Bird Watching

Miraculous escape of the kingfisher chick

Miraculous escape of the kingfisher chick
-Ajay Gadikar

Love to share a story of the miraculous escape of a white throated kingfisher (Halcoyn  smyrnensis) chick. 

A solitary White Throated Kingfisher has been living on a tree in front of my house since many years. It comes to roost on the tree every evening at dusk and then every day, at dawn it flies away to its nearby feeding grounds.

 The white throated kingfisher

Every morning, before leaving its perching point, it makes a loud sound and flies off swiftly to sit on a nearby electric pole. This morning routine of his coincided with my wake up time, so many a time, I used to watch him moving out for foraging in search of food.
When it comes to roost in the evening, on his favourite perch, it usually lands, first, onto an electrical wire, right in front of my house, then it flies off to the tree, and there, it slowly and steadily moves to its fixed and favourite perch making a typical low call.

The white throated kingfisher has a very prominent beak, adapted to catch fish. This is similar to other kingfishers, but it has adapted well and is able to survive on various other vertebrates found in the city. It feeds on lizards, mice, frogs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, small perching birds found in the urban areas.

One fine Sunday afternoon, my wife told me that she had seen 3 or 4 kingfishers on that very tree. I was very curious to see them and went into my balcony to confirm this bit of exciting information. I grabbed my binoculars to get a close view and ascertain that they were all, indeed king fishers.  Of so many birds on the tree, from our balcony, they could be seen clearly; I find that one of them was an adult bird and the rest of the three were juveniles. I was amused to see that all the four birds were sitting in a row on one of the branches.

The Kingfisher family
I could not spot the area where the kingfisher had made his nest. Usually the kingfisher nests in long, horizontal crevices and holes. Their nests are very distinctive and are found near river banks or streams. Their nests are holes dug into the eroded embankments along the river and are about 3 inches in diameter and are often 1 to 3 feet in length.

In this case the adult female would have laid eggs at some suitable place nearby.  After the chicks are fledged, the parents would have guided them to come on this tree, as they must have felt it was a safer place for their fledglings. The fledglings must be around in the safe company of parents for few more days before being let out on their own. 

We enjoyed watching the adults feeding the juveniles and took some photographs.  After an hour or so, my son saw one of the chicks lying on the ground and making low calls. We immediately rushed to help the chick. We found that it was not able to fly and seemed to be weak. Maybe this chick was not properly fed and hence being weak, fell down from the tree. As rescuing a chick is not an easy task, we first carefully put it inside a cage (borrowed from a neighbour) so that the chick can be safe and out of reach of the cat and dog of the township. We then put in some water and tried to feed it some fruit.

The exhausted chick
But the chick was not eating anything. I recalled that on an earlier occasion, while rescuing a hornbill chick, we had the same problem of not knowing the bird’s diet and now again we were facing a similar situation. Then we brought some insects for it, but we understand that he had to be given the food in a specific manner, and only then could it eat. Finally, at the end of the day we decided to leave it on the roof in the morning and hoped that its parents would come and feed it and it would survive. 

The kingfisher chick
We waited anxiously till the next morning and were happy to find the chick in a good condition. We saw the adult birds were feeding their other young ones on the same tree, so we decided to free the chick and see what happens next, to our delight the chick slowly moved forward and sat on the wall, making continuous calls. Within few minutes, we saw the adult bird bringing a small insect in its mouth and feeding it. We felt very happy for the fledgling. For another hour or two we watched the chick. It was eating continuously and that made it look better and so it was able to hop around.

We then went about our work like every day. In the evening, we checked with our neighbours if they had seen any casualty around and thankfully there was none. We happily assumed that the chick would have gained strength and must be safely roosting on the tree and our attempt to save the chick was accomplished. 

Ajay Gadikar is a bird watcher and naturalist from Indore.


A photographic Exhibition on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Presented by the India International Centre, New Delhi

ISLAND WORLDS…of land and sea
A photographic Exhibition on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Specially produced on silk

Pankaj Sekhsaria

The Art Gallery, Kamaladevi Complex, 
India International Centre, New Delhi – 110003

22 July (Saturday) to 2 August, 2016 (Wednesday)
11 am to 7.00 pm

Friday, 21st July, 6.30 pm 
NamitaGokhale, Author

A special illustrated talk on the islands by Pankaj Sekhsaria 

27th July (Thursday): 6.30 pm
Chair: DrAmita Baviskar

Specially re-produced on silk fabric to create a new visual and aesthetic experience, this exhibition is a story, in images, of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and a world of mystery and charm we know so little about. Washed by a rolling green and blue sea, this fragile world is rich with startling beauty and magical lyricism. Ancient turtles nesting on desolate beaches, translucent jellyfish floating in rich tropical waters, giant rainforest trees holding up the heavens, whistling teals in the soft light of a reflected moon…turning away is a challenge as we are drawn into this striking but delicate, gossamer like island worlds

Island Worlds brings together PankajSekhsaria’s 20 years of work and photography in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The exhibition travels to Delhi after successful shows in 2016 in Pune, Chennai and Goa. 

Pankaj Sekhsariais a researcher writer, photographer and academic who has worked in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the last two decades. He is also author of four books on the islands including his debut novel, The Last Wave (HarperCollins India, 2014) a story deeply embedded inthe history, ecology and people of the place and Islands in Flux – the Andaman and Nicobar Story (HarperCollins India, 2017), a collection of two decades of his writings on the islands. 
Pankaj isa member of the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh, where he works on issues of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and also edits the bi-monthly newsletter, the Protected Area Update. He has been a freelance writer and photographer for a long time and has published widely in the Indian media on a range of issues related to the environment, wildlife, conservation and the A&N Islands.
He has a graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, a master’s degree in Mass Communication and a recent doctorate in Science and Technology Studies (STS) where he studied scientific research and innovation practices in six Indian nano-science and technology labs.

Pankaj Sekhsaria: Tel. 09423009933; Email:

Here are links to some of the reviews of the exhibition: 
1) A review of the exhibition in The Hindu Sunday Magazine

2) A feature on

News and Views

News and Views



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organic farming

White Plumage Friends in Organic Farming

White Plumage Friends in Organic Farming 
- Amina Bibi

Organic Farming is a method of crop production which involves an integration of different farming systems like crop, cattle, fish, poultry etc.  The bio-network forms a cycle of effective utilization of resources which often results in sustainability through the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity. 

I happen to observe one such organic field loaded with well decomposed cattle waste (Farm Yard manure). The field was very thirsty, thanks to the vagaries of monsoon. On receipt of a good rainfall after a very long time, the dumped farmyard manure became slurry and the nutrient rich solution penetrated in the soil. During land preparation, the puddling (tillage of field in flooded condition) is the first farm operation of Paddy cultivation,  I could see hundreds of visitors – White Plumage friends.

Being a nature lover, I admired seeing the White Plumage Friends. Yes, they are here for the first time. I had seen Mynahs, King Crow, sparrows, Kingfishers. Fleets of Egrets – Little Egrets, Giant Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets were busy picking the insects and grubs. Egrets are new to this area.
Puddling the paddy field with tractor accompanied with a fleet of White Plumage Friends was an evidence of biodiversity. The fleets comprising of Egrets and Herons with a large number of Cattle Egrets were literally cleaning the field. I saw similar situation of white Plumage friends voraciously feeding on grubs and insects during summer ploughing of the fields too. Summer Ploughing (Ploughing the field during summer to recharge soil profile) helps to kill weeds, hibernating insects and disease-causing organisms by exposing them to the summer. Activity of White Plumage friends were seen during summer ploughing of organic Farm too. They were actively feeding on the grubs and insects which were hidden in the field brought up due to the tillage. This activity of Plumage Friends would reduce the cost of Plant Protection to the farmer. When the grubs and insects are controlled at the initial stage of crop cultivation the crops grow with low pest load. Hence the need for pesticide usage is greatly reduced. The presence of Plumage Friends for the entire crop duration would keep the insect population in control. This condition favors the biodiversity and ensures food security for the people.

It is obvious that role of plumage friends are vital and pave a way to healthy living. They are present right from the land preparation activity in the field. They are active in action to keep the pests in control throughout the cropping period. They also save the crop from rodent damage at the final stage (Pre - harvesting) of the crop. Organic Farming is the way of cultivating crops including many organisms in a network. All interlinked in such a way the ecological balance is maintained. On the contrary, if pesticides are sprayed to protect the crop, the Plumage friends’ lose their feed. On feeding the insects with pesticide load result in thin shelled eggs hence the population reduction results in INCREASED PEST LOAD due to absence of Plumage friends to keep it in control. Then it is a vicious cycle to use even more pesticides. Ultimately the entire biodiversity is disturbed. Let us encourage and educate of farmers to turn to Organic farming and feed the world naturally.  
K. Amina Bibi is  Agriculture Officer,  Pondicherry, India

Urban Wildlife

Rats- the gnawing problem underfoot

Rats- the gnawing problem underfoot
The common rat is an everyday companion that we know very little about, says S.Ananthanarayanan.

The hopelessness of solving the rat menace is legendary. In the German folk tale, the Pied Piper lures the rats of Hamelin away by his music. On not being given the promised fee, the piper leads away the children of the town. What the story underscores, however, is the futility of ordinary methods used by municipal services to deal with infestation by rats.

1902 postcard featuring the Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Journal of Urban Ecology, published by OUP, carries a review of the state of knowledge, or lack of knowledge, about this animal which is known to flourish where human communities gather. In the context of increasing urbanisation and climate change, Michael H. Parsons, Peter B. Banks, Michael A. Deutsch, Robert F. Corrigan and Jason Munshi-South, from universities and the pest control industry in Australia and USA, stress the need to understand the habits of the city rat and examine how to focus research efforts on this area of importance.

Archaeological evidence and DNA studies indicate that rats took to colonising human habitations ever since humans changed from hunting-gathering to farming. This seems to have happened first in India, where the mouse family was a commensal (or living off humans, ‘sharing the table’, and a pest) since 14,000 years ago. Glacial melting soon after led to migration of agriculture and the rodents migrated too. There is evidence that rats reached the Mediterranean basin about 10,000 years ago. Rats have travelled everywhere that humans went and ships carried them to lands where there were no rats. And everywhere they went, rats adapted and settled in, often at the cost of local species.

The rise of cities, with large human aggregation, led to virtual ‘second cities’ of rats being established, generally in burrows in the ground, crevices of masonry and in sewers and drainage. In 1982, the Urban Ecology paper observes, rodents were estimated to have cost the world’s economy over US$ 300 billion, from food loss alone (that is, without the cost from disease, damage to livestock, structures, power lines, etc.). In comparison, the cost of air pollution has been recently assessed at US$ 225 billion. The paper observes that from 2000 to 2030, human population is expected to grow by 2.2 billion, with 2.1 billion being growth in urban areas. This would create great resources for the proliferation of city rats. The paper further notes that climate change would result in longer active seasons for rats the different infectious organisms that rodents carry and spread. 
Science has fallen behind

In contrast to the speed with which the problem is increasing, the science of controlling rat populations, the risks and the costs, has not made progress, the paper observes.  Poisons to exterminate rats rapidly become ineffective, as rats learn to avoid them or become resistant.  On the other hand, other species consume poisons, which enter the food chain. Even special programmes like Integrated Pest Management have failed, as the rat menace in large cities has become no less acute after the programmes were started.  And in any case, so long as food and shelter is available, rat populations are found to rapidly recover. 

The reason that administrations persist in traditional methods, in place of more effective management, the paper says, is that there is great shortage of knowledge of the ecology and behaviour of the urban rat. The last serious studies are of the 1940s. These studies involved releasing wild rats in the city or releasing unfamiliar rats among other rats, both of which involve risks and may violate current ethical norms. Later experiments with rats in captivity did not reflect reality, as rats are quick to acclimatise and adapt.

As it is difficult to work with rats in the wild, little attention has been paid by academics to the field. It was 40 years ago that behaviour-based rodent control was suggested and 30 years since the idea of studying the response of rats to scents, so that mating behaviour could be regulated, was mooted, the paper says. Over the years, more areas of ‘knowledge gap’ have been identified, including the need for a systematic study of diseases harboured and transmitted by rats. In the area of mitigating damage in agriculture, an approach of ‘ecology based rodent management’ (or EBRM) has been effective, the paper says.  These methods engage the community in concerted strategy, which includes timing of sowing or planting, the use of poisons and traps and maintaining hygiene.  While these methods could be more effective if there were more knowledge about the behaviour or rats, there is just no effective strategy so far to deal with the urban rat, the paper says.

A wicked problem
Logistics apart, a reason for the problem of rats having been neglected is that the problem is complex, the paper says. The complexity extends to the number of domains, the social, ecological and economic, that are involved. Every strategy would impact these domains and call for trade-offs. An example of such ‘wicked problems’ is the problem of environment pollution – control would impact livelihoods, prices, efficiency of the administration and may even exacerbate the problem itself. Problems of this kind have no solutions and even success of their control is understood differently by different agencies. This is in contrast to the ‘tame problem’, which has a technological solution.

The other difficulty is that the problem of rats is one that people do not like to talk about. Commercial establishments would like to brush, literally, the problem under the carpet.  The paper cites a study which says people so detest the topic of rats that speaking of rats causes more depression than speaking of crime. And even where the problem is recognised, people would like to exterminate the accursed things rather than let them stay around for scientists to study!

Another thing is that people believe they know more about rats than they actually do. City dwellers see rats day in and day out and they think there is nothing more to know about them. What city dwellers see is just a few rats, the ‘bold or the desperate’, which venture out of hiding, not the great many that are unseen, the paper says. And then, there is the multitude of research papers that feature rats, but laboratory bred rats, not the rats that we need to control. 

The answer
The paper recognises that researchers would need to study rats in the real problem situations, typically where professional extermination agencies have been called in. Incentives would then have to be offered to get the agencies and the employers to take a longer view, rather than a quick and economical immediate solution. The paper proposes a systematic approach of identifying the problem, the stakeholders, the cost to each of them and then to design incentives to reduce conflicts of interest. And then to collaborate and coordinate, over a wide geographical span, so that we are able take in diverse views and generalise pest control in urban settings. 

The problem is serious, difficult and growing and scientific neglect cannot continue. Else, in the (unlikely) event that we control global warming, we would find the benefits eroded, if not negated, by traditional, underfoot freeloaders.
[the writer can be contacted at]

Rat borne diseases:
1.Leptospirosis: Headache, fever, vomiting, rash and muscle aches. Could be fatal
2.Salmonella: serious, sometimes fatal gastroenteritis
3.Rat-bite fever:  Fever, Vomiting, headache, muscle pains, joint pain and rash. Fatal in 10% of untreated cases.
4.Bubonic plague: Sudden onset of fever, headache, chills and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes. A few cells of the bacterium can be fatal. It can spread and kill large numbers very quickly.
5.Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM): Malaise, lack of appetite, muscle aches, headache, nausea and vomiting.

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