widespread resident


Sexes alike. Long, snake-like neck, pointed bill and stiff, fan-shaped tail confirm identity. Adult: black above, streaked and mottled with silvery-grey on back  and wings; chocolate-brown head and neck; white stripe down sides of upper neck; white chin and upper throat; entirely black below. Young: brown with  rufous and silvery streaks on mantle. A bird of deep, fresh water; small numbers scattered along with Little Cormorants; highly specialized feeder, the entire structure of the bird is modified for following and capturing fish underwater; swims low in water with only head and neck uncovered; chases prey below water with wings half open, spearing a fish with sudden rapier-like thrusts made possible by bend in neck at 8th and 9th vertebrae, which acts as a spring as it straightens. Tosses fish into air and swallows it head-first. Basks on tree stumps and rocks, cormorant style.

Little Grebe

Sexes alike. India’s smallest waterbird, squat and tailless. Plumage silky and compact; dark brown above; white in-flight feathers; white abdomen. Breeding: chestnut sides of head, neck and throat; black chin; blackish-brown crown and hind-neck. Winter: white chin; brown crown and hind-neck; rufous neck. Purely  aquatic; seen singly or in small, scattered groups, often diving and swimming beneath the surface.

White-eyed Buzzard

Sexes alike. Ashy-brown above; distinct throat, white with two dark cheek-stripes and a third stripe from chin; white nape-patch, white eyes and  orangeyellow cere visible from close quarters; in flight, a pale shoulder-patch from above; from below, the pale underside of roundish wings against a darkish body distinctive. Solitary or scattered pairs; seen on exposed perches, trees, poles or telegraph wires; seems to prefer certain sites; soars high and does aerial displays when breeding.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Sexes alike; female larger. Dark brown plumage; roundish, pied crest, visible when erected; pale brown below, finely spotted white; in overhead flight, the dark body, white bars along the wings and white tail-band confirm identity; characteristic call. Solitary or in pairs, flying over forest, often very high, calling frequently; perches on leafy branches; swoops down on prey, snatching it in its talons; raises crest when alarmed.

Egyptian Vulture

Sexes alike. White plumage; blackish in wings; naked yellow head, neck and throat; yellow bill; thick ruff of feathers around neck; wedge-shaped tail and blackish flight feathers distinctive in overhead flight. The nominate race of NW India is slightly larger and has a dark horny bill. Several usually together, perched atop ruins, earthen mounds or just walking on ground; glides a lot but rarely soars high; sometimes with other vultures.

Black-winged Kite

Sexes alike. Pale greywhite plumage, whiter on head, neck and underbody; short black stripe through eye; black shoulder-patches and wing-tips distinctive at rest and in flight; blood-red eyes. Young: upper body tinged brown, with pale edges to feathers. Usually solitary or in pairs; rests on exposed perch or flies over open scrub and grass country; mostly hunts on wing, regularly hovering like a kestrel to scan ground; drops height to check when hovering, with legs held ready.

River Tern

Sexes alike. Very light grey above; jet-black cap and nape, when breeding; white below; narrow, pointed wings; deeply-forked tail; bright yellow, pointed beak and red legs diagnostic. In winter, black on crown and nape reduced to flecks. Solitary or small flocks, flying about erratically; keeps to riversides, calm waters, large tanks; scans over water, plunging if possible prey is sighted; rests on river banks, noisy and aggressive, especially at nesting colonies (March to mid-June).

Black-headed Gull

Sexes alike. Winter, when in India, greyish-white plumage; dark ear patches; white outer flight feathers, with black tips. Summer breeding: coffee-brown head and upper neck, sometimes acquired just before migration. The Brown-headed Gull C. brunnicephalus is larger and has white patches (mirrors) on black wing-tips. Highly gregarious; large flocks on sea coasts, scavenges in harbours; wheels over busy seaside roads or beaches; large numbers rest on rocky ground and sand; follow boats in harbours.

Small Pratincole

Sexes alike. Brown forehead; sandy-grey above; during breeding has black stripe from eye to beak; white, squarish tail, tipped black; smoky-brown underbody has a rufous wash; whiter on lower breast and abdomen; long, narrow wings and short legs. The Collared Pratincole G. pratincola is larger, with a forked tail and black loop on the throat. Gregarious; large flocks over an open expanse, close to water; very swallow-like in demeanour; strong and graceful flight over water surface, catching insects on wing; flies high in late evening.

River Lapwing

Sexes alike. Black forehead, crown, crest drooping over back; sandy greybrown above; black and white wings; black chin and throat, bordered white; grey-brown breast-band; white below with black patch on belly; black spur at bend of wing. Usually pairs in close vicinity; may collect into small parties during winter, sometimes with other waders; makes short dashes or feeds at water’s edge; often remains in hunched posture, when not easy to spot; slow flight; often swims and dives.