Backyard Birding … @ home

By Malini Shankar

For me birding commenced at home. In March 2015 when I was stashing away every saved penny to buy a professional video camera I noticed to my very pleasant surprise that a red cheeked bird started making an appearance on the window ledge of my home office. Just outside my office room window is a hibiscus tree / plant which is atleast 15 feet tall, so I gathered that this bird was coming here to drink the nectar. It had a black feathered crest on its head and the red cheek was the most attractive thing about this bird. We have lived in this house in Basavanagudi in Bangalore India since 1977 and we had never before seen this beautiful bird here though our house is surrounded by green and lofty trees.

My mother loves gardening and labours long hours gardening and watering her beloved garden. My love for the greenery unfortunately stops at admiration. The new flowering plants were largely to account for the arrival of birds. Birders may say that garden birds like the ones seen in our neighbourhood are credibly and commonly seen but we certainly hadn’t seen so many birds in such intense numbers till recently.

I have been a wildlife photojournalist for decades now but I had been writing about wildlife crime, human wildlife conflict, turf wars on tiger terrain etc and had hardly noticed the luxurious bird life around home. This new familiarity got me hooked to birding instantly! But neither had anyone at home noticed this intriguing red cheeked bird. The third day when I noticed the same bird at the same window / plant I noted the time it was appearing here. – Around 11.40 am. Looked up Google Images and identified this bird as the Red Whiskered Indian Bulbul. With this new found elation, my natural curiosity for avian friends took wings instantly.

I started noticing which bird sits on which tree branch at what time. Came back and studied birding sites, (,, etc; referred to a couple of books and guides on birding and in a few weeks’ time I had a commendable, enviable diary of bird sightings in my immediate vicinity. These included:

1. Rose Ringed Parakeets,

2. Blue winged parakeets,

3. Plum headed parakeets,

4. Purple-Rumped Sun Birds,

5. Tailor birds,

6. Red Whiskered Indian Bulbuls,

7. Red-vented bulbuls,

8. Green Bee Eater,

9. White Cheeked Barbet,

10. Coppersmith Barbets,

11. Mynas,

12. Asian Koel,

13. Pariah Kite or Black Kite,

14. Bramhiny Kite,

15. Paradise Fly Catcher,

16. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher,

17. Rock pigeon,

18. Spotted dove

19. Raptors,

20. Serpent Eagle,

21. Shikra,

22. Barn owl,

23. Nightjar,

24. Indian Roller or Blue Jay,

25. Grey Hornbill

26. Garganies in the nearby water bodies of Lalbagh, Yediyur Lake and Kempabudi tank…

27. Snake birds and darters are also seen in the lakes / tanks.

28. Pond Herons are fund near water bodies often.

29. Crow pheasant

30. Babblers,

31. Rufous Treepie

32. Kingfisher (noticed by my neighbour, not me)

33. Warblers,

34. Prinia,

35. Vulture on the rock cliffs of Bugle Rock,

My neighbour Mrs. Rama Uday Shankar once noticed a common kingfisher on the terrace wall in my home.

As I dwelt on birding it occurred to me that India has two biodiversity hotspots and South Asia with geo morphology makes grand birding opportunities for us birding aficionados, but South and South East Asia are also sensitive endemic habitat for migrating birds, for their breeding, sociology, natural history, etc. For instance, the Great Indian Hornbill has a range spanning from the Western Ghats in India to Papua New Guinea in the Far East.

Siberian cranes famously migrate from Siberia through the Himalayas, vast swathes of the Subcontinent, to Sri Lanka, through the Maldives to Seychelles and the Reunion Islands. The Siberian crane’s migration routes make it imperative for humanity to rededicate ourselves to habitat conservation.

Similarly the highly endangered Lesser Florican and the Great Indian Bustards which don’t exceed a couple of hundred find their habitat – grassland ecosystems highly threatened: Grassland or savannah ecosystems threatened by encroachment, fire, fragmentation, compacting of the soil, and human development.

Critically endangered birds like the Lesser Florican and the Great Indian Bustard are left with very little habitat in South Asia. Pakistan is notorious for “permitting leisure hunting” by Arabs from the Gulf States. Pakistan’s conservation administration is guilty of earning foreign exchange in lieu of hunting permits for critically endangered species like the Bustard and Florican. © Assad Rahmani, BNHS.

The Black Kite is both a bird of prey and a scavenger, found in in both urban and rural landscapes significantly across South Asia. The increase in wastes in landfills invite these scavenging birds. © Vandan Jhaveri, BNHS

The Egyptian vulture (right) – also called Scavenger vulture is endangered in large parts of South Asia, Europe and Africa. © Clement Francis, Bombay Natural History Society.

Ms. Deepa Mohan, and senior birders like Subbu, Dr. M.B. Krishna Ullas Anand and Usha Rajgopalan etc have been very encouraging kind and understanding in my passionate but slow pace of self-learning. With somewhat frail health and a physical handicap to live with, I am not the fittest person to go birding in large groups in Lalbagh or any of the oft visited sites by birders in Bangalore.

The Great Indian Hornbill occurs in densely wooded areas of South Asia spanning from the Western Ghats to Borneo. It’s a frugivorous bird and is very sensitive to habitat destruction. © Vandan Jhaveri, Bombay Natural History Society. this photo blog by avid birder Arun Kumar attractively documents birds of Bengaluru. This blog is for reference with this blog only and is exempt from Creative Commons BySA 3.0 … Arun’s blogspot is attributed for non commercial use: (Attribution-Non Commercial CC BY-NC).

My neighbours also nurtured some lofty trees. Among the tree wealth in our neighbourhood in Basavanagudi Police Station Road we may count:

Gulmohar trees,

Pride of India trees,

Champak trees,

Sandalwood trees;

Foliage rich trees like Indian beech trees and three varieties of neem trees, dot some older landscapes and bungalows in the oldest neighbourhood of Bangalore… why my friend – renowned ornithologist of Bangalore Dr. M.B. Krishna ornithologist, once told me with immense pride that his home compound counts 26 different species of trees! His was a case of neighbours’ envy, owner’s pride!

An interesting blog on avenue trees of Bangalore, urban wildlife etc can be found on (a PDF version of the book on flowering trees of Bangalore can be found on The link also hosts a very attractive photo gallery on birds and urban forestry. as also a book trees in the urban context ( These books are my holy grail for birding and urban forestry.

The silver oak and teak trees, and the Mahogany, teak and rosewood trees are the pride of old Bangalore! The Mahogany with its large pods attract birds of all hues … The main thoroughfare in Gandhi Bazaar is full of Mahogany trees. Among the flower bearing trees in my neighbourhood the prominent ones are:

1. Bauhinia recimosa,

2. Bombax malabaricum (silk cotton tree),

3. Bottle brush,

4. Cassia fistula,

5. Cassia Siamea,

6. Cassia spectabilis (Golden Cassia),

7. Cassia javanica,

8. Couroupita guianensis or the Canon ball tree (Nagalinga Pushpa),

9. Peltophorum pterocarpum trees,

10. Indian Coral Tree,

11. Jacaranda trees,

12. Spathodia companulata or African Tulip,

13. Millingtonia hortensis (Akash Mallige),

14. Plumerias,

15. Rain Tree

16. Tabebuia avellanedae or Pink Tabebuia,

17. Tabebuia argentea or The Tree of Gold;

18. Tabebuia rosea or Pink Poui;

19. Tamarind trees by the dozen in the parks nearby

20. Silver Oak,

21. Hibiscus plants are now so tall and lofty that they resemble trees rather than plants. More than half a dozen varieties of jasmine flower bearing trees and creepers, adorn the gracious aging traditional neighbourhood of Old Bangalore. These trees are not just a haven but a breeding ground for flowerpeckers, sun birds, Koels, Bulbuls, Mynas, barbets, kingfishers, fly catchers, parakeets, Mynas, Munias, Koels, Coucals, kingfishers, bee-eaters, prinias, babblers, warblers, sun birds, herons, hawks, kites, and a whole lot of others already listed.

22. Yellow and Green Bamboo,

23. The Gulmohar tree was not just an avenue tree, it was flourishing in royal splendour in my neighbour’s sprawling compound opposite the Basavanagudi Police Station on K R Road.

These trees harbour in their hollows not just birds, but squirrels, bats, bandicoots, the occasional Slender loris, Mongoose, and a myriad snakes including cobra, vipers, sand boas, pythons, rat snakes atleast, one silver Keelback etc. Amazing diversity for an urban setting indeed!

The Tabubia avellanedae in my neighbour’s house offers a habitat to two spotted doves, three to five red whiskered Indian Bulbuls, two female Koels and two male Koels, and atleast one Coucal or red pheasant.

The fruit bearing trees in their compound included:

1. Fig tree,

2. Two varieties of Gooseberry trees,

3. Chikoo trees,

4. Coconut trees,

5. Leechie tree,

6. Custard apple, wood apple and rose apple trees,

7. Country almond,

8. Mango,

9. Cashew,

10. Guava,

11. Jackfruit trees,

12. Tamarind trees,

13. Star fruit tree,

14. Jamoon Trees, (Syzigium cuminii)

15. Fruity Ficus Trees,

16. Exora trees,

17. Grapefruit

18. Pandanus, and

19. Avocado or butter fruit

I had never before seen many of these fruits till I moved into our new house in Basavanagudi in 1977 in my childhood.

Coucal or red pheasant was resident in my neighbour’s Bamboo grove and the yellow Tabubia tree. Sighting the Coucal is very challenging. Although a large tan coloured bird, it is conspicuously loud but can hardly be seen. It’s distinct Oongh! Oongh! call ceases in July … till the third week of November… leaving us to conclude that it migrates somewhere during southwest monsoon.

When some birds appear in some tree branches repeatedly at the same hour every day it means they are the same birds, so, it is time to name them for documentation. I started naming them as my heart fancied. Kohinoor Kelli, Melanie Siddaramiah, Cunning Koel, Kittie Kite, Voluptuous Vulture, Florence Kogile, Mogambo and his consort Moogambike, Dirty Diana, Dumbichiki the parakeet, Paramour was the name given to Paradise Fly Catcher only a one time visitor to my divine garden at home. My first instinct was to call the Paradise Fly Catcher Fa Hien because he was the first bird I had noticed in my home compound two decades ago and have never seen him in our garden again. All these feathered friends came here not at the behest or invitation of any fancy VIP in Basavanagudi but only because the trees provided a safe home and infinite food to the birds. It is possibly the best lesson in habitat conservation.

My neighbour even had the Pandanus or bread fruit tree, a tree native to Hawaii and occurring in coastal ecosystems in the tropics. Around 40 trees in my neighbour’s very large compound made way to a concrete jungle. Livelihood security to one human being became habitat destruction for a number of avian friends.

One can’t blame retired denizens who wish to harvest their inheritance monetarily. The loophole lies in lack of urban planning. Old graceful residential areas are declared commercial without forethought like on K R Road in Basavanagudi, Bangalore. Commercial areas need broad roads for traffic, earmarked parking areas, among other planned edifices. Just by declaring a residential area with a broad roads as commercial only enhances the real estate in the neighbourhood and becomes a vicious cycle and citizens cannot stop the avaricious from exploiting resources unsustainably. Multi storeyed buildings in residential areas not just account for decimation of trees, but are woefully insufficient providers of sanitation infrastructure. There is no place for parking, or back end infrastructure like bandwidth, telecom infrastructure etc – the very essentials of a modern economy. Planning is quintessential for sustainability as Basavanagudi – planned by Sir M. Visheshvariah Dewan of Mysore and Sir Mirza Ismail – another former Dewan of Mysore – epitomised.

The concept Sustainable Development in Kannada – derived from Sanskrit - construes samatholana abhivrudhee… balanced, equitable development not at the cost of each other.

Although bird baths and artificial bird nests are seductive to us humans wanting to attract more birds, nurturing the habitat is the best bet. Because by nurturing a rich and diverse habitat we succeed in providing habitat to migrating birds, thus enriching the gene diversity of future generations of native birds. Some birders have recently started experimenting by lacing water with sugar to attract birds. But in my view it is not just unethical (because sucrose contains poison) but is also futile. Providing water and habitat to the birds just as a matter ofcourse without putting in too much of a man made effort will attract birds by itself… like the trees themselves…

Fruit bats are a common sight in Basavanagudi creating a silhouette against the deep azure blue sky of dawn and dusk, … but bats are not birds, they are flying mammals… nevertheless they are welcome cohabitants in beloved Basavanagudi.