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The Loten’s Sunbird is striking to look at—the male is distinguished by its blue or purple head, while the female is olive-brown with yellow underparts and a white tail tip. (Photo: Clement Francis)
The Loten’s Sunbird is striking to look at—the male is distinguished by its blue or purple head, while the female is olive-brown with yellow underparts and a white tail tip. (Photo: Clement Francis)

Birds of many feathers

An elegant guidebook brings alive the richly diverse species of birds that inhabit India’s land and skies

Recently, The State Of India’s Birds 2020, a scientific report compiled by 10 organizations, indicated worrying trends about the country’s avian population. Based on findings by birdwatchers and researchers, it is believed that about a fifth of India’s bird diversity has declined in the last 25 years. Nearly 80% of the common species are facing a threat of habitat loss, much of it owing to nefarious interventions by humans. From wide use of pesticides and toxins to unscrupulous trading in pets, the reasons are familiar. Among the 101 species identified as of “High Conservation Concern" for instance, is the common sparrow, which is facing acute food shortage as the insect population decreases. On a brighter note, the number of Indian peafowl is on the rise.

In light of this development, this is an especially opportune moment to pick up 100 Indian Birds, compiled by Nikhil Devasar, Aman Sharma and Maitreya Sukumar, as part of The Big Little Nature Book series, published by Dorling Kindersley ( 250 each)—the other volumes focus on trees, flowers, butterflies and animals. Beautifully produced and handy to use, these slim booklets urge us to look at the wealth of flora and fauna around us, whether we live in urban centres or in smaller towns and cities, with fresh eyes.

The idea behind the books, series editor Devasar says, is to stoke interest in nature. “We based our selection on the commonest species of birds, insects and flowers," he says. “Anywhere in India, whether you are having tea in your garden or out on a walk, you would be able to identify the birds, trees and flowers that you see."

The volume on birds begins with the assurance that you don’t need to travel far from your home to partake of the pleasure of birding. “All you need is patience, a pair of binoculars (and perhaps a pair of tough walking boots), and the willingness to wait for the bird to show itself," the writers say. There are helpful pointers on anatomy, habitat and what ordinary citizens can do to protect species.

The 100 species chosen are beautifully photographed and documented along with their salient features. Subtle differences between varieties of barbets, herons and wagtails are explained lucidly. There is also fascinating trivia to spike your interest. Did you know that “after catching a bee, Green Bee-eaters batter it against a perch to remove the sting before swallowing it whole"? Or the fact that the Rufous Treepie has been “observed scavenging on the flesh of a tiger’s kill"?

Take these slim booklets with you the next time you go on a walk in your neighbourhood park, or on a day trip. You may be surprised by the sheer number of birds, animals, trees, flowers and butterflies you have never noticed before.

The Little Cormorant is an expert swimmer and fisher.
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The Little Cormorant is an expert swimmer and fisher. (Photo: Rajneesh Suvarna)
The Jungle Babbler prefers to live in wooded areas. aman sharma
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The Jungle Babbler prefers to live in wooded areas. aman sharma
The Rufous Treepie belongs to the crow family and can be seen in parks.
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The Rufous Treepie belongs to the crow family and can be seen in parks. (Photo: Nikhil Devasar)
The Pale-billed Flowerpecker is among some of the smallest birds found in India.
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The Pale-billed Flowerpecker is among some of the smallest birds found in India. (Photo: Rajneesh Suvarna)
The Lesser Whitethroat is one of the most common winter warblers.
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The Lesser Whitethroat is one of the most common winter warblers. (Photo: Nikhil Devasar)
The Egyptian Vulture, the juvenile (left) and adult, is a scavenger.
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The Egyptian Vulture, the juvenile (left) and adult, is a scavenger. (Photo: Aman Sharma)
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