India is one of the only countries in the World that can boast of having a vast, varied and rich birdlife. Home to well over a thousand species, of which about 100 are to be found only in India, this country is a veritable paradise for any birdwatcher. About 250 migratory birds are also part of the varied bird species that are found here. India is a treasure trove for bird species due to the fact that India encompasses almost all ecosystems, ranging from forests, scrub, grassland & farmland to deserts and wetlands, each of these is home to a characteristic population of bird species, quite different from those found in other habitats. Two species, the pink headed duck and the mountain quail are now considered extinct whereas the Jerdon’s courser and the forest owlet were rediscovered recently after a gap of more than a century.
The best time to visit India from an ornithological standpoint is no doubt the months between October and April as, in addition to the variety of resident species, migratory waterfowl, raptors, starlings & other passerines and a host of other species are also seen all around the Indian countryside.
When was the last time you saw a bird closely? Or listened to a beautiful bird song? If you want to see birds in abundance, or wish to be amazed by the music they create, visit them in their natural habitat. There are many bird sanctuaries across the country, which offer nothing less than a treat – both for bird watchers and adventure lovers. Below is a list of amazing bird sanctuaries in the country. It’s time to wake up the bird watcher in you, and go explore. But before you start packing, here are a few pointers in case you’re an amateur birdwatcher venturing out for the first time:
- Take a good pair of binoculars
- A field guide with illustrations is a must.
- Go with a bird-watching group. The more sets of eyes and ears, the better.
- Make sure you respect the birds and their habitat.
Different bird species are found in different habitats. India’s topography can be bifurcated as below:
These account for most of the forest cover of India’s plains and the plateau of the Deccan and offer a delightful array of avifauna for the enthusiastic birdwatcher, ranging from pigeons, parakeets and babblers to exotic and flamboyant species like the paradise flycatcher and racket-tailed drongo. Other common woodland birds are the ioras, leafbirds and several woodpecker species. Many raptors are also there in these jungles and birds like the collared scops owl are commonly seen.
These are typified by the Sunderbans in the east, and are a shelter for such species as the mangrove whistler and several species of Pittas.
The evergreen forests in India are the western ghats in south-west India as well as the north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. The birdlife of these regions shows a marked tropical character, with frogmouths, laughing-thrushes and the breathtaking fairy bluebird being some of the species seen. A host of endemic and rare birds also thrive in this habitat; the great pied and wreathed hornbills and two species of cochoas are four of the more uncommon species.
India not only has the hot Thar desert in the west but also the cold and wind-swept deserts in the northernmost state of Kashmir. The hot deserts do not house a very rich avifauna, the only endemic bird being the Stolicza’s bush chat. The cold deserts support such species as the Tibetan Lark and several types of accentors.
India has abundant wetlands in almost all of its areas. Ducks and geese spread far inland and birds like the shoveler, garganey and wigeon are very common. The Keoladeo Ghana National Park is one of the best sites in the world for observing large poulations of migratory waterfowl. Migratory waders also arrive in large numbers and the shanks, sandpipers and stints are not hard to find. Three species of cranes including the endangered Siberian Crane visit the India wetlands in the winter months, as do several types of stork, herons, egrets and plovers. The two species of jacana – the bronze-winged and pheasant-tailed are common residents.
Open and cultivated land
Open & Cultivated land are the easiest place to see birds, especially raptors as many species of resident and migratory eagles, hawks, falcons and harriers are commonly seen. The short-toed snake eagle and the tawny eagle are commonly seen residents, as well as migratory birds like old world kestrels, red-headed merlin, booted eagle and montagu’s harrier. Cultivation and open land are also host to a variety of larks, pipits and in wetter areas, wagtails.
The Great Indian Bustard and the Bengal Florican are both distinctive species of this habitat and are both facing certain extinction unless drastic measures are taken to safe guard their existence. The Terai, a belt of grassland at the foot of the Himalayas as well as several pockets of grassland in central and peninsular India form this habitat.
Scrub jungle is found all over, interspersed often with heavier jungle and most of the birds found here are also seen in open, cultivated land and forest habitats. Species that are common in this region are several types of wren-warblers and cuckoos, the crow-pheasant and the Indian robin.
The mountain ranges of the Himalayas lining the north, support coniferous & sub-alpine forests, home to a variety of characteristic Himalayan species like the colourful Tragopans and bamboo partridge, tits etc. Other birds typically found here are the finches, grosbeaks and parrotbills.
10 Spectacular Bird-Watching Sites in India
India reflects the world’s richest cultural kaleidoscope. It is also justifiably famous for its rich avifauna and charismatic mammalian megafauna. Some of the best bird watching sites are listed below. Besides these, there are many others as well.
Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
The oldest national park of the country, Jim Corbett National Park is a paradise for bird watchers. Located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, the park is an eight hour drive from Delhi and is known to host more than 500 species of birds. For some, the beauty of the park lies in listening to the endless choir of bird songs and the shrill bird calls from all directions and for others it is the varied landscape, a mix of dense forests, grasslands and hilly vegetation. Mid-March to April-end is the best time to be in the park, followed by the winter months when the chances of spotting migratory birds increases. The Solluna Resort and Kalagarh Dam are some of the best places to find birds inside the park. Some of the avian species that one can encounter in the park are plum-headed parakeets, magpie-robins, bulbuls, chestnut-headed bee-eaters and the stunning paradise flycatchers.
Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan
Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, also known as the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Rajasthan is known for being a “bird paradise.” It is famous for the many exotic and endangered birds that migrate there during winter ever year. Situated on the Agra-Jaipur road, the park is just a three hour drive from Delhi and boasts of over 300 bird species.The sanctuary is a delight to be in. This is the only National Park that one can visit on cycles and rickshaws. Trained cycle rickshaw pulling guides and paved walkways make for an easy trek and a beautiful experience overall. It is a man-made wetland and a world heritage site. Several species of cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks, eagles, and a lot more birds are found here. August to November are the ideal visiting months to find resident breeding birds, and October to February for migrant birds.
Chilka Lake Bird Sanctuary, Odisha
The Chilka Lake Bird Sanctuary near Puri, Odisha, has Asia’s largest inland sea water lagoon. The Chilka Lake is a pear-shaped lake, spread over an area of 1,100 square kms and serves as the largest wintering ground for migratory birds. It is home to some of the most unique species like sea eagles, greylag geese, and purple moorhen. Chilka proudly hosts the world’s largest breeding colonies of flamingos as well. The lake has many small islands, of which the Nalabana Island, Mangalajodi and Kalupadaghat Islands are must visits for a spectacular view of some beautiful winged guests. The sanctuary is around 120 km from Bhubaneshwar and the migrating birds flock to the lake from October to March. Boat cruises are the best way to explore the sanctuary, and they form a unique part of the adventure. Around 7.62 lakh birds of 172 species visit the blue lagoon every year.
Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, Haryana
Located in Gurgaon, the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary hosts some of the most colorful bird species. Just an hour’s drive from Delhi, this sanctuary is famous among bird lovers as it is chosen by many migratory birds as their stop every year. Some of the popular finds here include northern pintail, greater flamingo, common teal, and Siberian cranes. It has a shallow freshwater lake called the Sultanpur Lake in which several birds can be spotted. The sanctuary hosts approximately 250 bird species, winter being the best time to visit if you are looking at spotting migratory birds.
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Gujarat
Located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, this is one of the largest wetland bird sanctuaries in India. The sanctuary is famous for Indian owl, and rare bird species like spoonbills and small Grebes. An interpretation centre called ‘Abhiruchi Kendra’ has been developed in the sanctuary by the forest department, where 225 types of birds have been recorded. The place is a birdwatcher’s delight from November to February when thousands of migratory birds settle down with a breathtaking orange sun setting in the background. The only sound one can hear are flapping of wings and the ripples of the boatman’s oar caressing the water, making it a completely blissful experience.
Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, Kerala
Breathtaking lush greenery and flocks of some of the most awesome birds, set in the backwaters of Kerala, Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary is a picturesque destination for bird watching. It is located 80 km away from Kochi. While it is loved for migrating birds like little cormorants and pond herons, local birds like malabar whistling thrush, cuckoo, owl, egret, heron and the water duck are also a major part of the attraction. The sanctuary provides houseboats for birdwatching which adds on to the fun. The best time to visit is between June and August, and between November to February for migratory birds.
Eaglenest Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh
An impressive 454 species having been recorded in the area, Eaglenest Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh is an important bird area. This is the site where Bugun Liocichla, an endangered bird, was first discovered in 1995 and again observed and described in 2006. The Blyth’s tragopan identified as a vulnerable species of the area is seen here. Hume’s bush warbler, nutcracker and golden-breasted fulvetta can be spotted at this sanctuary.Visit between November and May and be amazed by the beauty of the birds. The Lama Camp is one of the famous base camps where birds can be easily spotted.
Lava and Neora Valley National Park, West Bengal
Lava and Neora Valley is awe inspiring for bird watchers lthough the greenery is so thick that one has to literally peer in to spot birds! But the variety and range is beyond spectacular. The Algarah Road in Lava is considered to be the best “birding mile” of India. Lava and Neora Valley is home to several rare species such as the satyr tragon, rufous-throated partridge, the white-tailed robin, and the rusty-bellied shortwing. There are about 265 species of birds in the park, which remains closed for three months during the monsoon season.
Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Kerala
Known to be the richest bird habitat on peninsular India, Thattekkad, the first bird sanctuary in Kerala, is inhabited by many beautiful species of birds such as the oriental darter, the Indian hawk cuckoo, blue kingfishers and the brilliant ceylon frogmouth. The sanctuary is a habitat for different varieties of cuckoos as well, and a section of it is known as ‘Cuckoo Paradise.’
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka
With boat rides taking visitors very close to the birds, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary is an admired destination among bird lovers. Located near the banks of the Kaveri River in Karnataka, many exotic migratory birds can be found here like the egret, partridge and heron. When visiting Mysore, the sanctuary is only 19kms from there and can easily be visited. January to September is the best time to visit the park.