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Asian Koel

Eudynamys scolopaceus

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The Asian koel is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes. It is found in the Indian Subcontinent, China, and Southeast Asia. It forms a superspecies with the closely related black-billed and Pacific koels which are sometimes treated as subspecies. The Asian koel is a brood parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of crows and other hosts, who raise its young. They are unusual among the cuckoos in being largely frugivorous as adults. The name koel is echoic in origin with several language variants. The bird is a widely used symbol in Indian poetry.

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The Asian koel is a large, long-tailed, cuckoo measuring 39–46 cm and weighing 190–327 g. The male of the nominate race is glossy bluish-black, with a pale greenish grey bill, the iris is crimson, and it has grey legs and feet. The female of the nominate race is brownish on the crown and has rufous streaks on the head. The back, rump and wing coverts are dark brown with white and buff spots. The underparts are whitish, but is heavily striped. The other subspecies differ in colouration and size. The upper plumage of young birds is more like that of the male and they have a black beak. They are very vocal during the breeding season (March to August in the Indian Subcontinent), with a range of different calls. The familiar song of the male is a repeated koo-Ooo. The female makes a shrill kik-kik-kik... call. Calls vary across populations.

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They show a pattern of moult that differs from those of other parasitic cuckoos. The outer primaries show a transilient (alternating) ascending moult while the inner primaries are moulted in stepwise descending order.

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The Asian koel was originally described by Linnaeus as Cuculus scolopaceus based on a specimen he received from the Malabar region. The species has variations within its wide range with several island populations and a number of taxonomic variations have been suggested. The black-billed koel of the Sulawesi region and the Pacific koel of Australasia are sometimes considered conspecific with the Asian koel in which case the "combined" species is known as the common koel. Due to differences in plumage, colour of bill and voice, the three are increasingly treated as separate species. Alternatively, only the black-billed koel has been considered as a separate species, or the Asian koel has included all subspecies otherwise included in the Pacific koel, except for the subspecies breeding in Australia, which then has the name Australian koel.

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The Asian koel is a bird of light woodland and cultivation. It is a mainly resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to southern China and the Greater Sundas. They have great potential in colonizing new areas, and were among the pioneer birds to colonize the volcanic island of Krakatau. They first arrived in Singapore in the 1980s and became very common birds.

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The Asian koel is a brood parasite, and lays its single egg in the nests of a variety of birds, including the jungle crow, and house crow. In Sri Lanka before 1880 it was only known to parasitize the jungle crow, later shifting to the house crow. A study in India found 5% of Corvus splendens and 0.5% of Corvus macrorhynchos nests parasitized.

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In Bangladesh, they parasitise long-tailed shrike, common myna and house crows at about 35.7, 31.2 and 10.8% rates respectively. Host nests at low heights and nearer to fruit trees tended to preferred by koels. In southern Thailand and the Malay Peninsula, koels have shifted host from crows to mynas as the latter became more common in the late 1900s. In the Indian Subcontinent they have sometimes been found to parasitize the black drongo, the European magpie and possibly the black-headed oriole. Males may distract the hosts so that the female gets a chance to lay an egg in the nest. More often however, the female visits the nest of the host alone. The koel is not known to lay eggs in an empty host nest and a study in Pakistan found that the first koel eggs were laid, on average, within one and half days of the laying of the host's first egg. The chicks of the koel hatched about 3 days ahead of the host chicks. Koels usually lay only an egg or two in a single nest but as many as seven to eleven eggs have been reported from some host nests. A female may remove a host egg before laying. Eggs hatch in 12 to 14 days. The young koel does not always push out eggs or evict the host chicks, and initially calls like a crow. The young fledge in 20 to 28 days. Unlike some other cuckoos, the young do not attempt to kill the host chicks, a trait that is shared with the channel-billed cuckoos which are also largely frugivorous as adults. It has been suggested that koels, like some other brood parasites do not evict the host chicks due presumably due to the higher cost of evicting nestmates. A small parasite may not be able to evict large host eggs or chicks from a deep Corvid nest without risking starvation and possibly accidental self-eviction. An alternate hypothesis that retaining host chicks might benefit the koel chicks did not gain much support. Adult female parents have been known to feed young koels in the nests of the hosts, a behaviour seen in some other brood parasitic species as well. Adult males have however not been noted to feed fledglings.

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The Asian koel is omnivorous, consuming a variety of insects, caterpillars, eggs and small vertebrates. Adults feed mainly on fruit. They will sometimes defend fruiting trees that they forage in and chase away other frugivores. They have been noted to be especially important in the dispersal of the sandalwood tree in India. Large seeded fruits are sometimes quickly regurgitated near the parent tree while small seeded fruits are ingested and are likely to be deposited at greater distances from the parent tree. They have a large gape and are capable of swallowing large fruits including the hard fruit of palms such as Arenga and Livistona. They have been known to occasionally take eggs of small birds.

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They feed on the fruits of Cascabela thevetia which are known to be toxic to mammals.

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A number of parasites of the species have been described, including malaria-like protozoa, lice and nematodes.

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Asian Koel, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Asian Koel, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Asian Koel, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Asian Koel, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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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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The below list is created 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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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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