Volume 9 - Issue 09
September 2011
Other Articles

Posted on: Sept 27, 2011

Flying Colours of Puttaparthi

Part 6

A lot of tiny birds keep twittering about us every morning. This is especially true if you take the road that runs parallel to the river bed of Chitravathi. All these winged friends appear the same on first glance. A little peering will reveal the variety that exists among these little ones. They all seem to have similar calls and similar flights for the casual observer. But they are so different. They are all passerine birds of course, but sometimes that is where their similarity ends. Today we shall meet some little birds, commonly seen during a morning walk.

Lets start from a tete-e-tete with the Pied Bushchat.

15. Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata)

The male Bushchat

This shy little bird is actually very easy to spot (only difficult to photograph!) perched on short thorn trees or shrubs, on a lookout for insect prey. It is from the family of “Chats” which are also considered as Old World Flycatchers. What is this “Old world”? Well, practically every place other than the Americas and Australia which were discovered much later. It includes Africa, Asia and Europe.

As he sits and chirps on his perch, just look around and you are sure to sight his soulmate nearby! She is drab brown in colour and slightly streaked. On closer observation, you’ll see that she has lovely eyes. You can simply lose yourself in the beauty of her eyes!

The female Bushchat

And so is it any wonder that he sits and keeps whistling at her? His call has been transcribed by ornithologists as “We are tea for two” and the ‘tea’ is at a higher note. Though we have not seen their nests, this pair build their homes in wall holes or similar crevices by lining them with grass and hair. You can imagine how tiny their eggs would be!

16. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Another ‘frequent flier’ whom you will accost is the Barn Swallow which has been adopted as the national bird of Estonia and Austria. This great traveller makes really long journeys and has an estimated global range of (hold your breath) 52 million square kilometres! This is what has made them an eternal favourite among sailors and mariners who tattoo themselves with a swallow for a safe trip.

Barn Swallows which are considered as a symbol of luck and safety by sailors

Based on its migratory distances a sailor gets a first tattoo when he completes 5000 nautical miles (about 9250 km) of sailing. The second swallow is added on completion of 10,000 nautical miles, the third for 15,000 and so on.

The swallows are communal birds and at times their roost might be a thousand strong. In the Sahebcheruvu, between Karnatanagepalli and Vengalammacheruvu villages, there are scrubs and trees that host the swallows. (Refer to map in Part 1)

A flight of swallows in a roost

These swallows are fast fliers and they are amazingly agile in the turns they make in midair. They catch their prey – insects, in flight and make a meal out of them. They are also seen in great numbers and this is due to two important advantages they have over many other birds.

1) They have evolved and grown with humans. They use man-made structures to breed and a rise in town-building or city-making activity has in fact boosted the number of swallows.

2) There are beliefs that are protective of swallows - like damaging a swallow’s nest leads to cows yielding bloody milk or the hens ceasing to lay eggs.

These have ensured their survival and in fact this is a thriving species. The nests remain undamaged for years and one nest was reported to have been occupied and reused for almost 48 years!

These birds have a very friendly chirp. They also have an ability to make unlikely friends. For instance, they are known to build their nests just below an osprey nest! An osprey is a bird of prey but protects the swallows from other predators. In return, the alert swallows act as an alarm system for the osprey.

Even as we admire the barn swallow, another bird flits across our path before settling into the bushes nearby. It has a loud chirp and a small crest on its head that moves rhythmically with its ‘ginger beer’ chirp. As you move in for a closer examination, the bird is on its guard and lowers its crest. As it watches you, you cannot help but observe the deep red marking at its base. You have just met the red vented bulbul.

 17. Red Vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer)


The bulbul is another bird that has many references in poetry and mythology. Its call is often associated with romance. In ancient India, people would carry the bulbuls along with them on perches made of precious metals. They were also used for entertainment fights!

They are also found in large numbers for they easily co-habit in human settlements. In fact, you will be interested to know that the bulbul has made its way into the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species. This is supposed to be a list of birds, animals, insects and plants that are not belonging to a particular region but thrive there and affect (mostly in a negative manner) the inhabited region ecologically, economically and environmentally. The list is comprehensive but surprisingly does not name the worst offender of them all - man! Man would have definitely topped the list had he ‘participated’ in this competition!

This bird favours a kind of vegetation and can be made of from the fact that it occurs in certain pockets of regions around Puttaparthi. It is quite shy and will call only from the safety of its high perch. And the alarm calls they produce are heeded to by many other species too.


A juvenile Bulbul basking in the evening sun

They flit between shrubs, bushes and trees, feeding on flowers, nectar, insects and an occasional lizard too! Being so popular in culture, the bulbul has a host of local names:

Kala bulbul (black bulbul), Bulbuli, and Guldum
Inrui bulip
Kondanchiradi,Konda-lati, Kondai kuruvi;
Himachal Pradesh:
Kala painju
Hadiyo bulbul
Nili betom
Nattu bulbul;
Bulbuli sorai
Kempu dwarada pikalara
Dao bulip
Konde kurulla
Marathi: Lalbudya bulbul        

Now we present the noisiest among them all! Before you have a look at him/her, we must tell you one thing. You will often hear a loud tchup, tchup, tchup or a nasal tee-tee-tee and you will imagine that they must be arising from big lungs. But one look at the bird and you will be shocked. At 12 cms, the Ashy Prinia is a really little bird. And it makes a loud sound!

18. Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis)

The Ashy Prinia in a field

Again, this is a very common bird and you will definitely hear it before you see it. Its distinctive ash colour on the back and its upright tail make it easy to identify. It prefers the wonderful scrub land that Puttaparthi offers.

One very special feature of this bird is the ‘electric whirr-whirr’ sound it makes as it flies! There has been a lot of debate and discussion as to the origin of this sound but a majority of the scientists accept that it is caused due to the rubbing of the wings on its elaborate tail. The bird also has strong legs which it uses to clamber on the bushes.

This is a very photogenic and photography-friendly bird. It is not easily frightened and it often seems to pose for the camera, opening its wings in the beautiful morning light.

The Ashy Prinia preening its wings

This is a resident bird and is non-migratory. Yet it exhibits a singularly distinct feature - the biannual molt! This means that the bird sheds all its feathers twice every year. It is believed that this is to rid itself of the many parasites that infect it.

With that, we conclude this walk. As we stroll back, we cannot help but get lost in wonder and admiration at the Lord’s creation. Swami has always stressed on a hierarchy that exists in creation. It is as follows: Man is the limb of society. Society is the limb of Nature and Nature in turn is a limb of God! We would be able to see Swami always, only when we are able to see Him in man, society and Nature.

And we surely admit that God is so beautiful and alluring - whatever form He decides to take.

 - Radio Sai team

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