Anand Pendharkar: Avian Morning Ragas

A Tailor bird belting out its song spotted early morning in Andheri
A Tailor bird belting out its song spotted early morning in Andheri

I’m not a morning person. And, if I’m reading, writing or on my movie-watching spree, then I’m almost nocturnal. So, it’s not uncommon for me to be wide awake when the first diurnal birds start their morning symphony. It is, in fact, soothing and stress-relieving to sip my crepuscular tea while catching the starting notes of so many songster birds that inhabit Mumbai city.

All my life I’ve believed that the advantage of starting early morning journeys is the joy of listening to the various bird calls, while the vehicles are not yet buzzing, honking and drowning these avian morning ragas. In my past articles, I’ve talked of fantail flycatchers and magpie robins starting their songs around 4 am. In my recent visit to suburban Kerala, I was lucky to hear the parting calls of a Brown Hawk Owl alongside the punctuated calls of a scops owl, just around 5 am. As if to indicate the proximity of my friend’s house to the famous backwaters of Kerala, we heard the coppersmith-like crepuscular calls of several white-breasted waterhens. Similarly, on spending a night at the IIT-Powai campus, I woke up to the unmistakable calls of a bunch of Spotted Owlets, before they retired into a large tree hole. Throughout the day, the campus is an endless symphony with calls of Grey Wagtail, Grey Hornbill, Rose-ringed and Alexandrine Parakeet, the occasional Black-naped Monarch, Paradise flycatchers and the chattering of roosting Rosy Starlings.

With the onset of winters, Mumbai gets flushed with migratory birds of every feeding guild, especially the insectivorous leaf warblers who can be heard establishing their dominance over other rival males, even in the most sparsely bio-diverse campuses.

Popular locations to record bird songs, without much hassle of permissions, would be housing colonies such as Sundernagar (Malad West), P&T and Airport Colonies (Andheri East) or academic campuses such as TISS (Chembur), Somaiya (Vidyavihar) and Bhavan’s College (Andheri West). One can also enjoy excellent bird sightings and relish their songs in the Ranibaug (Byculla Zoo), Hanging Gardens, Maharashtra Nature Park (Dharavi), Aarey Milk Colony,
the Sagar Upavan (Colaba), Race Course, Five Gardens and the Azad Maidan, too.

As winter progresses, the Black Drongos who have moved into the city also join in the early bird calls with their mimicry act. Contrary to what most people believe, House Sparrows, House and Jungle Crows, Rock Pigeons and Black Kites start calling well after 6 am. By then, there is also the crow pheasant and the occasional golden orioles that bring in the extremes of the vocal scales. The screechy mynas and the flighty sunbirds are a constant presence in areas with gardens or avenue trees.

But, today was a bit special, as while I pulled an all-nighter, conjuring up stories for a children’s nature book series, the twittering of a pair of Tailor birds, declared it was morning. Their hopping and calling, mixed with foraging for caterpillars was simply mesmerising. Sadly, the clank of the milkman’s cycle and the meow of our building cat startled the pair and sent them flying to a neighbouring grove. I can put a specific name to a bird call, if I am in familiar areas, as 70 per cent of my bird identification is based on their calls. But, whenever I’m visiting new cities or forested areas, I make it a point to download a checklist from and listen to unfamiliar bird calls on, a website dedicated to sharing bird sounds.

Bird-call recording is gaining popularity as a hobby among youth with improved recording facilities and apps available in smart phones. You can not only combine them to produce interesting music like beatboxer Ben Mirin, but also contribute to our understanding of bird vocabulary.

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