Identification of Common Indian Raptors
Majority of the world’s human population lives in urban areas. Urban features like less natural environment, air & water pollution, loss of wildlife habitats, habitat fragmentation has lead to numerous negative impacts on urban biodiversity. Such urban habitat supports limited birds and animals. Some of the common urban birds are – Bulbul, Myna, Blue rock pigeon, Oriental Magpie Robin, Crow, Green Bee-eater, Ashy prinia, Black Kite and some less common are White-throated Kingfisher, Common Swift, Rose ringed parakeet, Tailor bird, Shikra among others.
Birds can be studied in urban ecosystems because they are highly visible. Study on birds ecology can also shed light on how healthy our urban ecosystem is. Birds and animals occupy any habitat which can supply food, shelter and suitable conditions for breeding.
Bird of prey is known as Raptor. Raptors are distinguished by keen vision, powerful talons and beaks. Keen vision help them in finding food during flight, talons or strong feet are for holding food, and a strong curved beak for tearing flesh. Raptors are mostly diurnal i.e active during the daytime. Some raptors are crepuscular implies active primarily during twilight.
Raptors have a distinguished style of hunting. They use stealth and speed to sneak up on their prey, and once in range, pursue with a great burst of speed, often weaving deftly through tree branches and other obstacles while keeping their eyes trained on their quarry.
There are some small to medium sized bird of prey like Falcons and Baza. These feed upon small mammals, insects, reptiles, small birds and carrion.
Large bird of prey includes Eagles, Vultures, Hawks, Osprey. Their mainly feed upon insects, birds, reptiles, medium-sized mammals, amphibians, fish, crabs, with some on carrion.
Let us try to identify some of these raptors, through their distinctive features. Some of these can be spotted in urban areas but others in urban peripheral areas with open grasslands, cultivation and hills.
It is world’s most abundant bird of prey & widespread resident of India.
It is a medium-sized raptor .,
The plumage varies from moderate to dark brown with irregular light-brown markings
which appears black, from a distance. The tail is forked .The eye is dark brown and the bill is black with a yellow cere (area of skin around the nostrils). Both sexes are similar. Young Black Kites are generally lighter in colour than the adults, and have a comparatively shallower forked tail.
You can easily spot this raptor hovering in sky over river waters of Pune.
Local name- Kapashi
This is a small sized beautiful raptor. It has strikingly white colour with black shoulder patches. It has rather long wing span which are visible in flight. It has owl like forward-facing eyes with red irises.
This is not a migratory bird but makes short-distance movements in response to weather.
Black winged kite can be seen in open grasslands or grassland interspersed with agricultural fields or scattered trees.
3. Brahminy Kite
Local Name- Brahmini
It is a medium sized raptor. It has distinctive colour with chestnut plumage except for the white head and breast and black wing tips, which makes them easy to distinguish from other birds of prey.
They are found mainly on the coast and in inland wetlands.
It is primarily a scavenger, feeding mainly on dead fish and crabs but occasionally hunts live prey such as hares and bats.
Shikra is small bird of prey. Adults male have greyish upperparts and whitish underside with fine rufous bars .Adult females have brownish upperparts and heavier barring on the underparts.
Males have a red iris while the females have yellowish orange iris .
The shikra is found in a wide range of habitats including forests, farmland and urban areas.
5. Common Kestrel
It is a small bird of prey. It has long wings and a distinctive long tail.
Male has greyish head,chestnut brown upperside streaked with blackish spots, pale yellow with narrow blackish streaks on the underside and grey tail.
Female and juvenile have rufous crown, rufous upperparts heavily streaked with brown and black bars on rufous tail.
Female has comparatively more black spots and streaks. The cere ( structure at the base of the bill), feet, and a narrow ring around the eye are bright yellow.
Common kestrels have a prominent black malar stripe,which is the markings immediately beneath the eye which serve as important distinguishing features between species or individuals.
Its habitat is cultivation, grassland, shrubland and it readily adapts to human settlement, as long as sufficient vegetative cover is available.
Common kestrels feed almost totally on mouse-sized mammals & occasionally on small birds and lizards.
6. White-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis)
Common Name: Gidhad
A medium sized scruffy scavenger which was once most common vulture in India is now on the verge of extinction. It is critically endangered as per IUCN red list.
Adults are blackish, with white neck-ruff, white rump and back. Juveniles are largely dark and take about four-five years to acquire the adult plumage.
It occurs mostly in plains and less frequently in hilly regions where it utilises open forests, cultivated areas, wooded areas in villages and urban areas. It feeds on carrion, both putrid and fresh.
It is social bird and usually found in conspecific flocks. It breeds in colonies in tall trees, often near human habitation.
The cause of the rapid decline in the population was traced to the drug diclofenac, which is lethal to vultures when they consume the carcasses of dead animals treated with it. Declofenac is used to increase milk production in cattle. Vultures constituted the natural animal disposal system and played an important role in public sanitation. Their disappearance has resulted in several ecosystem problems.
7. Short toed snake eagle
Local Name- Garuda
It is a medium sized raptor. They can be recognised in the field by their predominantly white underside, the upper parts being greyish brown. The chin, throat and upper breast are a pale, earthy brown. The tail has 3 or 4 bars. Additional indications are an owl like rounded head, brightly yellow eyes.
It is generally seen soaring over hill slopes and hilltops on wind thermals.
Its prey is mostly reptiles, mainly snakes, but also some lizards.
It is found in open cultivated plains, arid deciduous scrub areas , foothills and semi-desert areas. It requires trees for nesting and open habitats, such as cultivation and grasslands for foraging.
Birds of prey are predators at the top of the food chain & referred as indicator species. The raptors also play an important ecological role as scavengers , control populations of rodents and other small mammals.
They are especially vulnerable to environmental influences, pesticides, drought and habitat loss and changes in their population size can give us early warning regarding the health of the environment.
(This article has been appeared in “Tell Tail” Magazine Feb-Apr 2017 issue)