The Majestic Blue Peafowl

February 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Peafowl constitutes three species, the Indian peacock or the Indian peafowl or the Blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus L.) distributed widespread across the entire Indian subcontinent; the Green peafowl or the Java peafowl (Pavo muticus L.) restricted predominantly to South-East Asia; and the Congo peafowl or Congo peacock (Afropavo congensis Chapin) endemic to the Congo basin of central Africa. Although the Blue Peafowl is in the Least Concern category of IUCN, the green peafowl has been placed under Endangered and the Congo Peacock under Vulnerable status. The Indian and African species are sexually dimorphic, suggesting that male and female members show distinctly different appearance and plumage; while the Green peafowls are almost similar in appearance. The most common and widely distributed among these three is the majestic Indian peafowl or the Blue Peafowl found across the entire Indian subcontinent including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan, as far as Sri Lanka (Pavo cristatus singhalensis) and as an introduced species in the continents of North America, Europe and Australia. The species is unfortunately reported to be extinct in the wild in Bangladesh.

Map of the Indian subcontinent showing native range/distribution of Blue peafowl.

The Blue peafowl (peacock) is the national bird of the Republic of India and has been an inseparable part of the local culture, religion, tradition and history, art and sculpture, myths and legends of the great Indian subcontinent from time immemorial. It is believed that the bird was introduced in Europe by Alexander’s retreating army after their grand campaigns in Persia and India; as an exotic bird species for the elites of the society with spectacular beauty. The spectacular courtship behavior of the Blue peafowl has been a part of several local myths and legends related to eternal love and romanticism for centuries and mentioned in several ancient texts and scriptures suggesting their long association with their human neighbors. The bird has been a symbol of the royalty and elites and has been a regular pet reared in the royal gardens and parks in both ancient and medieval India along with spotted (axis) deer and black bucks.

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi
The blue peafowl has a characteristic blue and green image with iridescent properties. Occasional white peafowls (mostly leucistic) are also reported that are commonly breed by zoological gardens and by private bird parks or gardens across the globe for their high ornamental values and popularity with the visitors. True albinos are also reported but comparatively rare in nature. The most spectacular aspect of the Blue peafowl is the majestic tail feathers of the males (peacocks) with distinct “eyes” that are best observed when the males display their tail feathers well stretched to attract the females for breeding purposes. Although the males of the species (peacocks) are characterized by their spectacular colorful feathers; the females (peahens) are less spectacularly ornamented with a mix of dull green, grey, white and brown feathers and are slightly smaller in size than the males. They also lack the long extensive tail feathers of the peacocks. Both have crest or crown on their heads, but the peacocks have brighter colors compared to the peahens. The young and immature peafowls (peachicks) are dull in coloration, varying between tawny to yellow and with inconspicuous patches or streaks of dull brown or white.

Photo credit: Peiman Zandi
The species exhibit elaborate courtship displays, with several competing males (peacocks) displaying their majestic tail feathers with distinctive eyes to a target female (peahen). The peahens sleet the individuals with most elaborate displays which is believed to be sign for their genetic fitness and good health and features. There are several theories put forward since the time of Charles Darwin in explaining such elaborate courtship displays and their role in evolution. They constitute one of the best examples for sexual selection.

Photo credit: Rahul Ray
The males are extremely territorial and they defend their territory fiercely by engaging in close combats with their challengers and intruders; and are often quite aggressive during the breeding season and in defending their nesting sites from different predators. These are terrestrial birds that nest and forage on the ground and roost on the branches of high trees. Their diets include a mixture of various plants and plant parts, different arthropods including insects, reptiles (snakes) and amphibians (frogs). They are a noisy species with frequent territorial and alarm calls of the males are a well know feature of wild India. Several pairs may nest close to one another and raise their chicks; but are extremely territorial and intolerant, if another (particularly males) dare to venture into the territory claimed by a resident breeding couple.

Photo credit: Rahul Ray
Article contributed by: Rahul Ray and Saikat Kumar Basu

Drone Technology in Bird Conservation

May 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

As technology advances, more and more applications are being found for the use of drones – unmanned aerial systems – which were initially developed primarily for military use. Conservationists have recognized the value of having ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in vast untamed regions where poaching is a problem, and countries like Namibia and Nepal are making use of drones to monitor vulnerable wildlife and stop poachers before they strike, rather than tracking them down and catching them after the damage is done. The potential for using drones in bird conservation efforts is diverse, and in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is reportedly using drone technology to monitor the nests of rare birds and introduced species.

Designed by Nigel Butcher of the RSPB, the drone is powered by six small electric motors that run so quietly they barely make a sound, and most importantly, do not disturb the birds. Using the marsh harrier as an example, Butcher notes that entering the area around the nests to put up cameras may result in the parents deserting the nest, a behavior they are known for. The drone, on the other hand, can fly in and film activity in the nest, transmitting images via live video feed to researchers. Moreover, birds and mammals that are active at night can be tracked with the use of thermal imaging technology, providing valuable information to researchers.

In addition to monitoring the breeding patterns of marsh harriers and bitterns, the drone technology is being used to keep track of cranes and corncrakes which are being reintroduced into areas in the UK, from where they had disappeared. Drones will also be used to film inaccessible nesting areas in the Minsmere Reserve for the BBC Spring Watch series. Located on the Suffolk coast, RSPB Minsmere is one of the UK’s most biodiverse reserves, and viewers will have the opportunity to see some of its natural bounty right in their own homes, starting on May 26 and running for three weeks.

The Spectacular Himalayan Monal

March 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

As one of the more colorful members of the pheasant family, the Himalayan monal features iridescent plumage in shades of blue, green and red. Its back is purple-black, with a dark brown breast, light brown tail feathers and white throat. Its white rump patch is only visible in flight. The male of the species boasts a metallic green head crest with spoon-shaped feathers, while the female has a shorter, brown colored crest. The Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) is the national bird of Nepal and is referred to as the Danphe, and it is the official bird of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where it is referred to as the Monal.

The Himalayan monal uses a number of different call types to communicate with other birds in its flock, and to warn off intruding birds. In addition to using courting calls, males bob their head crests and fan their tail feathers to attract the attention of a mate. Also, during breeding season, males become far more vocal, calling throughout the day instead of only in the early mornings. After mating, the female scrapes a hollow in the ground to lay her three to five eggs in. Only the female incubates the eggs, but the male will remain close by to protect the female and their offspring until they fledge. By the age of six months, young Himalayan monals are independent of their parents and will search for food and find mates to continue the cycle.

Himalayan monals have powerful legs and strong curved beaks to allow them to dig into hard mountain soil in their search for tubers, shoots, seeds, insects and berries. Birders can be on the lookout for these stunning birds when they come across areas of turned over soil on hillsides, as this the telltale evidence of their foraging activities.

As a high-altitude species, Himalayan monals remain between 2,100 and 4,500 meters above sea level, and during the summer months generally move above the tree-line of their mountainous terrain, but in winter will find shelter in the rhododendron, coniferous and mixed forests of Nepal and the other countries in which it is found, which includes Bhutan, northeast India and southern Tibet.

New Bird Species Discovered in Eastern Nepal

June 9, 2008 by  
Filed under News

It isn’t every day that ornithologists can claim to have discovered a new species of bird, but that is exactly what is happening in eastern Nepal. A team of ornithologists, who are affiliated with Bird Conservation Nepal (BCN), has recorded the new species and labeled it ‘Syke’s Nightjar’. The BCN is an authorized ornithological body that is devoted to the keeping of accurate records related to bird conservation in Nepal.

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