Hills. We had several sightings from Nagaland.

48. Spot-bellied Eagle Owl (Bubo nipalensis)

Credit: Lithograph by J G Kuelemans (Private collection)

A huge and powerful hunter known to take large birds like Khaleej and medium-sized mammals like jackals and hare. Easily identified by the chevron-like markings on its whitish underparts and by its all-brown eyes. Has a low, deep mournful hoot that carries for long distances and chilling the bones of those who hear it. This forest-dwelling owl is largely distributed but difficult to see during the day, which it spends in dense foliage.

49. Fire-tailed Myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

Though not that uncommon, it makes the list purely on the basis of its looks! One of India's most stunning birds, this nectar feeder is found from Nepal eastwards to Arunachal. Though mostly found singly, it is known to join bird waves. A true jewel of the Indian forest.

50. Sclater's Monal (Lophophorus sclateri)

Credit: Lithograph by J. Gould (Private collection)

In India it is restricted mostly to Arunachal Pradesh. Mass-scale destruction, degradation and disturbance of suitable habitats due to proposed massive dam building in Arunachal Pradesh. Hunting for feathers and the pot has put this spectacular bird under immense threat. Mayodia Pass in Mishmi Hills is the best place to see it.


Edited by: Sumit Sen
Kolkata, India
March 2011


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All images except #36 sourced and supplied by Bikram Grewal



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