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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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This page is designed in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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Black-throated Munia
 (Lonchura kelaarti)
Black-throated Munia, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The black-throated munia or Jerdon's mannikin is a small passerine bird. This estrildid finch is a resident breeding bird in the hills of southwest India, the Eastern Ghats and Sri Lanka.

The black-throated munia is a small gregarious bird which feeds mainly on seeds. It frequents open hill woodland and cultivation. The nest is a large domed grass structure in a tree or creepers on a house into which 3-8 white eggs are laid in India, and usually five in Sri Lanka.

The black-throated munia is 12 cm in length with a long black tail. The adult of the southwest Indian population, L. k. jerdoni, has a stubby grey bill, dark brown upperparts with pale shaft streaks; a blackish face and bib; and pinkish brown underparts with scaly marking towards the vent. The Eastern Ghats form vernayi has paler pinkish underparts. The nominate form L. k. kelaarti of Sri Lanka has scaly patterning on the underparts and vent with the pale almost whitish shaft streaks contrasting on the darker back. The sexes are similar in all populations, but immatures lack the darker face and have more uniform underparts.

Broad-tailed Grassbird
 (Schoenicola platyurus)
Broad-tailed Grassbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The broad-tailed grassbird is a species of Old World warbler in the Locustellidae family. It is endemic to the Western Ghats of India with a possibility of occurrence in Sri Lanka. A small, mostly brown bird, it has a broad rounded and graduated tail. It is found only on the higher altitude grassy hills where it usually skulks, except during the breeding season when males fly up into the air to sing in their display. The species is believed to be a resident although it is possible that they make local movements.

The uniform brown upperparts, broad, round-tipped and long graduated tail of the bird is distinctive. The species has a buff supercilium and the brown tail has thin dark bars. The underside of the tail is very dark and the feathers are tipped with white. Males and females are indistinguishable in plumage. The call of the male during breeding is a lark-like and repeated trill that is accompanied by fanned tail and a fluttering flight. Other calls include a chack and a zink note. The gape colour is black and visible in singing males but is brown in females. In the non-breeding season, it is a skulker moving rapidly between grass and reeds but sometimes perches in the open.

The species has in former times included the African Schoenicola brevirostris which was originally called Catriscus apicalis and later as Schoenicola platyura brevirostris. The Indian species was first described by Jerdon who found the bird at the base of the Gudalur ghat at the foothills of the Nilgiris. The bill is short strong and culmen is slightly curved in the genus and there are two rictal bristles. The tarsus is somewhat long for the proportions. The populations north and south of the Palghat gap are said to differ in plumage shade, the northern form being larger and paler and greyer above with the flanks sandy-brown. The southern form is dark rufous brown above and more whitish below with bright buff on the breast and flanks. This plumage variation was earlier believed to be seasonal. Molecular phylogeny studies place the genus in the warbler subfamily Megalurinae (along with Megalurus, Chaetornis and Graminicola).

The species is restricted to grassy moist highlands, principally in the Western Ghats of southern India mainly south of Karnataka but with some records from Lonavla and Nasik. A specimen was collected by S. A. Hussain at Point Calimere that suggests that the bird may be involved in local movements or migrations possibly into Sri Lanka. Suggestions that it may occur in Sri Lanka are as yet not well supported, there is an old specimen (collected by H. Cumming who has been considered unreliable and doubtfully identified by Colonel Legge) and two unconfirmed sight records from Gammaduwa, Matale Hills and Waitalawa, Rangala Hills. The species has not been reported from the Biligirirangan Hills.

The breeding season appears to be March to May but nests have been seen in July and September and the bird is suspected to raise two broods. The nest is a ball of coarse grass blades with an entrance on the side and placed low in a tussock of long grass. The eggs are white with spot and blotches of brownish red. The usual clutch is about 2 or 3 eggs. It feeds on insects.

Crimson-backed Sunbird
 (Leptocoma minima)
Crimson-backed Sunbird, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The crimson-backed sunbird or small sunbird is a sunbird endemic to the Western Ghats of India. Like other sunbirds, they feed mainly on nectar although they take insects, especially to feed their young. They are tiny birds that are resident and are found in forests but are particularly attracted to gardens at the edge of the forest where people grow suitable flower-bearing plants. They usually perch while taking nectar.

Crimson-backed sunbirds are tiny, even by sunbird standards, and are only 8 cm long. They have medium-length thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations for nectar feeding.

The adult male is velvety red on the mantle and wing coverts and there is a broad red breast band. The crown is shiny green and there are pink-violet patches on the throat and rump. The underside from the breast below is yellowish. There is a black edge to the bib that separates the yellow of the underside. The larger purple-rumped sunbird can appear very similar but this sunbird has a darker maroon on the upper side while the flanks and vent are whitish. The eclipse plumage (non-breeding) of the male has more olive on the head and velvet red is restricted to the lower mantle and wing coverts. The female is olive-brown but the rump is distinctly red. They are attracted to flower-rich gardens at the edges of forests or plantations.

The calls include short chik calls and longer chee-chee-which-chee.

The pendant nest is built under a fern or shrub and is covered in moss

The crimson-backed sunbird is an endemic resident breeder in the Western Ghats of India. The peak nesting season is December to March but has been known to nest in nearly all months of the year in the southern Western Ghats. Two eggs are laid in a suspended nest on a thin drooping branch of low tree, fern frond or shrub. Both the male and female take part in nest building with the interior mainly built by the female. The eggs are mainly incubated by the female but males may involve themselves in feeding the young. The incubation period is about 18–19 days.

These birds are important pollinators of some plant species.

Males establish and defend feeding territories on flower bearing shrubs and trees. Plants such as Helixanthera intermedia which had a lot of nectar were defended more vigorously. Being small birds they may be killed by attack from insects like praying mantises too

Although resident in many areas, they may make altitudinal movements in response to rains. In some areas they move to the foothills during the monsoons and move to the higher regions after the rains.

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Flame-throated Bulbul
 (Pycnonotus gularis)
Flame-throated Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The flame-throated bulbul is a member of the bulbul family of passerine birds. It is found only in the forests of the Western Ghats in southern India. Formerly included as a subspecies of Pycnonotus flaviventris it has since been elevated to the status of a full species. They are olive backed with yellow undersides, a triangular orange-red throat and a white iris that stands out against the contrasting black head. They are usually seen foraging in groups in the forest canopy for berries and small insects. They have a call often with two or three tinkling notes that can sound similar to those produced by the red-whiskered bulbul. The species has been referred to by names in the past such as ruby-throated bulbul and black-headed bulbul, but these are ambiguous and could apply to other species such as Pycnonotus flaviventris and P. dispar.

The species was described by John Gould in December 1835 (but published in 1836) based on a specimen in the Zoological Society of London that had been obtained from Travancore State. Gould noted that it was very similar to Brachypus dispar that had been described by Thomas Horsfield and placed the new species likewise in the genus Brachypus as B. gularis. Viscount Walden suggested that this had already been described by Jerdon as Brachypus rubineus and called as the "ruby-throated bulbul" (although this name was published later). This was later included as a subspecies of a larger number of similar bulbuls in the Asian region under a broadly circumscribed Pycnonotus melanicterus. With the re-resurgence of the phylogenetic species concept, the isolated population in the Western Ghats of India was separated as the flame-throated bulbul. The crested populations in the Eastern Ghats and Himalayas that lack the red throat which were treated as subspecies flaviventris were also elevated into full species as Pycnonotus flaviventris. Pycnonotus melanicterus in the new and narrow circumscription only included the Sri Lankan population referred to as the black-capped bulbul. This treatment was followed by Pamela Rasmussen in Birds of South Asia and the Handbook of the Birds of the World which were both published in 2005 by Lynx Edicions. A 2017 study noted that the Western Ghats P. gularis and Sri Lankan P. melanicterus were closely related within the clade that includes P. montis, P. dispar, and P. flaviventris (the older and broader circumscription of melanicterus).

The flame-throated bulbul is about 18 cm long with an olive green back and yellow underparts, a squarish black head without a crest, an orange-red throat. The iris is white and contrasts with the dark head. The legs are brown and the gape is yellowish-pink. The bill is dark brown to black. The plumage of young birds has not been described.

The flame-throated bulbul is found in the Western Ghats from southern Maharashtra and Goa southwards. It is a bird of forest that is only rarely seen at the edges of forests or inside coffee plantations.

The flame-throated bulbul keeps in small flocks and feeds on berries, including those of Lantana sp. It inhabits evergreen forests often along streams and valleys. The flame-throated bulbul feeds on fruit and insects sometime in mixed species foraging flocks.

Populations appear to move seasonally within the Western Ghats.

The breeding season is mostly from February to April. The nest is a small cup, placed in undergrowth from 1 to 3 metres from the ground level and is usually made of yellowing leaves bound with cobwebs and can easily be mistaken for a wind-blown accumulation of dry leaves.

Grey-headed Bulbul
 (Pycnonotus priocephalus)
Grey-headed Bulbul, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The grey-headed bulbul is a member of the bulbul family, Pycnonotidae. It is endemic to the Western Ghats in south-western India, and found from Goa south to Tamil Nadu at altitudes up to 1200m. It is found in dense reeds or thickets mainly near rivers and swampy areas inside forests. They have a distinctive call that reveals their presence inside dense vegetation where they are hard to spot. Their taxonomic position within the bulbuls is not clear.

The grey-headed bulbul was originally described by Thomas Jerdon under the name of Brachypus priocephalus but was then "emended" in error by Edward Blyth to Brachypodius poiocephalus and the confusion carried forward in literature. Formerly, some authorities placed this species within the genus Ixos.

The genus Pycnonotus as currently defined has been identified as polyphyletic and the genus placement for this species may change in the future. This species has not been used in recent molecular phylogeny studies of the group.

The common name 'grey-headed bulbul' is also used as an alternate name for the yellow-bellied bulbul.

This bulbul is resident in moist broad-leaved evergreen forest with bamboo and dense undergrowth. Its plumage is olive-green, with a medium-grey on the crown head, nape and throat. The forehead is yellow-green. The back, wings are olive green becoming lighter towards the vent. The rump has yellowing green feathers edged in black giving a barred appearance. The flanks are dark and grey edged. The undertail coverts are gray. The beak is greenish and grey while the legs are pinkish yellow. The iris is distinctly bluish white. The tail is grey on the central feathers (the shaft being black), the outer ones are black and are broadly tipped with grey. Both sexes are similar but juveniles have the head dark olive with the yellow on the forehead duller. (Length 143-152mm; head 33-35mm; tail 74-77mm) The call is a sharp chraink. The call is distinct in having a single syllable unlike those of the core Pycnonotus genus members.

Grey-headed bulbuls breed from January to June with a peak in April. The nest is a typical platform placed inside a low bush. They build their nest over a period of a week using vines, grasses or leaves. Many nests in a study in the Silent Valley National park were found to be made on saplings of Syzygium species or in reeds of Ochlandra travancorica. The typical clutch is one egg or sometimes two eggs that are incubated for 12 to 14 days. Eggs are sometimes destroyed and eaten by palm squirrels. The eggs are pale pink to lavender and flecked in red, more densely on the broad end. Both parents take part in incubation and feeding. The nestlings leave the nest after 11 to 13 days.The diet consists mainly of fruits (>65%) and invertebrates (>30%). Fruits include those of Symplocos cochinchinensis, Antidesma menasu, Clerodendrum viscosum, Syzygium cumini, Litsea floribunda, Maesa indica, Callicarpa tomentosa, Leea indica and Lantana camara.

Legge's Hawk-Eagle
 (Nisaetus kelaarti)
Legge's Hawk-Eagle, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

Legge's hawk-eagle is a bird of prey. Like all eagles, it is in the family Accipitridae. It breeds in the Indian subcontinent, from southern India to Sri Lanka. Its specific name kelaarti honors the physician-zoologist E.F. Kelaart.

Legge's hawk-eagle is a medium-sized eagle and fairly large-sized raptor. The typical adult has brown upperparts and pale underparts, with barring on the undersides of the flight feathers and tail. The breast and belly are heavily streaked. The wings are broad with a curved trailing edge, and are held in a shallow V in flight. Sexes are similar, but young birds are often whiter-headed.

Legge's hawk-eagle was formerly considered to be a subspecies of the mountain hawk-eagle, but it is smaller and has unstreaked buff underwing coverts. A 2008 study based on the geographic isolation and differences in call suggested that this be treated as a full species, Nisaetus kelaarti. When all standard measurements are considered, Legge's hawk-eagles average about 5-10% smaller than mountain hawk eagles, although Legge's tail length is slightly greater on average. Furthermore, one male from Sri Lanka weighed 1.93 kg, slightly less than most male mountain hawk-eagles. In average total length, males Legge's hawk-eagles average about 70 cm and females average about 76 cm .

It is a bird of mountain woodland that builds a stick nest in a tree and lays usually a single egg in a clutch. Legge's hawk-eagles eat small mammals, birds and reptiles. Despite its relatively modest size, Legge's hawk-eagle is a powerful predator with large talons, like many booted eagles, and is sometimes known to occasionally pursue prey as heavy or heavier than itself. This may include Indian peafowl, estimated to weigh 2.8 to 4 kg.

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Malabar Barbet
 (Psilopogon malabaricus)
Malabar Barbet, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The Malabar barbet is a small barbet found in the Western Ghats of India. It was formerly treated as a race of the crimson-fronted barbet. It overlaps in some places with the range of the coppersmith barbet and has a similar but more rapid call.

This species can be told apart from the coppersmith barbet by the crimson face and throat. The call notes are more rapidly delivered than in the other species.

This species is found in the Western Ghats from around Goa south to southern Kerala in moist evergreen forest mainly below 1200 m elevation. They are also found in coffee estates. They often visit fruiting Ficus species, joining flocks of green pigeon and mynas.

These birds are usually seen in pairs during the breeding season but are gregarious in the non-breeding season. In flight, their straight and rapid flight can resemble that of lorikeets. The breeding season is mainly February–March prior to the rains. The nest hole is excavated on the underside of thin branches. It takes about 18 days to excavate the nest. These nest holes are often destroyed by larger barbets that may attempt to enlarge the hole. A nest is made each year. Multiple holes may be made and any extra hole may be used for roosting. Two eggs are laid in a clutch. They are incubated for 14 to 15 days. Eggs may be preyed upon by palm squirrels and they are usually chased away by the adult birds. Unhatched eggs are removed by the parents. For the first week the chicks are fed insects after which they are fed fruits. The chicks fledge in about 35 days.

The species feeds mainly on fruits but sometimes takes grubs, termites (flycatching at emerging swarms of alates), ants and small caterpillars. In Kerala, the fruiting trees were limited mainly to Ficus species, especially Ficus retusa, Ficus gibbosa and Ficus tsiela. When feeding on small fruits, they tend to perch and peck rather than to swallow the fruit whole. In the non-breeding season, they join mixed-species foraging flocks.

Malabar Gray Hornbill
 (Ocyceros griseus)
Malabar Gray Hornbill, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The Malabar grey hornbill is a hornbill endemic to the Western Ghats and associated hills of southern India. They have a large beak but lack the casque that is prominent in some other hornbill species. They are found mainly in dense forest and around rubber, arecanut or coffee plantations. They move around in small groups, feeding on figs and other forest fruits. Their loud cackling and laughing call makes them familiar to people living in the region.

The Malabar grey hornbill is a large bird, but mid-sized for a hornbill, at 45 to 58 cm in length. It has a 23 cm tail and pale or yellowish to orange bill. Males have a reddish bill with a yellow tip, while the females have a plain yellow bill with black at the base of the lower mandible and a black stripe along the culmen. They show a broad whitish superciliary band above the eye, running down to the neck. They fly with a strong flap and glide flight and hop around heavily on the outer branches of large fruiting trees. They have brown-grey wings, a white carpal patch and black primary flight feathers tipped with white. The Indian grey hornbill, which is found mainly on the adjoining plains, is easily told apart by its prominent casque, and in flight by the white trailing edge of the entire wing. The Malabar grey hornbill has a grey back and a cinnamon vent. The long tail is blackish with a white tip, and the underparts are grey with white streaks. The long curved bill has no casque. Immature birds have browner upperparts and a yellow bill. Young birds have a dull white or yellow iris.

Their loud calls are distinctive and include "hysterical cackling", "laughing" and "screeching" calls.

The Malabar grey hornbill is a common resident breeder in the Western Ghats and associated hills of southern India. They are found mainly in dense forest habitats; the thinner dry forest habitat of the plains is typically occupied by the Indian grey hornbill. The Sri Lanka grey hornbill was included with this species in the past, but is now considered distinct.

This hornbill is found in small groups mainly in habitats with good tree cover. Being large frugivores, they are important as seed dispersal agents for many species of fruit bearing forest trees. They also feed on small vertebrates and in captivity they will readily take meat.

The breeding season is January to May. Being secondary cavity nesters (incapable of excavating their own nests), they find trees with large cavities. A study in the Anaimalai Hills showed that the species preferred nest sites that had large trees. The nest holes were usually found in large trees with hollows caused by heart-rot, where a branch had broken off. Trees of the species Lagerstroemia microcarpa, Terminalia bellirica and Terminalia crenulata were found to hold nearly 70% of all the nests in the Mudumalai area. The species is monogamous, and the same nest sites are used by the pair year after year. The female incarcerates herself within the cavity by sealing its entrance with a cement made from her droppings. The female then lays three or sometimes four white eggs and begins a complete moult of her flight feathers. The entrance to the nest retains a narrow aperture through which the female voids excreta and receives food from the male. The male brings all the food needed for the female and the young. Berries, insects, small rodents and reptiles are included in the diet. Males tap the tree to beckon the female on arriving with food. Berries are regurgitated one at a time and shifted to the tip of the bill before being passed to the female.

Malabar Starling
 (Blyth’s Starling)
Malabar Starling, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

The Malabar starling is a species of starling found one in western-ghats of India. It was previously considered a subspecies of the chestnut-tailed starling.

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