Friday, November 5, 2010

birds 002

Brahminy Kite

This bird (Tamil: Krishna Parunthu) is found at Tiruvannamalai, and there are several Brahminy Kite nests by Samudram Lake. Where the nests are known, the birds are worshipped as representative of Garuda (the sacred Eagle), but this bird is actually a Kite.

The Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) is also known as the Red Backed Sea Eagle and the Singapore Bald Eagle. It is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers.

Locals at Samudram coming to glimpse
their sacred bird

The bird hoping the visitors have
brought chicken bits

The Brahminy Kite has long broad rounded wings; short and rounded tail when fanned. Its head, neck and breast are white with rest of its body bright chestnut and primaries tipped black and feet yellow. In flight it exhibits slow, deep flapping and displays long, broadly angled wings.

Brahminy Kites are sedentary and do not migrate. They are more scavengers but also hunt for small prey (fish, crabs, shellfish, frogs, rodents, reptiles, even insects). They forage both over water and land, soaring 20-50m above the surface. Prey on the water surface is snatched with their talons but this bird doesn’t actually dive into water. This bird also scavenges from food scraps and garbage and flushes birds roosting on mudflats into flight to identify the weak. They are attracted to fires to catch fleeing animals. Their catch is eaten on the wing, to prevent theft. When several quarrel over a meal, they squeal.

Habitats best suited to Brahminy Kites are broad mudflat and freshwater wetlands such as rice fields and marshes and even in cultivated areas. The Brahminy Kite is a bird which prefers to be near water. It is especially common in coastal areas, by lakes or near large areas of rice fields. It is commonly found near human habitation and near rice fields it is the most common bird of prey.

Using his perch as a lookout

A Brahminy Kite with young


Brahminy Kites mate (November-December) on or near the nest which is generally located in tall trees. Although they do not share nesting trees, pairs may nest less than 100m apart. The nest is compact and made of twigs and sticks and often lined with dried mud. A first-time nest is usually thin, but as the pair reuse the site, the nest thickens. 2 eggs are laid, white with sparse red-brown blotches. Both parents raise the young.

The call of the Brahminy Kite is a thin mewing scream 'kweeaa' or 'kyeeer' usually while soaring. This bird which is very tolerant of humans, is an unfussy scavenger that can survive in a wide range of habitats. Although it is described as generally quiet, individuals which have been in constant or regular contact with humans tend to be noisier.

In flight

With feet pressed flat against its body

As the bird has a tendency to raid fish farms and steal chickens, it is sometimes regarded as a pest in other places in the world. In some S.E. Asia countries the bird, along with other types of Kite are hunted with the young taken for pets.

A juvenile Brahminy Kite

However in India the bird has great status due to its connection with Garuda. And its name i.e. Brahminy results from its association with the Indian God Vishnu.

A juvenile Brahminy Kite skimming
the water for food

29 May 2009

Golden Oriole

This bird’s name, Oriole was first used in English in the 18th century, and comes from the Latin "aureolus" golden. This bird is known as the Golden Oriole or (Eurasian) Golden Oriole.

Its nesting season extends from April to July. It builds a cup-like nest of grass and fibres, bound with cobweb in the fork of a leafy twig tree. The bird lays 2 or 3 eggs, spotted black or reddish brown. Both sexes share all domestic duties.

The Indian race Oriole (kundoo) differs from the European chiefly in that its black eye-streak extends behind the eye. The bird, which is the size of a Mynah, is bright golden with black in wings and tail, and a conspicuous black streak through the eye.

In the below photograph a female Oriole (kundoo) which is duller and greener than the male.

Female Kundoo

The kundoo is found singly or in pairs, among leafy trees in wooded country. The bird is found throughout India, excepting N.E. India and is not uncommon at Tiruvannamalai District.

Male Kundoo

European Oriole

30 March 2009

The Grey Heron

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae, native throughout temperate Europe and Asia and also parts of Africa. Its is both a migratory and resident bird depending upon the climate.
There are four subspecies of the Grey Heron, of which Ardea Cinerea Cinerea Linnareus (Tamil = Sambal Narai) is found in Tamil Nadu and Tiruvannamalai District.

This bird flies with steady wing beats with neck folded back and head drawn in between the shoulders and its long legs trailing behind. It’s a big bird with large wing span and has a comparatively lumbering take off.

This bird is the size of an Asian openbill stork. Its field characteristics is that of a lanky stork-like bird. It is ashy grey above with white crown and neck, greyish white below, with long slender S-shaped neck, narrow head, and pointed dagger bill.
There is currently a colony of Grey Herons residing on the reedy banks of Samudram Erie but they will undoubtedly fly off as the lake water recedes. Several years ago when the Samudram was stocked with fish, the migratory Grey Heron was found in large quantities throughout that season.

The Grey Heron wades into shallow water with neck craned and bill poised, or stands hunched up but alert waiting for a frog or fish to blunder within striking range.

Its nesting season in South India is November to March. Its nest is comprised of a twig platform with the central depression lined with grass. Built gregariously in trees, often amongst mixed heronries. It lays 3 to 6 eggs of deep sea-green colour. Both sexes share all domestic duties.

To view a selection of videos of the Grey Heron click this link here.

19 February 2009

Bats in the Belfry!

Commonly found in many of the Temples at Tiruvannamalai are bats. I know lots of people are turned off by bats, but since an experience some years ago when I was able to touch and handle bats, I have become a real bat aficionado. Their coat is like silk and their soft body feels quite wonderful. They are intelligent and endearingly shy. All in all a very beautiful creature.

Recently I've been spending a lot of time in the Arunagirinatha Temple at Arunachala, which has a tidy size bat colony.

Some of whom are resident in the Krishna Shrine which is being currently developed in the Temple Compound.

And below a couple of little friends comfortably stationed between the wooden rafters of the roof of the shrine.

Below are some extracts from an excellent article about bats entitled Bat Tracks.

"Although people squirm at the very mention of the word ‘bat’, bats are rather clean animals, and groom frequently. The myth that all bats carry the rabies virus persists. However, statistics say that only 0.5 per cent of bats contract rabies. And bats, almost as a rule, only bite in self-defence. They pose no threat to people. Worryingly, being one of the slowest reproducing mammals of their size — bats produce one young a year — bats are extremely vulnerable to extinction. That these gentle, beneficial creatures have been widely misunderstood and neglected further adds to the danger.

The Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 consigned bats to schedule V as ‘vermin’. While the more glamorous animals — elephants, rhinos, lions and tigers — have received considerable attention from conservationists in the country, bats have been largely ignored in such discourses.

Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight.

The 950 species of bats found worldwide are said to have originated from one of the oldest surviving species. One of the oldest fossils, Icaronycteris, is from the early Eocene era, dating back at least 50 million years.

Bat species in India are delicately balanced on the survival scale. Attitudes towards bats, myths about them, recklesshunting, disturbance of their natural habitat and lack of legal protection are all prodding bats away from a true chance at survival."

09 December 2008

Fork-Tail Black Kite

The Fork-Tailed Black Kite is commonly found at Tiruvannamalai, and is particularly noticeable flying in the thermals around Arunachala. The Tamil name for this bird is Kalu Parandu.

The nest of the Fork-Tailed Black Kite is usually an untidy platform of twigs, rags, wire and all sorts of rubbish. The nest is commonly located in a large tree, roof, or cornice of a building. Two or four eggs are laid in a batch.

Both sexes share in domestic duties.

In the below photograph a juvenile bird is practising his flying action.

The Fork-Tailed Black Kite is India's commonest raptor and is usually found in the neighbourhood of human habitations, whether a populated city or outlying village.

This Kite (Milvus migrans) is a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards, and harriers. It is about the size of a vulture.

The Kite will take small live prey as well as fish, household refuse and carrion. They are attracted to fires and smoke where they seek escaping insect prey. They are well adapted to living in cities and are found even in densely populated areas. Large numbers may be seen soaring in thermals over cities. In some places they will readily swoop to take to food offered by humans.

Differences between Raptor birds:
Kite - Any of several small graceful Hawks of the family Accipitridae having long pointed wings and feeding on insects and small animals
Eagle - Any of various large keen-sighted diurnal birds of prey noted for their broad wings and strong soaring flight
Hawk - Diurnal bird of prey typically having short rounded wings and a long tail
Falcon - Diurnal birds of prey having long pointed powerful wings adapted for swift flight

The Fork-Tailed Black Hawk is a very accomplished flier; turning and twisting, banking and stooping to scoop up scraps from the roadside and easily avoiding overhead telephone and electric wires.

18 October 2008

Baya Weavers Malaysia

Am posting these two amazing photographs of a group of baya weavers' nests. Really beautiful. Previously I made a posting about Baya Weavers at this link here, of several nests that I observed at Samudram Lake, Tiruvannamalai.

For absolutely no reason that I can understand some miscreant burnt down the acacia bush that was home to the lovely nests. It boggles belief that anyone could be mean-spirited to needlessly and spitefully burn down the tree and destroy the nests.

Maybe in Malaysia the nests in the above photographs are in a protected area, or maybe people there have a better understanding of conservation!

06 October 2008

Smart Crows!

Further to my recent posting on Crows, found the following excellent stories about discoveries on the intelligence of Crows. Click on each of the three narratives for the full story.

Crows are the Einsteins of the avian world
Tailcams' reveal cleverness of crows
Crows can be craftsmen, too

Crows may be smarter than apes

Researchers found evidence that the birds are able to outsmart people’s closest relatives when it comes to finding a way to access food without it falling into a trap.

Many studies have investigated the remarkable ability of crows from the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia to make tools from leaves, and customise them with great dexterity to extract grubs and caterpillars.Now a team from Auckland University, led by Prof Russell Gray, publishes what it says is "the most conclusive evidence to date" that the birds are indeed smart, showing that they can reason causally and use analogy in a way not seen even in our closest relatives, the great apes.

In the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, Prof Gray, Alex Taylor and colleagues describe experiments that were designed to work out what was going through the birds' minds.

The scientists presented crows with the trap-tube problem, where an animal had to extract food from a horizontal tube in a direction that avoids a trap, which swallows up the treat so they cannot eat it.

This problem can be solved by associating the relation between particular features of the trap-tube, such as the position of the hole or colour of the rim of the hole, with food. Alternatively an animal may "understand" how the task works but, until now, here has been no conclusive proof that animals reason causally when solving complex problems such as the trap-tube.

In this study, six New Caledonian crows were presented with a trap-tube with three arbitrary features inside it.

When the crows were presented with variations of the problem where these features were removed, three of the crows continued to solve the problem, suggesting the crows had not simply learn to pull the treat away from these features.

The scientist then presented the crows with a trap-tube with two holes. One hole allowed food to fall through it and out of the trap, so the bird could eat it. The other hole had a base and so trapped food that was pulled into it.

The three smartest crows failed to consistently solve this problem and appeared reluctant to pull the food into either hole, suggesting they were using the holes to guide their actions.

Finally, the crows were presented with a trap-table problem. In this problem an animal has to choose between pulling food across a wooden table or pulling food into a hole set in the table.

In a recent study 20 individuals from the great ape species were unable to transfer their knowledge from the trap-table and trap-tube or vice versa, despite the fact that both these problems work in the same way.

Strikingly the crows in the University of Auckland study were able to solve the trap-table problem after their experience with the trap-tube. By solving the trap-table the crows demonstrated that they had not just learnt to pull away from the specific hole in the Perspex trap-tube, but could generalise what they understood to a novel problem.

"The crows appeared to solve these complex problems by identifying causal regularities" said Prof Russell Gray of the University of Auckland. "The crows' success with the trap-table suggests that the crows were transferring their causal understanding to this novel problem by analogical reasoning.

However, the crows didn't understand the difference between a hole with a bottom and one without. This suggests the level of cognition here is intermediate between human-like reasoning and associative learning."

"It was very surprising to see the crows solve the trap-table" said Alex Taylor, a PhD student at the University of Auckland. "The trap table was visually different from the trap-tube in its colour, shape and material.

Transfer between these two distinct problems, the trap-tube and trap-table is not predicted by theories of associative learning and is something not even the great apes have so far been able to do".

[By Roger Highfield, Science Editor -- Telegraph UK]

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