Sunday, March 8, 2020

Birds of Kanha, India: Raptors

One big––really big––caution applies to birding in Kanha Tiger Reserve: Tigers abound, and they find people quite as tasty as a Sambar deer. Therefore, birding is primarily pursued from the confines of a jeep. And therefore, big birds are the easiest to spot and to photograph. Let's start with the raptors seen on this Naturalist Journeys trip!

A very close cousin of the Americas' White-tailed Kite, the Black-winged Kite also hovers over open country to hunt for rodents. When rodent populations suddenly soar, these kites can intensify their breeding efforts, and produce multiple clutches of young in a year, a rare trait among raptors.

A lovely, immature Black-winged Kite
(All photos by Narca)

The very agile Crested Hawk-Eagle feeds on about anything it can catch. Crested Hawk-Eagles are a subspecies of Changeable Hawk-Eagle, an abundant and widely-distributed eagle. DNA studies haven't yet resolved the question of whether the crested and crestless birds actually belong to the same species. These tropical raptors are mostly non-migratory, although on occasion a few explore beyond their normal ranges.

Crested Hawk-Eagle

Another very widespread eagle––the Crested Serpent-Eagle––sports a shaggy crest. It hunts lizards and snakes in areas of thick vegetation.

Crested Serpent-Eagle, bathing

Another raptor with an enormous range is the Eurasian Kestrel, a falcon that ranges across Europe, Asia and Africa. A few have even straggled to North America. Populations in warmer parts of its range are sedentary; others migrate. Like kites, kestrels will hover as they hunt. This kestrel specializes in feeding on mice, voles and shrews, with an occasional grasshopper thrown in.

Eurasian Kestrel male

Quietly roosting in a tall tree at one of our few rest stops (protected by high netting from Tigers), was this pair of Brown Hawk-Owls. Members of the Old World genus Ninox, Brown Hawk-Owl females are smaller than their mates––the reverse of other birds of prey. The three largest Ninox species have this unusual pattern of size. The other singular feature of these three owl species is that they capture mammalian or avian prey at night, and drape the prey below their roosts for an entire day before consuming it. This behavior of "prey holding" happens during the breeding season, and only males do it. Biologists don't know whether this behavior is a form of food storage or territorial display.

Brown Hawk-Owls, roosting

Jungle Owlets live only on the Indian subcontinent. Like closely related pygmy-owls, this owlet is primarily crepuscular, but may also be active during the day.

Jungle Owlet, not deigning to glance our way

Indian Scops-Owls are similar to our screech-owls, and until recently were all put together in the same genus. DNA sequence work has highlighted their differences. In both groups, new species are regularly being recognized or discovered. Two other scops-owls in India can be distinguished from this one by eye color and call.

Indian Scops-Owls, enjoying the early sunshine

Indian Vultures are critically endangered, due to use of diclofenac as a dip for livestock. That product has since been banned in India, with some indications that the vulture populations are beginning to recover. Since the vultures' precipitous decline, biologists have noticed a big increase in populations of feral dogs and rats, and their associated diseases––these animals feed on the carcasses, which vultures used to remove.

Indian Vulture

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