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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Birding the Extraordinary: Hornbills, Parakeets, and Woodpeckers (plus a Beeeater and a Hoopoe!)

[India, Winter 2013]

After the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet in 1918, the US lost its only endemic parrot (our other native parrot, the Thick-billed Parrot, is not endemic and was extirpated from the US in 1938; seriously endangered, is still hangs on in Northern Mexico). In India, there are 11 species of parrots of which 4 were observed (3 photographed); as well as 2 Hornbills and 2 woodpeckers:

  • Rose-ringed Parakeet
  • Plum-headed Parakeet
  • Malabar Parakeet
  • Malabar Pied Hornbill
  • Indian Grey Hornbill
  • Black-rumped Flameback
  • White-naped Woodpecker
Let's start with the Hornbills:

Malabar Pied Hornbill is a "Near Threatened" hornbill endemic to the subcontinent (contrary to what Wikipedia says -- it is not found in Borneo); this is a huge bird; but as hornbills go, it's only about 3 ft. long (the Great Hornbill is a foot longer).

Malabar Pied Hornbill seen in Goa

When the hornbill flies over, it feels like being in the presence of a pterodactyl: slow, deliberate wing flaps, an imposing aerial movement dominating the skies with its powerful presence.

Indian Grey Hornbill seen at Morjim Beach

The Grey Hornbill is another endemic; smaller and duller than the Malabar Pied, its casque is also subdued compared to the Malabar Pied.

Now the woodies:

Black-rumped Flameback seen at Bharatpur

The Black-rumped Flameback is a Subcontinental endemic; otherwise similar to the Greater Flameback (which is not an endemic), it is not only marginally smaller but has the signature black rump (instead of the red rump on the Greater Flameback).

The golden wings, red crest and black nape of this striking woodpecker contrast with the white underparts marked with black scales.

The next woodpecker is superficially similar -- but note the thick eye-stripe,  clean black lines on the throat (vs. untidy black streaking) and, crucially, the white nape (instead of the black on the Black-rumped). This is the scare endemic White-naped Woodpecker.

White-naped Woodpecker seen at Ranthambhore

And now, the bee-eaters: There are 26 different bee-eater species in the world; their stronghold is in Africa and Asia with only1 species found in all of Europe. India hosts a half-dozen species of which one will be profiled here: the Green Bee-eater.

The Green Bee-eater is widespread bee-eater -- ranging from Africa to Vietnam. This is a colorful bird that specializes (predictably) in eating bees and wasps.

Green Bee-eater seen in Rajasthan

The Green Bee-eater is shaped like a fighter jet: sleek and powerful for making quick maneuvers chasing and catching insects on the fly. The color scheme is overwhelming green, broken only by a cyan throat, a black eye-stripe and gorget.

Related to the Bee-eaters is the Hoopoe but different enough to warrant its own family:

The Hoopoe ranges from Europe through Africa to Asia. It is a species with a long tradition of featuring in our history -- from the Bible (where we are wisely advised not to eat them) to the Egyptians (who considered them sacred) and the Persians (where they were considered a symbol of virtue).

Finally, the parakeets:

Malabar Parakeet seen in Goa

The Malabar or Blue-winged Parakeet is a parrot endemic to the Western Ghats region of India. Both males and females have a black collar; however, the male's bill is red (seen on the left) while the female's bill is black.

The Plum-headed Parakeet is another subcontinental endemic; the male has a striking deep maroon head while the female has a slaty grey head:

Plum-headed Parakeet seen at Ranthambhore

Perhaps the most familiar psittacid in India is the Rose-ringed Parakeet -- it is seen commonly in suburban environments where their noisy shrieks are an indelible part of the audio landscape.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet is found natively in Africa and Asia but has been introduced to England, Australia and also the US. Coincidentally, it is named after the Austrian naturalist Wilhelm Heinrich Kramer who coined the term for the enigmatic shorebird the "Pratincole" [featured in another post].

Rose-ringed Parakeet seen in Rajasthan

Like other parakeets reviewed here, the Rose-ringed is also sexually dimorphic. The female lacks the neck ring and malar stripe.

Rose-ringed Parakeets courting

Bonus birds: 2 doves: the Laughing Dove and Eurasian Collared Dove.

Laughing Dove seen in Haryana

Laughing Dove seen in Haryana

And, the Eurasian Collared Dove; a pigeon that we are only too familiar with given its relentless expansion across the US.

One of the joys of birding exotic lands is to see bird families that are not found here in the US; and the Hornbills in of themselves are sufficient reason to venture abroad!

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