Birds of India

Beginner's Section

Common Indian City Birds


There are birds around us everywhere, some living in parks and gardens near our homes and some even sharing space with us in the heart of the city. It just takes a little curiosity to identify and know a little more about these direct decedents of the dinosaurs and develop a green hobby that can give you a lifetime of pleasure for free!

Birds of India helps you come to grips with our feathered neighbours with this two part introduction to city dwelling birds of India.

Some of our birds are well adapted to a life around human settlements and indeed many can be found only around habitations. This two part presentation will cover the birds that are most commonly seen around the 5 metropolises of India. Not all the species are common in all the cities and some do not even occur in some places. But based on feedback from over a hundred skilled birders from across the country, the list of the top 20 should be fairly representative of what the city birder will get to see without a great effort.

The thought behind these pages is to familiarize beginners with the obvious - it will help them to know the birds a little better and, more importantly, interest and equip them to look for birds outside this list - birds that are scarce and worth observing when met because opportunities may be limited.

A word about the species covered. All these birds share one thing in common - they are very adaptive and can cope with varied climatic conditions, food sources and nesting/roosting sites. Most are gregarious and mid-sized. Lastly, they are also very visible - part of the reason why they make the "Top Twenty" list and the reason why they make a good choice for new birders.

Common Myna
Common Myna
Scientific name: Acridotheres tristis ; Size: 26cms
Description: Vinous-brown body, black head and yellow orbital area. Sexes alike.
Habits: Bold and aggressive, noisy. Usually in pairs. Often feeds on the ground and has a varied diet which includes kitchen waste. Roosts communally in great numbers. Nests in
abandoned tree holes or buildings.
Habitat: Found around human habitation. Open country, farmlands, cities and hills up to 3100m
Range: Widespread resident across the country.

Black Kite
Scientific name: Milvus migrans ; Size: 40 to 60cms.
Description: Dark brown plumage with a forked tail. In flight forked tail and long angled wings are noticeable. Sexes alike.
Habits: Scavenger found around human settlements. Commonest bird of prey that we get to see today. Circles in the sky for hours and often seen in the hundreds at roost or near a
preferred feeding area. partial to feeding on earthworms. Nests in tall trees.
Habitat: Open woodland, forest edge, farms, towns and cities
Range: Widespread resident across the country.

Rock Pigeon
Scientific name: Columba livia ; Size: 33cms
Description: Steel blue-grey with 2 broad wing bars, broad blackish band at tip of tail. Feet red. Feral birds widely occur in cities and come in varied plumages including very dark birds. Sexes similar.
Habits: Gregarious and bold. Large flocks attend favoured feeding areas which include granaries and cultivation. Feeds on seeds and shoots. Much given to aggressive courtship
display. Nests on ledges/holes.
Habitat: The natural habitat consists of rock faces but feral birds occupy humans constructions. Found at elevations up to 3400m.
Range: Widespread resident across the country. Also occurs in higher elevations.

Rose-ringed Parakeet
Scientific name: Psittacula krameri ; Size: 41cms
Description: Slim green parakeet with a bright red beak and greenish grey feet. Lacks maroon shoulder patch. Males have a black and rose collar which the female lacks.
Habits: Noisy and gregarious, the species moves in fast moving flocks to feed on a variety of plant matter including fruits and crops. Well adapted to city life, Rose-rings are also popular in the cage-bird trade. Roosts communally in huge numbers and nests in tree holes.
Habitat: Woodlands, mangroves, grassland, open farmland, parks, gardens and human vicinity.
Range: Widespread resident across the country and up to 1600m in the hills.

House Crow
Scientific name: Corvus splendens ; Size: 43cms
Description: Unmistakable. Note greyish collar on black plumage. Sexes alike.
Habits: Bold, smart and very adaptive, this gregarious species is an omnivorous and opportunistic feeder. Many roost is large colonies though breeding pairs roost together in their territory. Pair bonding is strong. Nests in trees and is brood-paracitized by the Asian Koel.
Habitat: Near human habitation including very small settlements.
Range: Widespread resident across the country and up to 2000m in the hills.

Indian Pond Heron
Scientific name: Ardeola grayii ; Size: 47cms
Description: This overall drab bird sports a brownish buff head and neck, buff brown breast, maroon back and white wings during the breeding phase. The non-breeding colours are a striped dull earthy-brown but the wings are conspicuously white in flight. Sexes alike.
Habits: Affects any stretch of water which may contain food. Patiently stalks and hunts prey which range from insects to fish from the waters edge. Usually wary. Roosts and nests communally in trees.
Habitat: Lakes, jheels, rivers, flooded fields, swamps, mudflats, mangroves etc.
Range: Widespread resident. Absent from the dry west.

White-throated Kingfisher
Scientific name: Halcyon smyrnensis ; Size: 28cms
Description: Commonest kingfisher species seen in the country. Bright red bill, chestnut head and belly, white throat and bright turquoise upperparts. Sexes alike.
Habits: The most adaptive of all our kingfishers. Can stray far from water in search of food which include insects, lizards and fish. Usually solitary and territorial. Nests in holes on arth-banks near water.
Habitat: Open country, fields, towns, forest edges, streams, gardens and wetlands.
Range: Widespread resident across the country and up to 2500m in the hills.

Red-vented Bulbul
Scientific name: Pycnonotus cafer ; Size: 21cms
Description: A dark and crested medium sized bird with black head and throat and red under tail coverts. Sexes alike.
Habits: A bold, pugnacious, cheerful and vivacious bird, Red-vented Bulbuls are usually seen in pairs or small parties. This species is highly adaptive and can be found in both cities and in deep forests. Their catholic taste in food and ability to build a nest in the most unsuitable spot has something to do with their success.
Habitat: Scrub, forests, secondary growth, towns and cities.
Range: Widespread resident across the country and up to 2300m in the hills.

Cattle Egret
Scientific name: Bubulcus ibis ; Size: 50cms
Description: A pure white bird with a stout yellow bill and greenish or blackish legs. During the breeding period the head, neck and parts of the back become a washed buff orange. Sexes alike.
Habits: A gregarious bird seen in small flocks in open areas. Often moves with cattle and other grazers to pick up insects disturbed by them. Nests and roosts in large colonies on trees. Subject to some local migration.
Habitat: Not water dependent. Wet fields, marshes, swamps, pastures, grassland and parks.
Range: Resident practically all over the country up to about 1500m.

House Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer domesticus ; Size: 15cms
Description: The cinnamon-brown male has grey upper tail coverts, white ear coverts and large black patch in centre of breast. The duller female has black streaks on back and two whitish wing bars
Habits: Familiar companion of humans - chirpy and cheerful. Numbers seem to be declining lately and one cause could be lack of suitable nesting sites. Mainly a seed-eater, House Sparrows have a mixed diet which includes insects. Usually seen in pairs, they move in small flocks and roost communally. Nests exclusively in human dwellings.
Habitat: Grassland, farmlands, towns, cities, human habitations
Range: Widespread resident. Replaced by the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the hills and north-east.

Common Tailorbird
Scientific name: Orthotomus sutorius ; Size: 13cms
Description: Tiny greenish bird with a dull rufous cap and white underparts. Sexes alike.
Habits: Inquisitive, confiding and restless. Usually seen in pairs. Feeds on tiny insects which it industrially searches for in garden and groves cheerfully calling all the time. The nest is made by skillfully sewing together the edges of long leaves - giving the bird its name.
Habitat: Found around human habitation, often choosing to nest in gardens. A bird of forest edges and gardens.
Range: Widespread resident across the country

Oriental Magpie Robin
Scientific name: Copsychus saularis ; Size: 20-22cms.
Description: A smart pied chat with prominent white wing markings and white underparts. Male is glossy blue-black, and the female a dull grey above.
Habits: The top city songster. The male pours out a rich melody often from the top a tall perch. Individuals are territorial and visit favourite feeding places where the diet of insects and leftovers are easily available. Often nest in manmade structures and abandoned pipes etc. Can be remarkably tame.
Habitat: Open woodland, forest edge, farms, towns and cities
Range: Widespread resident across the country. Scarce in north-western India.

Coppersmith Barbet
Scientific name: Megalaima haemacephala ; Size: 17cms
Description: A richly coloured diminutive green barbet - its short tail giving it a round appearance. Sexes similar.
Habits: Despite its bright red markings, this barbet can be hard to find in its favoured fruiting trees like fig etc. This species advertises its presence by its familiar loud and repeated 'tuck, tuck', call - a feature of hot summer afternoons in the plains. The call is reminiscent of a coppersmith beating metal - hence the name. Nests in tree holes.
Habitat: Open areas, gardens, forests, towns and cities.
Range: Widespread resident across the lowlands. Scarce in the extreme north-west.

Green Bee-eater
Scientific name: Merops orientalis ; Size: 20cms
Description: Slim green bee-eater with a thin long beak and elongated central tail feathers. Has blue cheeks, a black gorget and a black eye line. Sexes similar.
Habits: This graceful bird is an aerial acrobat, sweeping down from its perch to catch insects on the wing. Usually found in small flocks, the birds often gather together on roadside electrical lines keeping in touch with each other with their cheerful contact calls. Nests in tunnels dug in earth mounds.
Habitat:Open country, parks, lakes and dry forests.
Range: Widespread resident across the country. Locally migratory.

Black Drongo
Scientific name: Dicrurus macrocercus ; Size: 30cms
Description: Smart and graceful glossy blue-black bird with a long forked tail. Sexes alike.
Habits: Fearless, agile and aggressive, this successful species is a feature of all our open spaces where its favoured insect food abounds. Individuals are territorial outside breeding season and have favoured perches from where they announce their presence with a medley of harsh calls mixed with skilled impersonation of calls of other species. Nests in trees which are protected from all avian intruders with zest and daring.
Habitat: Open country. Usually near habitation.
Range: Widespread resident across the country.

Spotted Dove
Scientific name: Streptopelia chinensis ; Size: 30cms
Description: An overall pinkish medium sized dove, distinguished by the presence of a white spotted black neck-patch. Sexes alike.
Habits:A typical unassuming dove - quietly moves about in pairs picking up food from cobbled roads and open places. Diet is mostly grains. Nests in trees.
Habitat: Open country, fields, towns, forest edges and gardens.
Range: Widespread resident. Absent from the dry west.

Purple Sunbird
Scientific name: Nectarinia asiatica ; Size: 10cms
Description: A tiny purple jewel of our gardens. The purplish-black breeding male has reflective metallic feathers that glisten in the sun. The yellow-brown female is drab in comparison. Males out of breeding season wear an eclipse plumage which is like the female's but with a dark blue throat stripe.
Habits: A pugnacious, striking, and active species, Purple Sunbirds bring joy to and colour to our gardens and parks. Usually seen in pairs, these nectar feeding birds attend suitable blooms through the day and use their long tubular tongues to collect nectar from deep inside the flowers.
Habitat: Open forests, scrub, towns and cities.
Range: Widespread resident.

Little Cormorant
Scientific name: Phalacrocorax niger ; Size: 50cms
Description: An all dark bird with webbed feet and longish neck. Non-breeding birds are brownish and attain a silvery black shine in breeding plumage. Sexes alike.
Habits: Our commonest and smallest cormorant. Spends most of the time in water diving deep and chasing its fish prey underwater. Roosts and nest colonially in trees. Often considered a pest by commercial fisheries.
Habitat: Any suitable water body with fish.
Range: Resident practically across the country. Poorly recorded in the Himalaya and north-west.

Asian Koel
Scientific name: Eudynamys scolopacea ; Size: 43cms
Description: A cuckoo species with bright red eyes and a hooked beak. Males are glossy black while females are dark brownish with heavy spotting and barring.
Habits: Asian Koels are found wherever you can find House Crows - a species which the Koel brood-paracitizes. Despite its striking colours and large size it is often hard to see the bird when it is perched. Its far ranging 'ko-yu, ko-yo' call and a maniacal screech are often the only indications of its presence in the locality.
Habitat: Open country, towns, forests.
Range: Widespread resident. Absent from the dry north-west.

Little Egret
Scientific name: Egretta garzetta; Size: 60cms
Description: A delicate and slim egret. Pure white with a dark pointed bill, dark legs and bright yellow feet. Breeding birds sport long delicate plumes on nape and back called 'aigrettes' used in designer headgear. Sexes alike.
Habits: A busy wader stalking shallow water alone or in company of others. Flushes fishes and invertebrates and snatches moving prey with great speed. Roosts and nests communally in trees.
Habitat: All wetlands.
Range: Widespread resident across the country.


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