Illustrations by Satya Prakash
Illustrations by Satya Prakash

An illustrated guide to the birds in your backyard

Avian species form an important part of the urban wildlife landscape in India. Here's an illustrated guide to spotting these winged beauties in our cities

In February, during the 2018 edition of the Great Backyard Bird Count—an annual four-day event during which birdwatchers around the world photograph and record the avian species in their cities—India fared rather well. With 832 species counted in our cities, India came in fourth, behind Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. The US came in seventh, with 657 species, Australia 10th, with 536, and neighbouring Pakistan 94th, with 52 species spotted in its cities.

Surrounded by the grey of the city and the rush of traffic, it might seem surprising that there is so much diversity in such close proximity. But even the bleakest of cities has spots of green, thickets, grassy areas and wetlands where an early morning or evening stroll can be rewarded with flashes of brilliant colour. All it takes is a short walk in Sanjay Van or Surajpur in Delhi, the mudflats of Sewri in Mumbai, or the Chinamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary in Kolkata, to forget about city noises and tune in to bird call. Spotting birds, recognizing their calls, can soon become addictive.

With the help of conservationist and wildlife photographer Ramki Sreenivasan and Garima Bhatia of eBird.org, Lounge put together a list of birds that can be spotted easily in our cities.

White-Cheeked Barbet are spotted commonly along the Western Ghats in southern India.
White-Cheeked Barbet are spotted commonly along the Western Ghats in southern India.

White-cheeked barbet

Spotted commonly along the Western Ghats in southern India, these small green birds have a white stripe under their eyes that gives them their name. Fruit eaters, they spend most of their time in the canopy, rarely coming to the ground, and sit so still that they can be hard to spot until you hear their loud call.

The bright blue peacocks with their resplendent feathers can be recognized easily and are found across the country.
The bright blue peacocks with their resplendent feathers can be recognized easily and are found across the country.

Indian peafowl

While peahens are a dowdy grey, the bright blue peacocks with their resplendent feathers can be recognized easily and are found across the country. Considered symbols of royalty, they’re among the largest flying birds. Their mating dance is a stunning sight.

These sunbirds have curved bills and tubular tongues that allow them to reach nectar.
These sunbirds have curved bills and tubular tongues that allow them to reach nectar.

Purple-rumped sunbird

These sunbirds, less than 4 inches in size, are endemic to the subcontinent. They have curved bills and tubular tongues that allow them to reach nectar, their main food. The males are more brightly coloured, with a blue-green crown and a purple patch on the rump.

Red-wattled lapwing is a brown, black and white bird with distinctive red, fleshy wattles above its eyes and long yellow legs.
Red-wattled lapwing is a brown, black and white bird with distinctive red, fleshy wattles above its eyes and long yellow legs.

Red-wattled lapwing

Known for its loud call that sounds like “did-he-do-it", this is a brown, black and white bird with distinctive red, fleshy wattles above its eyes and long yellow legs. It spends its time on the ground, even laying its eggs there. The colouring of the eggs and the chicks makes them hard to spot if they lie still.

These small white and yellow birds have a distinctive white ring around their eyes.
These small white and yellow birds have a distinctive white ring around their eyes.

Oriental white-eye

These small white and yellow birds have a distinctive white ring around their eyes. They forage in groups, drinking nectar and eating small insects. While they can be found in places ranging from scrub forests to gardens, they spend most of their time off the ground, among the branches.

The male has a distinctive red and black ring around its neck, while the female has a faint grey one.
The male has a distinctive red and black ring around its neck, while the female has a faint grey one.

Rose-ringed parakeet

The male has a distinctive red and black ring around its neck, while the female has a faint grey one; juveniles are yellowish green. They’re vocal birds with a squawking call and can be spotted frequently in urban habitats, perched on tree-tops or inspecting nest holes. They have strong, curved red beaks and eat fruits, cereals and seeds.

Rufous Treepie have long blue-grey tails ending in a black tip.
Rufous Treepie have long blue-grey tails ending in a black tip.

Rufous Treepie

Track the Rufous Treepie by its loud call. Members of the crow family, these adaptable birds can be found in gardens and scrublands. These black, brown and white birds have long blue-grey tails ending in a black tip. They’re omnivores and eat anything from fruits and seeds to insects, small reptiles and bird eggs.

Coppersmith barbet eat fruits and small insects.
Coppersmith barbet eat fruits and small insects.

Coppersmith barbet

These small green birds, which can be seen across the country, can be identified by the bright red patches on their forehead and chest. They eat fruits and small insects. This barbet gets its name from its call, which is likened to a smith striking his hammer repeatedly. The metallic tuk-tuk-tuk can go on for a long time. The birds nest in holes they chisel out in trees with deadwood.

The bird’s plumage is bright green, the crown a light brown, and there’s a thin black stripe around its neck.
The bird’s plumage is bright green, the crown a light brown, and there’s a thin black stripe around its neck.

Green bee-eater

These sprightly little birds (about 9 inches in size) can be spotted perched on twigs or cables in grassy areas and parks. They’re always alert, ready to take off after flying insects like bees, wasps, flies and grasshoppers. The bird’s plumage is bright green, the crown a light brown, and there’s a thin black stripe around its neck. It can be easily seen all across India.

Also known as the lesser goldenback, this woodpecker can be seen across India, including urban areas.
Also known as the lesser goldenback, this woodpecker can be seen across India, including urban areas.

Black-rumped Flameback

Also known as the lesser goldenback, this woodpecker can be seen across India, including urban areas. Its wings are golden yellow, the throat and rump black, and the adult males have a red crown. They have strong, pointed bills to peck at tree trunks, and a long tongue to catch beetle larvae.

Spotted near big and small water bodies throughout the plains, it flies fast, whirring its wings rapidly.
Spotted near big and small water bodies throughout the plains, it flies fast, whirring its wings rapidly.

White-throated Kingfisher

This bird is also known as the white-breasted kingfisher because of the white patch on its throat and breast, a stark contrast to its otherwise bright colours. Spotted near big and small water bodies throughout the plains, it flies fast, whirring its wings rapidly. It’s easiest to spot during breeding season at the beginning of the monsoon, when the bird calls out loudly from tall perches and wires.

These birds got their name from their ability to sew their nests by pulling together the edges of a leaf with plant fibre and lining it with grass, hair, cotton, and so on.
These birds got their name from their ability to sew their nests by pulling together the edges of a leaf with plant fibre and lining it with grass, hair, cotton, and so on.

Common Tailorbird

These birds got their name from their ability to sew their nests by pulling together the edges of a leaf with plant fibre and lining it with grass, hair, cotton, and so on. These small, shy birds normally hide in vegetation even in urban gardens, with only their loud calls betraying their presence. A pair of tailorbirds were lead characters in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, one of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories.

The black and brown mynas have bright yellow bills and legs, and white patches on their wings that show when they fly.
The black and brown mynas have bright yellow bills and legs, and white patches on their wings that show when they fly.

Common Myna

The black and brown mynas have bright yellow bills and legs, and white patches on their wings that show when they fly. These aggressive birds thrive well in urban environments and can be spotted easily on terraces and balconies. Omnivores that feed on almost anything, they have a shrill call that’s peppered with grunt-like sounds.

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