Birdwatching In India - My Favorite Birds
Bird Watching in India
Bird watching in India can be a very rewarding experience. With the large size of the country and the huge variety of habitats, ranging from snowy mountains in the north to tropical rain forest in the south, there are a huge number of species to be found. Not only that, but birds are very abundant throughout the country and even in suburban areas and farmland it is not very difficult to find a good location to see plenty of interesting species.
I have made a few limited trips to this amazing country, my first in 1997, and have enjoyed just wandering around and finding new species and even with this limited experience it has not been difficult to pick a top ten as some species leap out as highlights of my visits.
This lens highlights my ten favorite species that I have seen in India.
Bird watchers who want to learn more about how to improve their skills should read this lens: How to be a Good Birdwatcher.
Have You Watched Birds In India? - Please Let Me Know
Have you been bird watching in India?
The Birds Of India Field Guides - Identify What You See
These two excellent field guides, together, cover the whole of the country. Previous field guides which covered the whole subcontinent became rather congested due to the huge number of species they needed to deal with and they had little room for informative text. These two field guides solve that problem by spreading the load over two volumes and are more usable in the field because of their less congested set up.
Over 800 species are illustrated in this book which deals with the region to the north of Mumbai as well as Pakistan. The strength of this book are the accurate plates but the weakness is that there are no range maps.
This is the companion guide to the book featured above. It contains more than 600 species and deals with everything south of Mumbai. Once again the plates are of high quality but a lack of range maps means that knowing if a certain species is found in the area that one is in is difficult.
1. Siberian Crane
Sadly, Siberian Cranes have not been seen in India since 2002 after the last few survivors of the central population of Siberian Cranes went missing. I was very lucky and saw 3 at Bharatpur in 1997, two adults and a juvenile.
I had spent four days bird watching at Bharatpur and had not seen the Siberian Cranes as had no other birders. On my last day I took a bicycle and went around some of the least accessible parts of the park and at just about the furthest spot from the entrance I found the three Siberian Cranes feeding together in a small pool.
Unfortunately, Siberian Cranes are now an endangered species, this quote is from the Siberian Crane Flyway Coordination Website;
"Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) is the third rarest of all cranes and probably the most threatened. It's a large charismatic bird that symbolizes long life and good marriages, but the species has fallen prey to hunting, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Siberian Crane is my favorite bird that I have seen in India for a number of reasons; firstly, it took a few days of searching to find it; secondly, it made a very memorable sight; thirdly, I will probably never get the chance to see one again.
If you are interested in visiting Bharatpur for bird watching check out this website: Bharatpur Sanctuary.
2. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker is a bird I have only seen once on one of my few visits to India, so, for me, the scarcity of sightings make it one of my favorites, even though it is actually quite widespread in India.
Woodpeckers are all special birds, with their funny behavior and loud calls. Any sighting of a woodpecker is excellent as far as I am concerned and this little beauty is one of the woodpeckers I have seen the most seldom. My only sighting was made in some dry woodland that I found myself in at Bharatpur. I can remember having been out all day and I was very tired and on my way back to my guesthouse. I had more or less stopped looking at birds but when I saw this one in a tree I stopped as I had not seen any woodpeckers up to that point. I can remember watching this one pecking at dead branches on a tree, presumably checking them out for hollows that may contain delicious grubs.
Hopefully I can make another trip one day and see him again or finding one in Thailand (where spend most of my time) would really be something amazing as there is only one historical record of this species and it has never actually been seen in the wild there.
More photos of Yellow-crowned Woodpecker can be found here: Yellow-crowned Woodpecker.
3. Comb Duck
Before going to India Comb Duck was one of the birds I most wanted to see, due to its strange bill and that it would be one of only a few new waterfowl species that I had the possibility of seeing there.
I wasn't to be disappointed. I saw only a few Comb Ducks when I visited Bharatpur, but fortunately one of them was a male with its splendid and rather awkward-looking bill. There were many other duck species to see also including many of the ones that I was familiar with from Great Britain but these incredible birds stood out among the crowd due to their size and color.
Apart from its bizarre bill, the Comb Duck is quite unusual in that it is found in Asia, Africa and South America; there are very few species that occur on all three of these continents, although I believe that some ornithologists consider the South American version to be a separate species now.
Learn more about Comb Duck.
4. Wire-tailed Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow is one of sleekest, most clean-cut birds I have ever seen. Whereas most swallows are a combination of smudgy underparts and shiny blue upperparts, Wire-tailed Swallow is pure white below and has very irridescent blue upperparts with a contrasting chestnut cap. The wires of the tail are almost invisible to the naked eye unless the bird is perched, but the whole combination makes for a very striking bird.
I first saw this bird at the rear of the Taj Mahal,which turned out to be a rather good spot for bird watching, but have seen it many times since in Northern Thailand.
Wire-tailed Swallows like to nest under rocks which overhang water and culverts under roads and they can be spotted sitting on wires or swooping low along the water in a similar fashion to other swallows.
The photo here was taken by Johan Svensson. You can see more of his photos here: Johan Svensson's Gallery.
5. Rufous Treepie
What is not to like about Rufous Treepie? It is big and brightly colored and has the most ridiculous call. Although Rufous Treepie is fairly common, to me it is always a welcome sight as it is an amusing bird to watch and its colors are far more contrasting and bright than most field guides suggest.
When I worked as a science teacher in a school in Bangkok I used to play bird calls while the children were doing their work (I used to teach a unit on birds) and the favorite call of almost every class was that of Rufous Treepie; it sounds something like the horn on one of those clown cars that fall apart as the clown drives it.
The happy news about Rufous Treepie is that it is a common bird across a large part of Asia and it is of least concern in terms of its conservation status. I hope it stays that way so that many generations of bird lovers can appreciate it.
More photos and information on Rufous Treepie here: Rufous Treepie.
A Good Pair Of Binoculars For Budding Ornithologists
Experienced ornithologists will know what they want from a pair of binoculars but I am often asked by beginners what are the best binoculars for them. The answer is a pair with a wide field of view so that it is easy to spot the birds that are in front of you. This pair of Nikon binoculars, 8x40, are ideal for the less experienced and they provide good quality at a low price.
6. White-rumped Vulture
On my first visit to India in 1997 this species was amazingly abundant. I was really surprised to see so many vultures hanging around in all sorts of urban areas and seeing this prehistoric looking bird on rooftops and roadsides is what put it so high in my affections.
Sadly, these days White-rumped Vulture is a rare sight and it is now regarded as critically endangered, which is quite astonishing given how common it once was. It is thought that poisoning by the drug diclofenac, which was used as an anti-inflammatory drug in cattle, is the cause of the species' decline - the drug builds up in the vulture after eating corpses of cows and then results in organ failure.
For more information on White-rumped Vultures take a look at the Birdlife International Species Factsheet on it: White-rumped Vulture.
7. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
Yellow-footed Green Pigeon really is attractive. The first time I saw it, I had not really thought about this species at all so when I noticed a few of them in a nearby tree and saw that they were a group of Yellow-footed Green Pigeons, I was really surprised at how beautiful they were.
Whilst this is relatively common pigeon in the right habitat, it is one that I never get tired of seeing due to its colorful plumage and cute nature; there is something attractive about doves and pigeons and this is one of the most beautiful around.
You can look at more photos of this species here: Yellow-footed Green Pigeon.
8. Indian Peafowl
The Indian Peafowl is the peacock of zoos and gardens around the world. We have probably all seen this species in collections, but to see it in the wild is something else. These Peafowl live in scrub and dry woodland and are surprisingly common in the right habitat but it is amazing to see a male running around in the wild with his long tail dragging behind him. I can remember getting really excited when I saw the first group of these but over the course of my trip I saw lots of them and after a while they hardly warranted a second look. However, I was not there in the breeding season so never got to see a male displaying and showing off his famous tail.
The female (peahen) is a lot less colorful than the male, of course, but still an impressive creature and I loved seeing them strutting around with groups of chicks that looked so funny with their little fancy crests, just like the group in the photo here in fact.
Find out more about this species here: Indian Peafowl.
9. White-tailed Lapwing
Ever since I was attacked by a Northern Lapwing, whilst bird watching in Britain, when I foolishly went too close to its nest, Lapwings have been among my favorite birds. Lapwings seem to have a lot of character to me and they certainly have quite noisy and strange calls.
A White-tailed Lapwing was one of the last birds I saw on my first visit to India and it felt like one of those bonus birds that sometimes one sees when not expecting to. Sitting among a group of the much commoner Red-wattled Lapwings, this bird really stood out and impressed me with its sleek shape and subtle markings. I was lucky that it just stood around on the mud for a long time, allowing me to get really good views and to leave it undisturbed on departure.
10. Bay-backed Shrike
In England, my home country, the Red-backed Shrike had disappeared as a breeding species before I was old enough to see one and it was years before I finally saw one of the few that pass through the country. As such, shrikes have a certain appeal and Bay-backed Shrike is one of the more colorful and memorable of the family.
My first Bay-backed Shrike was a splendid male in some dry scrub at Bharatpur, feeding on large insects such as dragonflies and grasshoppers. Like many other shrikes, this one sits out on exposed perches making it easy to spot and with its colurful plumage it is always a welcome sight to me.
Happily, Bay-backed Shrike is fairly common and its conservation status is "Least Concern". More can be read about the species here: Bay-backed Shrike - Birdlife Species Factsheet.
Which Is The Best Bird? Vote For Your Favorite From This List
Which is your favorite of these ten birds?
A Few Links To Provide You With Some More Information
The Lonely Planet Guidebook - A Helpful Guide For Visitors
Lonely Planet is probably the best-known series of guidebooks available and this India guide is invaluable for those visiting the country. Negotiating this country can be tricky at times so having a guide to recommend hotels, restaurants, attractions and bus routes really helps.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these ten species and the reasons why I chose them for this list. If you liked this page please let me know and, of course, anything to add about travel in India or the birds there would be of interest to me and other readers.