It’s disproportionately large bill and brilliant colours scream for attention. This beautiful bird, called Halcyon smyrnensis, is named after the Turkish city of Smyrna.
Though often found near water bodies, it is the least talented fisher amongst all the kingfishers. Instead it feeds mostly on frogs, lizards and other insects. EHA even mentions an incident of this bird feeding on Avadavats. A remarkable thing about this bird is that I’ve never heard it sing while it is perched. It sings mostly while in flight, darting from one tree to other like a whistling bullet but only, its whistle is more like a screech.
The Latin name of this bird is Prinia sylvatica. Prinia is an adaptation of it’s Javanese name and sylvatica comes from Latin – meaning “from the woods or trees”. They generally prefer bush jungle and relatively drier stony areas but I’ve even spotted them amidst reeds surrounding lakes and large water bodies.
This is a very common bird found mostly in open fields and grasslands with bushes and scrubs. The latin name of the bird is Saxicola caprata. Saxicola means a stone or a rock dweller while caprata seems to be an adaptation from it’s Philippino nom de guerre. Though fairly common, it gets spooked easily when approached by foot.
The picture below is of an immature bird.
Since it’s a fairly small sized bird, one would expect it to be hard to spot. However a peculiar habit of this otherwise unremarkable bird is it’s habit of perching on the highest branch or twig. This gives its position away rather easily. Never in all my travels have I seen this bird perch on a lower branch. While the purpose for this behaviour is solely to gain a better vantage point, one cannot help but speculate if it’s the bird’s ego and not survival that drives such behaviour.
I cannot pronounce the latin name of this bird. It’s Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus. It translates to a bird with a saddle like bill from Asia.
From a historical point of view, this is a gem. Though the bird maintains a seemingly calm demeanour at most times (I’ve heard they have an exciting mating ritual which I’m yet to witness), it is apparently capable of inflicting fatal injuries.
An old entry in the News Letter for Birdwatchers (1968) gives an interesting anecdote. In Bihar, catching these birds with bare hands was once apparently considered as a rite of passage for young men before they got married. The task at hand was simple – catch the stork with bare hands and then off you go to get your bride. You miss and you get to go back home to try your luck another day. Sounds pretty simple, right? Apparently not. The Black necked stork is a ferocious bird when confronted and given its size you would need more than just two hands to subdue it. The ritual was practiced for sometime before a potential groom was stabbed to death by a startled stork. From what I read, the ritual has not been practiced for almost a century now.
The local name for the bird is Loha Sarang. The word loha in Hindi means iron and sarang in Persian (and Urdu) means starling. A befitting name in my opinion.
The latin name of the bird is Grus antigone. Grus is latin for crane and antigone is after Antigone of Troy who’s hair was turned into snakes by a jealous god. But she was later turned into a stork who then fed on snakes.
The Sarus crane does, from time to time, feed on snakes.
Most old hunters speak of this bird with high regard. One gets a sense that it’s almost sacred. This is not surprising – most old references to the bird confirm the same.
A story that I will never forget is as follows. I was out birding on a sunny afternoon when I spotted a pair in the middle of a Hyacinth bloom. They seemed to be in the middle of a courtship ritual with their wings spread, necks craned and letting out loud trumpets. It was a sight to behold.
I was at the time with an old friend who was a hunter a long time ago. He never hunted the Sarus, he told me. “They are such loving birds. If one dies, the other stops eating and dies soon afterwards. But sometimes, when the other pairs notice its sadness, they fly away in search of a partner for the bereaved one. I’ve seen a few birds meet new partners and live long lives.” Truly remarkable.
The latin name of this bird is Letpocoma Zeylonica which literally translates to a “delicate (billed) bird from Ceylon”.
I shot this beauty in a place called Masinagudi near Bandipur in the south of India. This is a male bird in eclipse plumage.
The bird feeds mostly on nectar (thats why you see it hanging around flowering plants so much). It’s much like the humming bird from the west. Here is the interesting thing about it.
The purple sunbird is a very good example of something called as convergent evolution. Simply put, it means that organisms, even though not closely related, when put under similar environmental pressures, evolve to have similar traits. The humming bird and the sun bird, though separated by thousands of kilometres, evolved similar traits because they had to survive in similar environmental niches. Cool!