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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder8. Reptiles, birds and mammals
View the document8.1 Snakes
View the document8.2 Crocodiles
View the document8.3 Birds
View the document8.4 Mammals
View the document8.5 Animal diversity in prehistoric rock-art

8.3 Birds

Some 1,200 species of birds have been recorded in India. The Western Ghats region has about 500 species. Some birds, such as the Bluewinged Parakeet, are found only in the Western Ghats. Others are also found elsewhere in India.

There are currently 44 species of birds considered "threatened" in India.

Mixed hunting party

A "mixed hunting party" is a peculiar phenomenon of the Western Ghats. There may be no bird sound or activity for hours; then suddenly, the observer may be surrounded by birds of all descriptions: bulbuls, drongos, minivets, flycatchers, warblers, woodpeckers and cuckoo-shrikes, to name a few. They are foraging at all levels in the forest, from the ground to the tree canopy. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they fly off-together.

The mixture of species in the hunting party increases the number of insects that are flushed into the open- meaning more food for everyone.

30 birds of the Western Ghats

Rufous Babbler, Turdoides subrufus

Small Green Barbet, Megalaima viridis

Bluebearded Bee-eater, Nyctyornis athertoni

Fairy Bluebird, Irena puella

Yellowbrowed Bulbul, Hypsipetes indicus

Common Hawk Cuckoo or Brainfever Bird, Cuculus varius

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Dicrurus paradiseus

Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilomis cheela

Tickell's Flowerpecker, Dicaeum erythrorhynchos

Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone paradisi

Great Pied Hornbill, Buceros bicornis

Grey or Sonnerat's Junglefowl, Gallus sonneratii

Threetoed Kingfisher, Ceyx erithacus

Scarlet (or Orange) Minivet, Pericrocotus flammeus

Hill Myna, Gracula religiosa

Indian Jungle Nightjar, Caprimulgus indicus

Brown Fish Owl, Bubo zeyonensis

Bluewinged Parakeet, Psittacula columboides

Common Peafowl, Pavo cristatus

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Columba elphinstonii

Indian Pitta, Pitta brachyura

Jungle Bush Quail, Perdicula asiatica

Malabar Shama, Copsychus malabaricus

Shikra, Accipiter badius

Red Spurfowl, Galloperdix spadicea

Yellowbacked Sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja

Malabar Whistling Thrush, Mylophonus horsfieldii

Whitebellied Tree Pie, Dendrocitta leucogastra

Malabar Trogon, Harpactes fasciatus

Indian Great Black Woodpecker, Dryocopus javensis

For more information, see the Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan by Dr. Salim Ali.

Mixed hunting party

Microhabitats in the forest

Forest opening

Openings in the forest generally have no large trees and are covered with grass and small shrubs. Birds like Junglefowl, Peafowl, Spurfowl and Quails often come to an opening to feed on grass shoots, grains and insects. Birds of prey such as the Shikra and Hawk Eagle keep an eye out for such birds venturing into a clearing. They usually perch on outstretched branches of lofty trees or trees with dense foliage.


Overhanging branches of bushes and trees on the banks of a forest stream are favourite haunts of Flycatchers, Warblers, Babblers and other insectivorous birds. The Malabar Whistling Thrush is often seen on boulders. It feeds on snails, worms, crabs and frogs.


A small pond or a waterhole in the forest is an important source of water for birds, especially during hot, dry summer days. Flycatchers, Robins, Pigeons, Hawks, Eagles, Orioles, Bulbuls. Junglefowl and many other forest birds visit the waterhole to drink and bathe. A small bush or a bamboo thicket around the waterhole can be used as a natural hide to observe birds without disturbing them.

A dry, standing tree

Even a dead standing tree in the forest attracts a number of birds. Drongos and Bee-eaters are often seen on such trees, keeping watch for flying insects. Green Pigeons basking and preening their feathers in the early morning hours are a common sight in forest areas. Barbets and Woodpeckers find such trees ideal for digging their nests. Such trees give the observer an unobstructed view of the birds.

Flowering trees

Flowering trees like Silk Cotton, Flame of the Forest, Bauhinia and Indian Coral offer excellent opportunities to birdwatchers. These trees lose their leaves at certain times of year, making it easy to observe birds. Bearing attractively coloured flowers, such trees come alive with the chirping and fluttering of Drongos, Bulbuls, Mynas, Rosy Pastors, Barbets, Minivets, Babblers and a variety of other birds which feed on nectar and insects.

Birds as indicators of biodiversity

Monitoring biodiversity can be difficult. So instead of counting every species in a given area, it is often preferable to use proxies or substitutes. One such method is the use of indicator species, such as a particular bird. Some birds are found only in certain habitats or ecosystems. If we see one of these birds, we know that its habitat and its associated diversity exists. And if we know how big a territory each individual bird occupies, we can make a rough estimate of the habitat area.

The Malabar Pied Hornbill is a good indicator of healthy mature, deciduous forests along the Western Ghats.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Ecological role of birds

Some endangered birds of the Western Ghats


Deforestation destroys the habitat of many birds and is a major threat to birds in the Western Ghats. Trapping of birds for the pet trade and hunting them for food add to the decline. Cattle grazing and man-made forest fires inhibit regrowth, making it difficult to restore degraded forests.


Plants, which attract birds

Scientific name

Common English

Part of the plant used by birds

Ficus benghalensis


Fruit, cavities: Bulbuls, Mynas, Barbets, Owlets

Ficus religiosa


Fruit, cavities: Owlets, Mynas, Parakeets

Ficus glomerata

Cluster fig

Fruit: Bulbuls, Hornbills, Barbets, Pigeons

Bombax malabaricum

Silk cotton

Flower nectar: Sunbirds, Rosy Pastors, Orioles

Erythrina indica

Coral tree

Flower nectar, petals, branches to dig into for nests

Butea frondosa

Flame of the forest

Flower nectar: Babblers, Bee-eaters, Bulbuls

Mangifera indica


Fruit, thick foliage to hide and nest: Mynas, Oricles, Shikra

Psidium guajava


Fruit: Parakeets, Koels, Barbets

Moringa oleifera


Pods, flowers: Sunbirds, Parakeets

Lantana camera


Fruit, flower nectar, thorny branches to nest: Bulbuls

Eugenia jambolana

Black plum

Fruit: Barbets, Hornbills, Bulbuls

Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Peacock flower

Flowers, pods: Parakeets, Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds

Callistemon lanceolatus

Bottle brush

Flower nectar: Flowerpeckers, Warblers, Tits

Acacia nilotica

Babul tree

Pods, branches to nest: Bayas, Doves, Parakeets

Trachelospermum fragrans

Hill jasmine

Branches to nest, flower nectar: Sunbirds, Doves

Jasminum grandiflorum

Spanish jasmine

Flower nectar, branches to nest: Sunbirds, Sparrows

Russelia juncea

Corai plant

Flower nectar Sunbirds, Warblers

Tamarindus indicus

Tamarind tree

Branches to nest: Herons, Egrets, Ibises, Crows

Spathodea campanulata

Tulip tree

Petals, watery flowers, pods, branches to nest

Samanea saman

Rain tree

Branches and foliage as day roost and nest, flower nectar: Pigeons, Crows, Mynas

Polyalthia longifolia

Ashoka tree

Branches and leaves to nest: Munias

Boswellia serrate


Fnuits, branches to nest, papery bark as nesting material: Minivets

Carvia callosa


Flower nectar, seeds as food, branches to nest

Bndelia retusa

Fruit: Bulbuls, Hornbills, Mynas, Barbets

Eucalyptus sp.


Flower nectar, branches to nest, bark as nesting material: Tree Pie

Malphigia sp.

Singapur cherry

Fruit (berries), flower nectar: Pigeons, Koels

Pithicolobium dulce

Manila tamarind

Fruit: Parakeets, Bulbuls, Mynas

Azadirachta indica

Neem tree

Fruit, branches to nest: Crows

Santalum album


Fruit: Bulbuls, Koels, Mynas

Derris indica


Thick foliage for day roost: Mynas, Warblers

Prepared by Kiran Purandare