Birds of the Indian Hills Informative Summary

Overview:

This comprehensive guide to the birds of the Indian Hills, written in 1915, takes the reader on a captivating journey through the Himalayas, the Nilgiris, and the Palni hills. The author, Douglas Dewar, meticulously details the fascinating world of avian species, focusing on those most commonly encountered in these regions. He not only identifies the birds by their appearance and calls but also delves into their unique habits, nesting behaviors, and even their personalities, painting a vivid portrait of their lives in these diverse landscapes.

The text vividly describes the contrasting beauty and harshness of the Himalayas, from the lush forests to the barren, windswept slopes. The reader gains an understanding of the varied habitats that influence the distribution of birds, highlighting the distinct differences between the avifauna of the plains and the hills. Dewar also emphasizes the importance of observing birds in their natural environments, encouraging the reader to engage with nature and appreciate the wonders of bird-watching.

Key Findings:

  • Diverse Avian Populations: The Indian Hills are home to an impressive array of bird species, influenced by the varying elevation, terrain, and climate of each region.
  • Habitat Influence: The unique flora and fauna of the Himalayas and the Nilgiris differ greatly from those of the plains, reflecting the distinct environments and climates of these regions.
  • Bird Behavior: The text explores the social behaviors of birds, their unique calls, and their nesting strategies. It reveals the diverse personalities of various species, from the bold and aggressive to the shy and retiring.
  • Challenges of Bird Identification: The book highlights the complexity of bird identification, especially within the warbler family, and emphasizes the importance of meticulous observation and knowledge of specific features for proper identification.

Learning:

  • Bird Classification: The reader gains an understanding of bird classification, learning the names of different families and how they are grouped based on anatomical features and habits.
  • Habitat and Distribution: The text illustrates how bird distribution is influenced by their preferred habitats, food sources, and climate, understanding the distinct avian communities found in different elevations and geographic locations.
  • Bird Adaptations: Dewar explores the specific adaptations that birds have developed for survival in these varied environments, from their unique beaks and plumage to their intricate nesting strategies.
  • Bird Calls and Communication: The book highlights the fascinating world of bird calls and their importance in communication, explaining how calls function for attracting mates, identifying species, warning of danger, and keeping flocks together.

Historical Context:

This text was written in 1915, during a time of great change in the world. The author highlights the increasing popularity of birdwatching and the growing interest in understanding the natural world. The text also reflects the British colonial presence in India, as evidenced by the author’s familiarity with the English countryside and his descriptions of the bird-watching practices of the British elite.

Facts:

  • Himalayan crow: The common crow of the Himalayas is the Indian corby or jungle crow, which is not as much of a nuisance as its grey-necked cousin.
  • Blue-magpies: Blue-magpies are magnificent birds, resembling small pheasants, with beautiful blue plumage and striking white markings.
  • Black-throated jay: This handsome jay is known for its boldness and is often seen picking up scraps outside kitchens.
  • Green-backed tit: This small, brightly colored tit is particularly fond of nesting in holes in house walls.
  • Himalayan whistling-thrush: This bird, with its cobalt blue patches, frequents mountain streams and often perches on rocks, seeking insects and snails.
  • Black bulbuls: These noisy, aggressive birds are unlike their more meek counterparts and are known for their harsh, unlovely calls.
  • Himalayan tree-creeper: This small, striped bird spends its days creeping over tree trunks, searching for insects.
  • Hodgson’s grey-headed flycatcher-warbler: This small, brightly colored warbler is the most common bird in the Western Himalayas, with a distinct, often-heard call.
  • Spotted forktail: This striking bird, often called the hill-wagtail, is found near mountain streams and is known for its constant tail-wagging.
  • Grey-winged ouzel: This beautiful thrush is known for its blackbird-like song and its preference for nesting on rhododendron trees.
  • Black-and-yellow grosbeak: This bird resembles the black-headed oriole in its coloration, highlighting the concept of mimicry in nature.
  • Great Himalayan barbet: This large barbet, with its striking yellow beak, is known for its mournful wailing call.
  • Jungle babbler: While considered shy and retiring in the Nilgiris, this bird is known for its boldness and confiding nature in northern India.
  • Indian grey tit: This grey tit with a black head and abdomen is common in the Nilgiris and is known for its fondness for peas.
  • Southern scimitar-babbler: This bird, with its long, curved beak, is often heard but rarely seen, residing in thick bushes and seeking insects among the leaves.
  • Nilgiri laughing-thrush: This shy bird, with its chestnut underparts and white eyebrow, is known for its cheerful, laughter-like calls.
  • Southern hill-bulbul: This lively, brightly colored bulbul is the most abundant bird on the Nilgiris, known for its constant twittering and its fondness for wild raspberries.
  • Nilgiri blackbird: This bird, resembling the European blackbird, is known for its melodious song.
  • Nilgiri flower-pecker: This tiny, olive-green flower-pecker is one of the smallest birds found on the Nilgiris.
  • Nilgiri wood-pigeon: This pigeon, with its dove-grey plumage and lilac-green sheen, is found in the dense forests of the Nilgiris.
  • Grey jungle-fowl: This grey fowl is common on the Nilgiris and is known for its unique calls and its fondness for bamboo seeds.
  • Red spur-fowl: This partridge-like bird is the most abundant game bird in the Nilgiris.

Statistics:

  • Himalayan ranges: The Himalayas are a mountainous country some 80 miles broad and several hundred miles long, with no large plains or plateaux.
  • Tarai: This marshy land covered in tall grass is approximately 10 to 20 miles wide.
  • Elevation and flora: Every rise of 1000 feet in the Himalayas brings a significant change in the flora.
  • Average house in the Himalayas: The average Himalayan house is a ramshackle affair with cracks and chinks galore.
  • Nest construction by green-backed tits: This tit carries a considerable amount of moss to its nest in a hole, lining it with great care for its prospective offspring.
  • Black bulbuls: Himalayan black bulbuls feed on the nectar enclosed within the calyces of rhododendron flowers.
  • Cuckoo mimicry: A cuckoo found in New Zealand closely resembles an American hawk in its coloration, demonstrating a possible case of mimicry.
  • Great Himalayan barbet: This bird is over a foot long, with a beak that is as large as some species of toucan.
  • Nilgiris vs. Himalayas: The avifauna of the Nilgiris is significantly smaller than that of the Himalayas, due to its smaller size and less diverse climate.
  • Black-and-yellow grosbeak: This bird is about the same size as the Indian oriole, with a beak 1 inch long.
  • Southern hill-bulbul: This bird has a crest that is black and pointed, reaching nearly a foot long.
  • Nilgiri blue-flycatcher: This flycatcher is a little larger than a sparrow, with a striking dark blue plumage.
  • Indian skylark: This skylark rises to great heights in the air to sing its song, soaring far higher than the crested lark.
  • Tiny sunbird: This sunbird is less than two-thirds the size of a sparrow and is known for its colorful plumage.
  • Nilgiri flower-pecker: These birds are among the smallest in existence, reaching a mere 3 inches in length.
  • Tickell’s golden-backed woodpecker: This woodpecker is over a foot long, 1 ½ inches longer than its counterpart found in Madras.
  • Lesser green barbet: This barbet is known for its loud, persistent call, “kutur-kutur-kutur,” which resounds throughout the hillside.
  • Common kingfisher: This small kingfisher, not much larger than a sparrow, is known for its striking blue and red plumage.
  • Alpine swift: This swift can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour, while its counterpart, the brown-necked spine-tail, can reach 100 mph.
  • Painted bush-quail: This quail is a small bird, no larger than a sparrow, with striking black and brown plumage.
  • Indian red-munia: This tiny munia, known as amadavat or lal, has a bright red bill and eyes.

Terms:

  • Avifauna: The birdlife of a particular region or period.
  • Calyx: The outer part of a flower, often colorful and containing nectar.
  • Cere: The fleshy part at the base of a bird’s beak.
  • Collaret: A band of contrasting color around the neck of a bird.
  • Corvidæ: The crow family, which includes crows, choughs, pies, jays, and tits.
  • Crateropodidæ: A family of birds that includes babblers, whistling-thrushes, bulbuls, and white-eyes.
  • Crest: A tuft of feathers on the head of a bird.
  • Diurnal: Active during the daytime.
  • Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or groups.
  • Habitat: The natural home or environment of an animal or plant.
  • Nocturnal: Active at night.
  • Ocelli: Small, eye-like markings on a bird’s plumage.
  • Palæarctic region: A biogeographic region covering Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, and North Africa.
  • Raptor: A bird of prey, such as an eagle, hawk, or owl.
  • Tarsus: The lower part of a bird’s leg, between the knee and the foot.
  • Vernacular: Native or local, as in the vernacular names for birds in different regions.

Examples:

  • Himalayan House-crow: This crow is a common sight in the Indian Hills and is known for its impudence and its tendency to steal food.
  • Black-and-yellow grosbeak: This bird, with its black head and yellow body, is often seen in forests and is known for its agility and its loud, distinctive call.
  • Himalayan whistling-thrush: This thrush frequents the banks of mountain streams and is known for its loud and pleasant call.
  • Black bulbul: This noisy bird, with its dark grey plumage and red bill, is a common sight in the Himalayas, often seen perched on the tops of trees, feeding on nectar.
  • Spotted forktail: This bird, with its black and white plumage and its distinctive tail-wagging, is often found near the places where washermen work, hence its nickname, the “dhobi-bird.”
  • Green-backed tit: This small, brightly colored tit is known for its fondness for nesting in holes in house walls and its loud, “kiss-me” call.
  • Grey-winged ouzel: This thrush is a common sight in the Himalayas and is known for its blackbird-like song, its fondness for nesting on rhododendrons, and its remarkable resemblance to the European blackbird.
  • Nilgiri laughing-thrush: This bird, with its chestnut underparts and white eyebrow, is known for its loud, laughter-like calls and its shy, retiring nature.
  • Southern hill-bulbul: This bulbul, with its bright red patches and its perky, pointed crest, is the most abundant bird on the Nilgiris and is known for its constant twittering.
  • Nilgiri blue-flycatcher: This flycatcher, with its striking dark blue plumage, is known for its fondness for catching insects on the wing and its ability to perch on branches close to the ground.

Conclusion:

Birds of the Indian Hills is a fascinating and informative guide to the avian diversity of the Himalayas, the Nilgiris, and the Palni hills. This book not only introduces the reader to the most common species found in these regions but also reveals the unique characteristics and behaviors of these birds, providing insight into their adaptations to their environments, their communication patterns, and their fascinating lives. Dewar’s engaging writing style and his keen observations make this a captivating read for anyone interested in the natural world. This text is a valuable resource for understanding the beauty and diversity of India’s birdlife, encouraging the reader to appreciate the wonders of birdwatching and the intricate relationships between birds and their habitats.

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