It all started with a very cheeky thief.
I was standing right next to my Custard Apple tree and admiring the fruit ripening when I saw this green bandit tearing open the sweet fruit and helping himself, as bold as you please!
After I had finished insulting him in every language I knew (and every self-respecting Indian is fluent in at least 3, if not more), I had to admire his sheer gall! I mean, I was right there and he was stealing my fruit away right under my nose. Almost as if he were entitled to it. Or like a true street-smart city guy who saw an opportunity and snatched it.
I swear that it was my sneaking admiration that made me look out for other birds that call Mumbai home.
Where there is one Large Indian Parakeet, or even a Roseringed Parakeet, there is bound to be more. Sure enough, his buddy was sitting high up on the teak tree, tearing the seed pods to pieces.
Teak seeds when there was sweet custard apple at hand? Hmmm ... maybe he was on a high-fibre, sugar-free health trip!
That's not all that'll take their fancy. They're especially fond of tender cashew nuts. When the nuts are still green, the outer shell is still soft enough for their strong, tough beak. They come in huge flocks and descend on my cashew trees, screeching and squabbling amongst themselves. In a few minutes, the ground under the tree is littered with empty nut-shells, greedily torn open for the precious kernel. This doesn't stop their squabbling though because they rise up en masse and descend on the next tree to continue their feasting and gossiping!
Thieves and bandits they may be but they're definitely some of the greatest entertainers in the avian world.
So, who else calls Mumbai their home?
Definitely the common House Crow. As resourceful and shrewd as any person in Mumbai, if not more. He may not win any beauty pageants (totally unlike some stunningly beautiful girls from Mumbai) but what he lacks in looks, he makes up for in the grey cells category. He's omnipresent... look out of any window and you'll find at least 2 or 3 of their tribe on the lookout for a quick meal that they can snatch.
His relative, the Jungle Crow, is a total boor. Bigger, noisier, more aggressive and ill-mannered and not too bothered about who doesn't like him. Every year a flock of Jungle Crows come sweeping into my garden, possibly trying to outrun the cold Himalayan winter chill breezes. They pull out my plants from their pots, snap orchid canes, break off flower-buds and generally make a thorough nuisance of themselves. I'm really glad to see them go. The House Crow looks almost genteel in comparison !
Hidden here in this photo, you'll find one of my favourite birds.
What? You can't see him? Look closer ... there! do you see him perched on those buds near the top of the photo? Maybe it'll help if you'll look for a patch of yellow topped by a metallic gleam of black-green and purple.
Allow me to present one of our tiniest and prettiest birds ... the Purple-rumped Sunbird!
I just love watching their hyperactive lifestyle (sooner them than me!). They flit in and out near the flowering plants, perch daintily on a flower-stalk to sip their fill with their curving beaks and then zip off to the next one. The Thunbergia grandiflora seems to be a favourite with them. So is the Cardinal ipomoea.
I didn't crop this photo so I could give you an idea of just how tiny they are. Did you spot the female Purplerumped Sunbird? There she is, right on top of the Cordia sebestiana (Geiger tree), taking a sip out of the orange flower right on top. Like all the avian females, she's decided the male of the species are nothing to dress up for, and looks rather drab.
Here she is again behind the Geiger flowers! She has just spotted me aiming my camera at her and is immediately alert. Doesn't she look cute, going up on her toes to get a better look?
Here's a closer look at her. This is taken from the window of my apartment on a busy street in Mumbai. Luckily the vertical growth of the city seems to be helping me in watching birds at a closer range than I would otherwise be able to.
And that's a closer look at her boyfriend. Isn't he magnificent!
I wish I had a better photo which would show him in all his metallic gleaming splendour. Since I don't have a good one which I took myself, I'm adding a link to one I found on the Net.
I found this Sunbird nest the other day, Slightly dilapidated but still identifiable with all kinds of fluff and junk incorporated into the making of it. What I find really cute is the little projection above the entrance hole. A little over-hang to keep the rain and sun out while Mrs. Sunbird is busy keeping the eggs warm but still poking her head out for fresh air and just to keep her eye on things!
The Weaver bird's nest seems to follow the same suspended style but is much more elaborate. This is an incomplete one which I found lying on the ground and hung it up hoping to lure more of them into my garden.
I love the cheery yellow on the Weaver bird. He looks like a sparrow who went technicolour!This one was a regular visitor to my garden in summer but I think he was staying in the tadgola (palmyrah) palm trees nearby. I've seen huge colonies of weaver birds there busy making their incredible nests.
Another gorgeous yellow bird is the Golden Oriole which is unfortunately a winter visitor as far as I know. I've never seen them around in the other seasons. I found them incredibly shy and difficult to photograph . All that I usually see of them is a quick flash of gold as they flit between trees.
Another of my favourites is the Paradise Flycatcher. The adult male is spectacular with a gleaming black crest on his head and white body with 2 extra-long tail feathers that flutter and trail behind him like streamers as he flies.
The only problem with him is that he's very shy. The slightest sound or motion and he's off again to another corner.
Another crested favourite is the Redwhiskered Bulbul. I love his birdcall ... its such a liquid sound! He is a very common bird in Indian gardens but a very welcome one, if only for his cheerful call and perky looks.
His cousin, the Redvented Bulbul doesn't look so cute but his birdcall is just as cheery. I see them very often on my Michaellia champaca tree, feeding on the berries. They're apparently just as fond of snacking on termites. Hey, no wonder I like them!
And this is how he got his name ... see that flash of red ?
Maybe this is the cause? I'm not suggesting anything, but I've seen the Bulbuls gorging on these extra-spicy bird's eye chillies as if they were going on a diet the next day!
And of course, how could I forget the pigeons? They're so much a part of the Mumbai city-scape.
While I may grouch at them for messing up my window-sills and stuffing my ac-unit with twigs for nesting, there are many people in Mumbai who enjoy feeding these lucky birds. Kabutarkhaanas all over Mumbai are where they go to throw grain to the pigeons, and far from being bird-brains, the pigeons have quickly learnt where to hang around if they want a free meal.
I would have named these the Pariah Kites seen all over Mumbai. But they seem to lack the forked tail which is so distinctive of the Pariah Kites. So are these Tawny Eagles instead?
A pair of them had nested on a palmyra palm tree near my apartment. I can't say much about their housekeeping skills because their nest seemed to be a jumble of sticks and the dried flowers of the palm . But their parenting skills are fantastic with both parents chipping in to take great care of their heir (or heiress).
The Indian Mynah is one of the most commonly seen birds in the gardens in Mumbai. He's a bossy little guy who struts around making sure all bugs are kept in their place ... in his own tummy! The Mynah is one of the best assets a garden can have.
Both male and female are almost always seen together and seem to be one of those Made for Each Other couples that you always keep hearing about. But what really tickles my funny bone is that very bright mask and boots they seem to be wearing!
The Pied Mynah on the other hand is a seasonal visitor I think. Or is more shy (can such a word be applied to any Mynah?) than his cousin because I've only seen them in summer when they visit my birdbath.
This little guy is another of my best help in the garden. I'm not too sure what he's called but I think he must be an Ashy Wren-Warbler . He's got the same look and the perky tail which he keeps snapping up and down all the time.
Tinier than sparrows, I find them hopping around among the plants looking for bugs. Natural pest control!
There's no mistaking the Tailor Bird though. With his pointy needle-like beak, he's quite a jaunty little character. And yes, he's another very welcome friend in the garden. He'll even hop onto a tree-trunk hunting for his food. Do you see him clinging on to the cashew tree?
And what does he eat? Insects, their eggs and grubs.... need I say more?
Remember Rudyard Kipling's 'Rikki-Tikki Tavi'? Mr. and Mrs. Tailor Bird played quite a big role in that book . And considering that Kipling spent quite a few years living in Mumbai (back when it was still called Bombay) , it isn't surprising that so many of our commonly seen animals and birds show up in his books.
The Coppersmith Barbet is more often heard than seen in Mumbai. His repetitive and resonating tuk-tuk-tuk calls seem to come from every direction at once. When I first saw him (not easy, he's so well-camouflaged in leaf-green feathers. The red cap can give him away, though), I was surprised that such a loud sound was coming from such a small bird.
That's a lot of lung power in such a little guy!
The Cattle Egret is a common sight in marshy areas and the mangroves of Mumbai see a lot of them. They got their name from the fact that they're often seen near grazing cattle, looking out for insects and frogs which show themselves when disturbed by the cattle.
This guy came visiting me one day, tempted by the frogs near my lawn, I think. He wouldn't stay though, and took off as soon as he saw me. I wish he had stayed ... he could've feasted on the grasshoppers too.
Sparrows are common all over the world I think. But the Spice Finch or Nutmeg Mannikin seen here with the sparrow, seems to be on the bird fanciers' list. Lucky for me, they seem to like my garden and don't need to be caged to stay around and be seen.
The Babblers are not the cutest of birds. In fact, they look a little mean and suspicious . Maybe that's why they're always found in a group of their own, foraging through the dry leaves and undergrowth.
The Black Drongo is another of our common birds and also one of our most vigilant. You'll often find them perched on a branch or wire, looking out for insects. I love their quick swooping flights when they find a juicy tempting morsel ... which seems to be very often in my garden.
How did I almost forget the Magpie-Robin? Burdened with a double-barrelled name, he's still one of the cheeriest birds in Mumbai. He looks a bit frowzled here because he's sitting on a bare branch on a windy day.
He's usually very sleek and dapper as you see in this photo. The female is dark gray, not black . I see them hopping around my lawn looking out for insects. Bon Appetit!
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the birds in Mumbai. I've left out too many because I'm running out of space (I am writing a blog, not a book) and also because I don't have their photos.
But I just can't go without showing you one of the most brilliantly coloured birds that visit my garden in Mumbai ... the Whitebreasted Kingfisher.
What is a Kingfisher doing in a garden? This one like most city-dwellers, is not fussy. In fact he's downright adventurous in his food habits. I've seen him hunting butterflies and I even read a post which described him eating baby snakes.
How much more cosmopolitan can you get?
(the quality of some of these photos leaves a lot to be desired ... sorry! Clicking tiny birds which are more than 30 - 40 feet away and more, needs a more powerful camera than my point-and-shoot)