Friday, December 4, 2009

King of the garden

A shrill whistling screeeee! announces the arrival of the King.
Crows bristle, rodents run for cover, and snakes slink away and hide now that someone new has taken over the top spot on the food-chain in my garden.
Behold the Black Kite alias Pariah Kite! Pariah is too ignominous a nickname for the King of my garden but the tag of Black Kite seems to be shared by other birds too so I'll just stick with Pariah Kite.

The Pariah Kite is one of the more commonly seen birds in our city. Seen from far, that is. If you look up at the sky, chances are that you'll see at least a couple of Pariah Kites sailing across Mumbai. Lazy swirls high across the skyscape soon transform into a powerful swoop when they spot something interesting.
They've learnt to adjust to city life and will just as soon scavenge as hunt, I'm told. I find that a bit sad for a bird that is obviously primarily a hunter. But city life can be tough on birds too.

Last year the royal couple looked over my garden and decided it would do to bring up their new heir to the kingdom. They moved into their penthouse suite on top of the tallest coconut tree and set about cleaning up the neighbourhood straight away.

Housekeeping is definitely not their strong point because their nest has to be one of the sloppiest I've ever seen.
But their hunting! I've seen them fly with snakes in their talons and then transfer it to that of their waiting mate. In mid-air!
Of course, the fact that I was standing below them and if they had fumbled in their passing-the-parcel act, a very angry 'parcel' would've landed on me, makes my blood freeze.
But my garden is suddenly more clear of thieving rats and other nasties than it has ever been. For which mercy I would happily crown the Black Kite Emperor of the garden .

Of late, they seem to have become more confident of moving in close even when I am around. Or maybe it's just the irresistible lure of my birdbath. Whatever it may be, it seems like the heavens are a bit closer when they choose to come down to earth.
Doesn't he look majestic? He's got such an imperious look in his eye.
Oh... and I like his trousers too.

A quick scoop of water and it's back to duty. Master of all he surveys and making sure every creature in the vicinity knows it.
Don't miss that wicked beak and huge talons. All the better to rip and rule!


  1. lovely pics! you are bold enough to take those pics I am scared of these
    well I wanted you to Please check my latest post at

    It would be great if you can be a part of Indian Maali

  2. Aren't they amazing! I have Cooper's Hawks here in this garden, and sometimes Red Tail Hawks which make that screeee call. I have seen them catch a meal, but never a snake, yuck!

  3. Sunita,
    Such an interesting read and with wonderful photos too. I've never heard of this kind of kite before. I have had only one kite here in paradise. I had a friend dropping by to go birding and just before she got here a Mississippi Kite flew over our garden! Red-shouldered Hawks are the king of our garden most of the time here. Their favorite food is frogs and we have 11 species in our pond.

  4. Zindagi, I was quite excited to be able to get these photos. Until recently these kites never used to come anywhere close if there was a human around. Looks like they're comfortable with us now.
    By the way, there's absolutely no need to be scared of them. The only time they would think of attacking is probably if their nest is in danger.
    And the Indian Maali site sounds like a great idea :)

  5. Barbee, they're magnificent, aren't they?
    Did you know that the locals call this kite 'Cheel' in imitation of its cry? (Well, screee or cheeel ... who's to say which is right?) ;)
    I've seen photos of the Cooper's Hawk and must say you're lucky to have them around.

    Thanks, Randy.
    Looks like your Kite was planning on showing off for your birding friend :)

  6. Sunita girl ! I can't tell you how much I laughed at that mental picture of you looking up and that snake coming DOWN by mistake .. that will be stuck in my brain the whole day now girl : ) haha
    What a magnificient bird .. very preditory looking indeed and keeping your little garden of Eden clear of the not so nice creatures .. well that is a huge bonus isn't it ?
    Great pictures and story : )

  7. You lucky, lucky woman!
    I've been trying for quite some time to get a decent picture of our local Cooper's hawk. I've done alright, but not like you have.
    Do your king and queen eat other birds in your garden? The Cooper's does and my songbirds rarely come to the feeders anymore.

  8. Magnificent pictures, I really admire birds of prey, their regal look and hunting skills are second to none.

  9. What a splendid and regal creature!

  10. That is some bird Sunita! The only kites I see here are the black ones that fish in the ocean. We could do with some of them here to help us get rid us of the rats and African snails. Great shots and narrated beautifully as usual. How are you coping with the water outages in your city? Here it has gone back hot and humid again. Good weather for the installation of the new kitchen roof but not for the garden.

  11. Joy, you would've seen me run faster than I ever have in my life if that had happened :D
    You wont believe how much safer I feel now when I walk around my garden. There are a lot of poisonous snakes here and I always worry about stepping on one. Now that fear has gone down a bit. Snakes cant be that foolish to move around right under a Kite's gaze, can they?

    Carla, wait for summer and make sure you have a birdbath. I'm sure your hawk is going to come visiting then.
    I havent noticed the Kite going after birds and there are still plenty of them in my garden so I think maybe he's on a non-avian diet.

    Thanks, Rebecca :)
    Birds of prey may not be the most colourful but they're really lovely to watch, aren't they?

    Absolutely, Rosey! I know exactly what you mean about that look... he made me feel like I had to stand up and bow or something.

  12. These Kites go after the fish too, Helen, but usually the fishermen's catch. Not sure about the snails, though.
    The water shortage is creating a lot of trouble in Mumbai. We had such a bad monsoon this year (our water supply is dependent on the rain we get from 3 months of monsoon) that water supply had to be limited. Some areas suffer more than others because of the density of population there. It's all very sad ... the weather is being affected by all that we do and instead of doing something about it, we're just ploughing ourselves deeper into that mess.

  13. Wow! One day when I was walking to the school to pick up my daughter, I heard a racket with all the crows screaming, I looked up in time to see a red-tailed hawk drop the pigeon he had killed as crows dive bombed him. The pigeon plopped down in front of me, missing his wing. Near miss...hopefully your snake would be as dead as the pigeon was!

  14. A lovely post. And yes, his name does his magnificence no justice. His Hindi name 'cheel' is equally colourless.

    I saw my first kite as a kiddy on the schoolground, it swiped my friend's tiffin right from her hands. Still remember those trousers of his too :)

  15. Oh, that poor pigeon! I think we always view Nature with rose-tinted glasses.It is so much more cold-blooded than we think. Blunt, practical, survival of the fittest, food-cycle ... yes, but still cold-blooded.
    Oh yes, I hope that was a dead snake too but it was swinging around a bit too much for comfort :P

    Wordjunkie, that must've given your friend the phobia to beat all phobias! I bet she still checks for kites when she's eating out!
    Oh yeah, his trousers are funny, aren't they? Must've been specially designed to keep the draft away!

  16. Boy! This one sure does look Majestic! Undoubtedly the King of the Garden.

  17. Very interesting post, Sunita! I've never heard of this bird and I must say it sounds audacious. To pass a snake while airborne is an amazing feat. I'm glad they were successful. Nice that they'll rid your garden of the varmints.

  18. What a beautiful raptor Sunita! Great photos... I love the bloomers too... or trousers as you say... I would have loved to have seen that transferring of the snake in mid air!! How exciting to have these creatures so close! Carol

  19. Absolutely, Ever Green Tree! :)

    Hi Grace! They're probably the most commonly seen raptor in our urban areas.
    You bet, I'm glad they got that pass right!

    Carol, it was amazing! Like something you normally see only in Nat Geo or Discovery. A bit scary afterwards because that's when all the what-ifs kick in.
    Would you believe that I had never noticed their legwear till I clicked that one next to my birdbath? Quaint, arent they? :D

  20. Wow! You're lucky to house a royal family in your garden, Sunita! I love watching the Kites soar up high in the sky. Aren't they the majestic ones! Of course, I long to see an eagle here. LOL! Am I wanting too much?

  21. For all you know some of those kites you're seeing could very well be eagles, Chandramouli. apparently the Tawny Eagle looks quite similar to the Pariah Kite. One sure way of telling them apart is by their tail - the Tawny Eagle has a rounded tail while the Pariah Kite has a forked tail.

  22. He is amazing, Sunita, regal and royal in air or on land or limb. But you made my own blood run cold with the thought of a fumbled pass mid air of the snake with you underneath! I love that he will come closer to you too, a testament to the natural offerings of your fine garden. :-)


  23. I wonder whether his growing confidence is an indication that my garden is slipping into the realms of wilderness, Frances. Frankly, if that does happen I don't think I would mind so much. I would just call it a woodland garden ;)
    The thought of a potential fumble while passing the snake did give me quite a few nightmares too.

  24. Sunita,
    What a fine specimen you have watching over your garden. I do love the sound of hawks when they soar to and fro, from tree to tree. There's something about their activity in the garden that makes me feel good about them putting their stamp of approval on the environment we've provided for them to inhabit. You must be quite happy about your visitors, too. They are just so regal. Lovely photos of them.

  25. I know exactly what you mean, Meems! Just having them in my garden makes it that much more special in my eyes.

  26. i luv this bird too ... they r indeed the king of any place :)

  27. Thats so courageous of you to capture this bird. Shots were very finely taken i must say. They sure deserve to be called the "King". You still need to be careful when they are around as their beaks are strongest in the world. Thanks for sharing this wonderful bird with us.

  28. Those bilrds look fierce, I wouldn't really want to have them in my garden... Very interesting post, thanks, Sunita!

  29. Hi Sandeep! I'm sure you get to see a lot of them in Bengaluru. They're city birds to the core.

    Their beaks really look it, Muhammad! I've never felt threatened by them till today. Mainly because I stick to my space and they to theirs, I suppose. All the photographs were clicked from a safe distance away. But yes, I really wouldn't want to mess with them!

    Fierce is the perfect word to describe them, isn't it TIG? In fact they look as if they're perpetually glaring. Still, I love having them in my garden because they get rid of so many pests for me.

  30. Lovely pictures.
    They walk so majestically.

  31. Absolutely! I totally agree about their kingly air.

  32. They truly do look majestic. I'm glad they're keeping your garden critter thugs under control while putting on a lovely show for you and your camera.
    Beautiful photos of this royal pair :)

  33. Kerri, you won't believe just how friendly they've become now. They'll alight and take sips from the bird-bath or the dog's water-bowl even when we're sitting close by. Maybe they know we wont try to hurt them. It's a great feeling to know we've won the confidence of this very regal bird.

  34. Amazing pics! And what an experience!!!

    We have a pair right behind my house on a peepal tree. They frighten when they swoop a little low, but see them freely walking in your garden so close!! These are amazing pictures!

    And they are messy housekeepers? Ha ha :)

  35. Amazing pics! And what an experience!!!

    We have a pair right behind my house on a peepal tree. They frighten when they swoop a little low, but see them freely walking in your garden so close!! These are amazing pictures!

    And they are messy housekeepers? Ha ha :)

  36. Fantastic! I'm sure you must have a rodent-free neighbourhood now, IHM. You're right, it can be a bit startling to see them swoop by you, especially because they're so silent you dont even hear the sound of their wings.
    Oh you better believe they're messy housekeepers! Maybe they're waiting for some flunkey to come and do the cleaning up for them?

  37. Came back to see the pictures :) Yes this is exactly the bird with two nests on the Peepal tree behind my house!! I have seen the bird hop from one nest to the other (The smaller nest is a little below the other, huge one) and today one Kite sat on fresh green branch and spread it's wings majestically!!

  38. Wow! Your birds are truly upscale, IHM! They're a 2-home family ;D
    I think the one sitting with its wings spread must be Junior getting ready to test his wings. I've seen them do that, almost as if they're willing themselves to take off and fly.

  39. How regal! Kites used to visit our school campus in Bangalore during recess and swoop off with our snacks too.

  40. They are regal, aren't they?
    But know what? they're totally bullied by the crows! Any time the kites (both the ones in my bigger garden as well as the ones in my apartment garden) fly low, the crows appear and chase them away.

  41. Always loved your blog stories, written with a smile and a well appointed pen!

    1. Thank you so much for those kind words, Trudi ! :)


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