Bird Watching

To birder’s delight, a Dollarbird appears in Anuvijay Township

To birder’s delight, a Dollarbird appears in Anuvijay Township

-J. Devaprakash

On a misty January morning this year, Vishnukiran, a class XI student of Atomic Energy Central School in Anuvijay Township – a  housing colony of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project located in southern Tamilnadu – stumbled upon a strange bird at his backyard. It was a blackbird with red beak. To him, it was not a crow as the bird is comparatively smaller, neither was it a myna. He has given it a whirl to recognize the bird, yet he couldn’t figure it out what it was. But he was sure that the bird was an unusual visitor to the place as he was familiar with almost all other birds that visit his garden regularly. Wisely, he took out his handy camera on the spur of the moment and snapped an image of the bird. And soon after that the bird disappeared, leaving no chance for him to take a few more pictures.

Later that evening, he shared the image with me through a social media messenger application. At the first sight of the image which was a long shot of the bird that perched on a tree branch, I thought it was Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus). But a closer look at the image proved me wrong. It was something else. Especially, the red beak and the stout body aroused my interest. A quick analysis of bird books and field guides revealed that the bird in the photo was actually an Oriental Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis).

A Dollarbird was sighted in Kudankulam region and that too for the first time ever. I was visibly enthralled. It was a record sighting, indeed. Thrilled by this fascinating information, I rushed to the spot where Vishnukiran saw the bird. But the bird was no longer there. Over the next few days I kept an eye on that site, I used to stop by the spot frequently with an expectation to see the Dollarbird, but to my dismay the bird never showed up.

Weeks later, the Pelican Nature Club of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, a voluntary association founded to help support nature conservation, organized the Kudankulam Bird Count, an annual event to study the bird life in the region. A one day survey of birds was held at various places in the locality including the Anuvijay Township. To my surprise, the Dollarbird was sighted again here. It was one of the 84 species of birds that were spotted during the day in this small settlement. The bird was seen in the same area where Vishnukiran had sighted it earlier, but this time on a different tree. It was on a top branch of a tall Night Jasmine tree, enjoying solitude, and making a hoarse “rak” sound repeatedly. From its perch the bird occasionally went after flies and insects. After feasting, it returned to the same perch every time. It was amazing to see the spectacular aerial acrobatics that the bird exhibited while it was chasing the flies.

A member of roller family, the bird earned its name as “Dollarbird” for its distinctive coin-shaped blue spots on its wings. Dollarbird which measures 25 to 30 cm in length and weighs around 150 grams, is bluish overall. Its crown, nape, face and chin are tinted with brown. Its back and wing coverts sport green sheen. While its breast, belly and undertail coverts are greenish blue, the throat and undertail are bright blue and flight feathers are dark blue. It has a short but wide bill with a hook like tip. The bill is of reddish orange while the tip is of black.

Usually, the bird prefers to dwell in forests and shrublands. But often it is seen in urban areas, too. According to reports, the Dollarbird is commonly found in Northeastern India and Western Ghats. But in Anuvijay Township, which doesn’t fall under its distribution range, its sighting is exceptional. The arrival of this rare bird to the nuclear power plant housing colony not just brought exhilaration among the birders in the region but also creates an opportunity to study more about its biogeographic range expansion.   

J. Devaprakash

The author is Senior Manager in 

Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project where he looks after

public awareness and press relations.

He writes about nature, nuclear and communication.


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