Common Birds of India

Pond Heron or Paddy bird.( Ardeola grayii)

Pond Heron or Paddy bird.( Ardeola grayii)


-Ragoo Rao



I have chosen the Pond heron for introduction this month. The reason for this selection is, when summer comes and the ponds and paddy fields are dry and parched, these birds come into the urban areas into parks and open sites looking for insects and centipedes hiding under rocks and small shrubs. This is the reason these birds can be noticed more around summer in urban areas than in any other season.






When one walks around marsh areas or paddy fields, an earthy brown colored bird with long legs about the size of an egret can hardly be noticed because of their camouflaged upper body coloring, but when they get startled and take off, their glistening white wings and lower body gets noticed. In flight this heron appears to be a white bird and when it again lands it just merges into its surroundings and once again it can hardly be sighted. This is the Pond heron or more commonly known as the Paddy bird because it is very commonly found on the bunds of paddy fields foraging for small crustaceans and insects.


These birds are common throughout the country except for very highly elevated places. The pond heron’s typical habit of foraging is to stand rock still gazing into the water and suddenly dart the long neck and get the prey. Even its walk is a deliberate " one leg at a time pulled and stretched to take the next step" all this in a kind of slow motion. These birds have very keen eye-sight and hearing. It is always the bird which notices you first and either stands still or just takes off. This is a very stealthy bird and it is very difficult to get close to it.


These birds are often found in small to large flocks and they always roost in their favorite trees very close to the water bodies and sometimes even in tall trees in urban gardens.  In the breeding season which is mainly around May to September these birds take on maroon hair like plumes on their back and long white patch around their eyes. The nesting season varies in South-India which is chiefly around November to Januaray.


Nesting is done on large Mango, Tamarind and Neem trees and the nest looks similar to that of crows- an untidy mass of twigs lined with feathers. Large flocks share a common tree for nesting. 3 to 5 pale green eggs are laid and both parents appear to share all domestic chores. Both sexes are alike and it is very difficult to differentiate unless on very close and constant observation of a particular breeding pair.


These marvelous birds might also become rare because of the lavish and indiscriminate dumping of pesticides on paddy crops which is their main foraging grounds. Let us hope we will strike a good balance in our pesticide usage and allow these marvelous fellow creatures of this planet to survive along with us.


 Once a species goes, there is no way of bringing it back. Let us not lose any of them.




Did You Know ?

The return of the Indian Warbler



The return of the Indian Warbler

-Can we save its habitat?





The large billed reed warbler, or Indian warbler, has brought focus on conservation of wetlands, says S.Ananthanarayanan.


A specimen discovered in Thailand has shown that this bird, so far thought to be extinct, is still breeding - and the search for larger populations has started.


A century ago


Acrocephalus Orinus belongs to the genus Acrocephalus, which means ‘flat headed’. This family is part of the great clan of ‘sparrow-like’ or perching or song-birds, and is insect-eating and short distance migratory and is associated with marshes or wetlands.


The species known as the Indian warbler was last seen in the Sutlej valley of Himachal Pradesh in India, in 1867. The specimen is not well preserved and there has always been a doubt – was it a separate species or just a variety of 2 similar birds, the clamorous reed warbler or Blythe’s reed warbler. It was only recently that DNA tests confirmed that it was a separate species.



In March 2006, ornithologist Philip Round, of Mahido University, Thailand, was banding birds at a wastewater treatment centre near Bangkok. Banding is to put a light metallic ring, with a unique number, around a bird’s leg.  


The bird has to be captured and the ring is placed with great care and skill, so that the bird is not traumatized. But the bird can then be monitored, by the same team or with the help of teams the world over.

Migration and breeding habits, life spans and population estimates then become possible.

So Philip Round discovered this bird which he immediately recognized as not the usual ones he was banding but a specimen of the long extinct large billed reed warbler! He had to be sure, of course. He took many photographs and also collected 2 feathers for DNA analysis. Analysis has now proved that the bird was indeed the same as spotted in Himachal Pradesh 140 years ago.

Ornithologists in India and elsewhere are excited and eager to discover where larger populations are roosting and whether they are threatened.

The habitats

The genus inhabits marshes and wetlands. The recent specimen was found in the water laden inner gulf of Thailand. “This shows how important it is preserve our own wetlands and save the remarkable biodiversity they support”, says Dr Rahmani, Director of Bombay Natural History Society.

India has an estimated 3.5 million hectares of wetlands.  The area of the whole Mumbai Metropolitan Region is 4,35,500 hectares. So the wetlands we have are about 8 times the size of Greater Mumbai. But these are fast disappearing as adjoining urbanization and coastal development or reclamation gobble them up.

The wealth of wetland that we have may still throw up communities of our long lost warbler. We cannot say how the Indian warbler disappeared from India and how it turned up in far off Thailand. While we now look for plucky little bird in places where it may be breeding, we must also make sure that such places continue to exist for this and other species.

For what our wetlands preserve are not just rare species of birds – they also host invaluable insect and plant varieties that must have marshes or bags to survive. Wetlands are then resources to guard and nurture, rather than exploit for only building highways and residential complexes. If we destroy our environment, the cities that we build may not be worth living in.

[The writer may be contacted at]


We have a photograph of “Warbler on a lemon tree” at the following link at  Is it a reed warbler or Blythe’s warbler? Can anyone respond?


Did You Know ?

Nature and Ancient Indians- Part IV

Yoga & Well-Being

Geeta Verghese

The universally timeless principles of Yoga are as relevant today as they were in ancient times. In Sanskrit, Yoga means "to unite” and aims towards harmonizing mind, body and soul to achieve a state of oneness with the universe. By eliminating, stress, ill health, and anger, yoga aims to achieve a state of peacefulness, vibrant health, and love towards all creation. The Yogic system lays down elaborate prescriptions for gradually gaining physical and mental control and mastery over the "personal self", both body and mind, until one's consciousness has intensified sufficiently to allow for the awareness of one's "real Self" (the soul, or Atman). So, even though the techniques are important in yoga, it is the ultimate goal that should always be kept firmly in mind.


There are three main aspects of yoga. These are:


The various yogic asanas while making the body flexible and strengthening the muscles, aim to improve blood circulation and functioning of specific organs in the body.


Pranayama is an effective tool to calm and energize the body and mind. All these asanas are to be properly coordinated with inhalation, exhalation and holding of breath.

Mediation is a means to still the mind's restlessness. Regular meditation trains the mind to be calm, centered, relaxed and detached.

 By helping us to get in touch with ourselves, Yoga heightens our senses and makes us sensitive to the natural order of the non-human realm. Yogis devised their asanas partly by observing how animal instincts work in the wild. They observed how animals like cats relaxed by instinctively stretching and arching the spine in both directions.  Animals sit in different kinds of positions. Getting down on all fours stimulates the pranic flow while sitting in chairs tightens the hamstrings and the lower back. Asanas are also based on a sound knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. Yogis knew that placing the body in certain positions would stimulate specific nerves, organs and glands.


 Hatha Yoga lists several poses named for animals. Some examples are the Cow Head's Pose (Gomukha-asana) the Tortoise Pose (Kurma asana) the Rooster Pose (Kukkuta asana) the Peacock Pose (Mayur asana) and the Lion's Pose (Simha asana). Other asanas named for animals, include the Serpent Pose (Naga asana), the Cobra Pose (Bhujanga asana), the Locust Pose (Salabha asana), the Crow Pose (Kakasana), the Eagle Pose (Gauruda asana), the Frog Pose (Manduka asana), and the Scorpion Pose (Vrischika asana), to name a few.


The practice of such asanas has an emotional effect that goes beyond mere strength or flexibility of the body. In the performance of the Peacock pose, one feels a sense of balance, a sense of pride, an affirmation of one's ability to move competently in the world. In the Cobra pose, one feels both a tremendous gravity and a rising up, a sense of being weighted and glued to the earth, yet yearning and stretching to rise above. In the Lion pose one feels positively regal, refreshed and energized.


Yoga involves recapturing our animal physicality by reconditioning the body to establish itself within a non-technologically enhanced environment. In that sense, we learn to be empathetic and connected with the natural world from our experience of and relationship with animals.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)                                Cobra


Locust Pose ( Shalabhasana)                               Locust


News and Views

…..and Views



IWC believes that environment and wildlife are not the preserve of a few experts.  Both can be protected and conserved only when the common man is involved and educated. But,  is environment education the responsibility of schools alone?  We certainly believe it is not.  All of us who are concerned about the vanishing species and the deteriorating environment have to keep these concerns alive in all decisions and actions we take.


So how should we react when the premier banking institution of India, the State Bank of India brings out its annual calendar with pictures of animals from Africa? The African lion, elephant, rhino etc.adorn each monthly page.   The pictures do not bear any caption or credits.








when at an award function at Technology Bhawan, New Delhi,  presided over by the Technology minister, the vision of “ More crop for drop” is initiated with individual awardees being presented a potted plant-a Chinese Orange plant?





Any comments?      


Please write your reactions in our blog-under the topic “Bio diversity” 


…..and Views


See recent additions in our web log page by clicking on the links below.


(Text and photos-Susan Sharma)


Story Of The Month








-Shivani Thakur



On 8th March we celebrated Women’s Day felicitating women achievers across the world.  Women achievers have made a mark in fields of science, technology, politics, cinema, finance etc, but there is another dedicated lot who are working towards betterment of our environment.  From Jane Goodall to Maneka Gandhi, Vandana Shiva and their lesser known counterparts- working in their respective fields they have been able to achieve impossible goals and earn a reputation of being serious environmentalists.


       Maneka Gandhi, former Minister of Enviornment, has founded an organization called People for Animals. Her organization runs many shelters across the country for stray animals.  With hosts of celebrities from all walks of life joining her, she endorses vegetarianism and was responsible for putting stricter laws regarding use of animal testing in laboratories. She also made mandatory for censor board of India, for use of animals in films, to have a check on them.  In more recent times, scenes were deleted from the movie Rang De Basanti as the filmmakers had not abided by the set laws.


       Similarly, Vandana Shiva, founder of Research Foundation for Scince, Technology and Ecology is one big promoter of ethnic seeds. She founded Navdanya in 1991, a movement of seed saving and organic farming. She has started a Seed University in Dehradun where seeds and plants are grown organically and farmers are encouraged to use these. She has protested against Monsanto, an MNC dealing in genetically modified seeds. These GM crops might give good yield and lessen the impact of insecticides but in the long run they impact the bio-diversity. Thus she advocates indigenous products and methods to revive agriculture.


      Sunita Narain, Director of Centre for Science and Environment is another capable woman working in this field. She has single handedly taken up big cola companies to pull up their acts and use pesticide free water in making of colas. She has been asked to co-head the team of Tiger Task force. Working independently towards various causes has brought credibility to her organisation and put forward all burning issues in front of people and forced our government to acknowledge CSE’s effort and act upon them.



          Another noted personality in this field is Dr. Iqbal Malik whose NGO Vatavaran has brought focus towards solid waste management in Delhi. She has been responsible for initiating cleaning and greening brigades that work in residential colonies and educational institutions. Her down to earth schemes include  zero garbage colonies and relocating monkeys to forest habitats. 


Although Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) is not an Indian by birth she has lived in India all her life. Working with state forest and police officials for over a decade, she has been responsible for hundreds of seizures and raids on wildlife  poaching gangs. Besides her many lesser known women are doing their own bit in saving the ecology. Bali Devi now in her eighties, along with the legendry Gaura Devi in March 1974 encircled the forests of Reni to prevent logging of trees by contractors for making cricket bats, gave rise to the Chipko Movement. A simple village woman Gaura Devi took the lead to stop the felling of trees. Her efforts were fuelled by leaders and international media as a women’s movement to save the ecology. Thus, the government was forced to bring an end to contractor raj practiced since the colonial era.  Although the region has lost its forests since then but Bali Devi still recollects those days and has the spirit to fight for her forests.


              A film made by Krishnendu Bose called ‘Dance with hands held tight’ highlights such women’s contribution towards saving of natural resources but shows their lack of space in policy making process. The film is not a gender debate but put forwards the need for their involvement. Women mentioned above are just a few of the nameless many who are slowly making a major impact in saving our environment. And this is a salute to them.

( Photo courtesy: The Hindu photo library)


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