Birding around Kolkata

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 Bird watching in Kolkata
 by Sumit Sen


© Sumit K Sen
Finn's Weaver

Map   Images and local names   Checklist    Kolkata   Salt Lake

Kolkata rarities   Pelagic vagrants

Migration: Kolkata Big Bird Day 2011

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Most large cities in India hold a surprisingly diverse population of birds despite the ever-increasing bustle of humanity, dwindling habitat and life-threatening pollution. Kolkata city is no exception. Both local residents and the traveler to the city can expect to see well over a hundred species, over a few pleasant winter mornings, in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. Good birds like Stork-billed Kingfisher, Lineated and Blue-throated Barbet, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Black-hooded Oriole, Bronze-winged Jacana, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Richard’s Pipit, Bengal Bushlark, Brown Shrike and others are relatively widespread and often common in this area, located at end of the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Kolkata was reclaimed from estuarine saltwater marshland and the East Kolkata Wetlands, a water body of considerable size and significance (and a recently declared Ramsar site), stretches towards Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal from the eastern edge of the city. The abundance of water close at hand and the remnants of the marshy landscape still attract, a large but diminishing, population of water dependent birds to the environs. The tree plantation spree witnessed in response to dangerous levels of atmospheric pollution also resulted in the greening of the city, creating new habitat for arboreal birds. As a result, birds which were lost for well over four decades, like the Oriental Pratincole, came back to breed this year only a few kilometers from Kolkata airport. And the Black-naped Oriole, a vagrant winter visitor from the east, has become established as a regular in our gardens and groves over the last ten years or so. Small influxes of an extremely limited number of species do not address the gaps created when the last Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Swamp Partridge, Spot-billed Pelican, Baer’s Pochard, Black-crested Baza, Asian Dowitcher, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Mangrove Whistler, Bristled Grassbird were developed out of their Salt lake home in the late 60’s. But corrections, even small ones, are encouraging and who can say that the city will not wake up one morning to the familiar wing beats of a Black Eagle quartering the edge of the wetlands.

You can find a fair number of bird species inside the city, especially where there are clumps of trees. Aside from the innumerable House Crows and ever present Black Kites, most areas hold the commoner city birds like House Sparrow, Common Myna, Common Tailorbird, Coppersmith and Blue-throated Barbet, Asian Koel, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Oriental Magpie Robin, White Wagtails (winter) and a oriole or woodpecker species. Waterside stretches are home to numerous Indian Pond Herons and the ever-present White-breasted Kingfisher.

Going out to bird watch, one has a few alternatives. The marshland area lies to the north and east of the city and the densely planted sizeable gardens/orchards are spread around the city.

Marshland area:

Rajarhat Bypass

© Sumit Sen
Long-tailed Shrike
- juvenile

As you leave Kolkata airport, the recently opened Bypass to Kolkata takes you through open marshy country, parts of which are being taken over for the development of a new township. The habitat is suitable for wetland birds and attracts a large number of Asian Openbills and other waders. Breeding Oriental Praticoles, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and Ashy Woodswallows are summer highlights while winter sees a large influx of passerines and raptors. Pied Harriers, Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite are all possible in one morning and the largest concentration of 80 White-rumped Vultures in the Kolkata area is to be found resting on this stretch of road. Smaller bird species include specialties like Oriental Reed Warbler, Bluethroat, Bengal Bushlark and Oriental Skylark.

Update June 2008: The Rajarhat site is almost gone now and only small patches remain. The Pratincoles have stopped breeding and winter birding is difficult in the remnant patches due to pollution from construction activity

Nalban Fishery Complex

© Sumit Sen
Cinnamon Bittern

Stretching from the edge of Salt Lakes Technology Park, the area is a vast inter-connected water body used for commercial fishery. Large waders like Great and Intermediate Egret, Grey and Purple Heron along with three cormorant species are the commonly observed inhabitants. But flocks of Asian Openbill exceeding a couple of thousand descend if food is plentiful and winter often sees large flocks of Pied Avocet and Black-headed Gulls spending time on the shallow stretches of water. The water side vegetation holds rarities like Bluethroat, Rubythroat, Rusty-rumped Warbler, Striated Grassbird (breeding), Watercock, Baillon’s and Ruddy Crake, Wryneck, Clamorous Reed Warblers and this is the best place to see the difficult Blunt-winged Warbler. Raptors include Marsh Harriers and, with luck, a Brahminy Kite or Osprey. Real rarities recorded include Grey-headed Lapwing, Common Shelduck and Great Crested Grebe. Bitterns, stilts, snipes, swallows, plovers, stints, wagtails all add to the list of over 150 species recorded in the area.

Ruby General Hospital area

© Sumit Sen
Streaked Weaver - female

Off the Eastern Metropolitan By Pass on the road to Garia is a small patch of wasteland at the edge of the East Kolkata wetlands. This rapidly developing area is a must visit for those who want to see the recently split Bengal Bushlark, a common resident. The area is also good for pipits, Zitting Cisticola, Common Snipe, Baillon’s Crake, Hoopoe, Yellow and Cinnamon Bittern and the lovely tricolor ssp. of the Long-tailed Shrike.

Update June 2008: The Ruby site has been completely taken over by housing development - not worth a visit anymore.

IIM Joka area

© Sumit Sen
Pied Cuckoo

This area behind the Indian Institute of Management, Joka still holds some significant open marshy country. It is good for breeding birds like Watercock, Cinnamon, Black and Yellow Bitterns, Purple Swamphen, Bengal Bushlark, Oriental Skylark, Zitting Cisticola, breeding Black-breasted Weavers, Black-shouldered Kite and local rarities like White-eyed Buzzard, Bluethroat etc. Winter birding is difficult due to inaccessibility but should be rewarding for the adventurous.

Gardens and Groves:

Indian Botanic Garden, Shibpur, Howrah

© Sumit Sen
Black Bittern
- female

Spread over 270 acres on the banks of the Hugli River, this 230 year old garden is a haven for passerine birds and also attracts a small number of water dependent species. All common garden species are found in the area can be seen here, plus a few local rarities. Rufous Woodpecker, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Black Bittern, Lineated Barbet, Black-naped Oriole, Brown Hawk Owl, Bronzed Drongo, Yellow-browed and Greenish Warbler, Booted Eagle are some of the species that you will come across on a walk in the garden. Rarities like Asian Brown Flycatcher, Eurasian Cuckoo and Black-capped Kingfisher have been recorded in passage and more are waiting to be observed. A feral breeding population of Red-breasted Parakeet is an added attraction.

Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary, Narendrapur, 24 Parganas

© Sumit Sen
Oriental Honey-buzzard

This small (17 acre) sanctuary is a short drive to the south of the city. The sanctuary is an old abandoned orchard and the area surrounding it is a mix of orchards and grassland. Many forest species are found in the area and include  Rarities include Tickell’s Thrush, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Slaty-legged Crake, Eurasian Woodcock, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Scaly Thrush, Little Spiderhunter, Blue-throated Flycatcher and White-eyed Buzzard. The recently rediscovered Large-billed Reed Warbler was found at the edges of the Sanctuary.
More here


Santragachi Jheel, Howrah

Just a 20 minute drive from the center of Kolkata lies a 13,75,000 square feet lake, known as the Santragachi Jheel. Winter months (October to March) draw 4000 to 5000 water birds to this safe haven. Santragachi is hemmed in by habitation and railway tracks. Water hyacinth dominates the surface and there is very little green cover. But the birds more than make up in their variety, numbers and in the unconcerned way they make Santragachi a home, making viewing them easy and pleasurable. Lesser Whistling-Ducks dominate this lake, but Gadwall, Garganey and Northern Pintail can be seen in sizeable numbers too. Amongst the other duck species, the threatened Ferruginous Pochard and the dwindling Comb Duck are noteworthy. Santragachi has also recorded vagrants like Baikal Teal and Falcated Duck. But the star attractions at this water body are the rare Swinhoe’s Snipe and the small wintering flock of Fulvous Whistling-ducks.

Geography & Topography:

Located at 22°54.35N, 88°33.42E, Kolkata is situated on the banks of the River Hugli and is close to the Bay of Bengal. The Sunderbans biosphere is only a 100kms from the city. Kolkata is on the Indo-Gangetic plain and is at sea level throughout. Most of the city was originally marshy wetlands and remnants are still to be found where it has escaped urbanisation or has not been converted into commercial wetland fishery use. 300+ years of human habitation has led to the establishment of mature trees and shrubs and large groves and gardens are common today. This has effectively changed the original marshland to a primarily moist deciduous habitat which flourishes in the high rainfall and sunny humid climate.

Sunny and humid. High rainfall in the monsoons.
Summer ( April - Sept) temperatures : Hi: 37 C / Lo : 28 C
Winter ( Nov - Feb ) temperatures : Hi: 30 C / Lo : 13 C

Birding Season

Sunlight hours
Summer : 5.00 am to 5.30 pm
Winter: 6.30 am to 4.30 pm

Common birds, relatively abundant across the city through the year, are:

House Crow

Spotted Dove

Jungle Babbler

House Sparrow

Chestnut-tailed Starling

Black-rumped Flameback

Black Kite

Asian Koel

Greater Coucal

Common Myna

Coppersmith Barbet

Common Tailorbird

Rock Pigeon

Purple Sunbird

Rufous Treepie

Asian Pied Starling

White-throated Kingfisher

Spotted Owlet

Jungle Myna

Little Cormorant

Black-hooded Oriole

Oriental Magpie Robin

House Swift

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Indian Pond Heron

Blue-throated Barbet

Black Drongo

Cattle Egret

Red Vented Bulbul

Purple-rumped Sunbird

The ideal Kolkata birdwatching itinerary would be a start at Tollygunge Club* ( 6.00 am to 7.30 am) , a short drive to the Botanics (8.30am - 10.00 am), stop over at Santragachi (10.30am to noon) and the afternoon at Salt Lake/Nalban. Throw in Chintamani Kar at Narendrapur if you have an extra day.

[* Tollygunge Club is restricted to members only. You may need permission to enter or a member to accompany you. It offers rooms for tourists and is the best choice for bird lovers]

Happy birding !


Copyright 2002 - 2008 Sumit K Sen
June 2008, Kolkata


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