The Shikra’s meal

In a fast-growing city like Bengaluru, real estate is an issue, not only for people but also for birds. We stay just a hop away from Vidhana Soudha, in the commercial hub and right in the middle of the central business district. The road is so congested that business establishments are taking a hit because of lack of parking space! If you can imagine that, you can also imagine the noise and pollution levels caused by traffic. But you may not be able to imagine that bird families continue to choose to make their home here, on this road. Three of them had their address on an African Tulip tree.

A Jungle Crow family had its nest of twigs on top of the tree. A White-cheeked Barbet couple found a hole further down, below the leaves.  A Common Myna family selected a hole on the side opposite to that of the barbets.  Barbets make neat, evenly circular holes in trees. In fact, these are near perfect, allowing no extra space when a barbet peeps out of the entrance 🙂 We didn’t see this pair excavating a new one. This must’ve been a nest they had made before and had ‘renovated’. White-cheeked Barbets are known to harass other species of barbets, taking over their nest sometimes.

White-cheeked Barbet amidst the branches.

White-cheeked Barbet (Click for a larger image)

It was interesting that the barbets and the mynas were staying there, despite the fact that the Jungle Crow was a potential enemy. There was also a female Asian Koel who visited this tree often – she must’ve used the Jungle Crow’s nest to lay her eggs. (Such behaviour is called brood parasitism. You can view an animated description of the same in the Indian movie, 3 idiots).


Days went by and the young ones of the Jungle Crow were now visible in the nest. Whenever they were awake, they always seemed to have their mouths open. Doesn’t it ache, we wondered! One of the parents would come with some food every now and then, regurgitate and feed them.

Common Lime on the tamarind tree

Common Lime on the tamarind tree

We did not see the myna chicks as we were travelling during that time 😦 However, the White-cheeked Barbet couple used to sit on the nearby gulmohar and tamarind trees. They would call almost all day, going ‘Guturu, guturu’. Did you know these barbets call without opening their beaks?  We never saw the young ones and the sound of the barbets gradually reduced over the months.


Meanwhile, the Jungle Crows grew up healthily. There were a couple of torrential rains and heavy wind, but the family and its nest survived all of that.


Gulmohar tree in full bloom

A couple of months went by. By now, the gulmohar (Kattikai mara) was in full bloom.

It was one of these days when we were in the middle of some ‘serious discussion’ at around 11 AM.  We heard a shrill scream. All discussion abandoned, we ran to the balcony and saw a rather small raptor fly onto a ledge on the adjacent building. It was a Shikra!

It is not rare to see one in places where people stay, but amidst all that traffic, all that noise, here was a Shikra, ready to enjoy a nice midday meal. And just what was its meal ? One of our young neighbours, a tiny little barbet chick. We hadn’t seen the young ones before – and we got to see one of them now, as a meal. The barbet continued screaming for some time, while the Shikra pecked and plucked at it. Despite knowing it had audience,  it went about eating. After some time, it decided to have a change in venue, picked up its meal and flew onto the Gulmohar tree.


Two days went by and the air was filled with the same shrill screams. It was a young barbet, again ! But this time, two Jungle Crows had caught hold of it. They didn’t want to have audience and flew away to a different tree, to enjoy their meal in peace and privacy.

The Shikra was one of the birds used for hawking or falconry (natives used to train birds of prey for their sport of hunting). It is rather slow compared to others birds used in a falconry. Apparently, a tame Shikra cannot even attempt to catch a bird, unless someone ‘throws’ the Shikra at a prey it is supposed to catch! However, falconers (hunters) usually have shikras with them, because shikras are very brave, can catch big birds now and then and can be trained easily.

_46A3097A Shikra’s normal diet contains lizards, mice, insects and small birds. Of late, there are bats visiting our African Tulip tree. I have read of instances where Shikras have fed on bats. Will it come to feed on the bats, I wonder.



  • Notes on the falconidae used in India in falconry
  • Wiki notes on Shikra
  • Stray bird notes from Rishi Valley
  • Muni, M. and Hegde, V., 1998. Indian Shikra preying on Short-nosed Fruit Bats. Bombay Natural History Society, 95(2): 338-339.
  • Zarri, A. A., 2001. More information on shikra Accipter badius (Gmelin) feeding on shortnosed fruit bats Cynopterus sphinx Vahl. Bombay Natural History Society, 98(1): 106-107.
  • Agoramoorthy, G., 2001. Predatory attack on bats by barn owl Tyto alba and shikra Accipiter badius in Tamil Nadu state, south India Bombay Natural History Society, 98(1): 107-108.
  • Yahya, H. S. A., 1989. Breeding biology of barbets, Megalaima spp. (Capitonidae- Piciformes) at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala. Bombay Natural History Society, 85(3): 493-511.

The tiniest bird I had ever seen

The 'frog' across the road

…. was dead.

It was a rather hot afternoon in June, 2012. Savouring a cup of yummy mango-flavoured  yogurt, I was on our customary post-lunch, grab-some-Vitamin-D walk with Rana and two of our colleagues, Dileep & Amit. I thought I spotted something on the ground and stopped to see. A few cars were zipping past, headed out from the basement towards the gate. I waited to get across and have a closer look. It looked like a frog, and it seemed rather unusual, as Bangalore was desperately waiting for rains.

I bent down and saw that it was a tiny bird. It was so frail, I could almost see what was behind its skin. There were ants all over its body, trying to transport it elsewhere. I had seen ants carrying dead moths, bugs, cockroaches, geckos/lizards – but never had I seen them carrying a dead bird. I know that the bird was just bigger than a Rs. 5 coin, but that’s big for an ant ! It was as long as my thumb, and that was fascinating (while you look at the image, please ignore the colour on the nail :D)

I called out to my walk-mates, who seemed to have forgotten me, and were admiring other kinds of life around them 😉 We couldn’t identify which bird it was – although, going by the slightly yellow-ish beak and the little black patch, we guessed it might be the little one of a Common Myna. The campus has Common Mynas aplenty. They roost on the ledges and start singing, almost every time we walk below the ledge.

This dead bird and the ants got me googling a bit. I found more questions – people around the world asking why we don’t see so many naturally-dead birds. That was a dandy thought. The highways show us many dead birds, killed by road accidents. Even this one we found would either have been blown away from its nest by a strong wind, or it could be possible that a predator had picked up its little snack and dropped it en-route to its home.

The various answers to that question indicated that if a bird feels sick, it usually retreats into a hideout (a hole in a tree, maybe). Thus, it protects itself from being somebody’s meal, since the sickness will not allow it to escape soon enough. If it does get better, it will fly back to its normal life. If not, it will die there and some scavenger will ultimately find it. Or, they may fall into bushes where the scavengers find them sooner than humans do, by virtue of their superior sense of smell.

The other question was about the ants. I stumbled upon a thought / quote:

When a bird is alive, it eats ants.
When a bird is dead, ants eat the bird.
So, time can turn at any time, don’t devalue anyone in life.
You may be powerful but time is more powerful than you.
“One tree makes one thousand of match sticks,
but one match stick can burn one thousand trees”.
Do good & Good will follow you


Ant colonies have well-defined responsibilities. These ants that I found were probably the ‘worker’ ants, who have this duty to search for food. When they set out from home, they leave a scent trail (pheromones) behind them. The ant that finds the food returns on its own trail, leaving behind a stronger scent. Others are likely to stop searching when they find this stronger scent, and they get onto the same trail. They may pick pieces of food and carry them back, one piece each. Or, in cases like these, when the food is ‘big’, the worker ants ‘recruit’ others to help them. They form a team and carry all of the food in one go. And that is what we saw, that afternoon in June.

It was just a short walk around the campus. It taught us the behaviour of birds. It gave us an insight into the life of ants. We headed back, thinking life is beautiful.




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