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Common Tailorbird

Orthotomus sutorius

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The common tailorbird is a songbird found across tropical Asia. Popular for its nest made of leaves "sewn" together and immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his Jungle Book, it is a common resident in urban gardens. Although shy birds that are usually hidden within vegetation, their loud calls are familiar and give away their presence. They are distinctive in having a long upright tail, greenish upper body plumage and rust coloured forehead and crown. This passerine bird is typically found in open farmland, scrub, forest edges and gardens. Tailorbirds get their name from the way their nest is constructed. The edges of a large leaf are pierced and sewn together with plant fibre or spider silk to make a cradle in which the actual nest is built.

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Like most warblers, the common tailorbird is insectivorous. The song is a loud cheeup-cheeup-cheeup with variations across the populations. The disyllabic calls are repeated often.

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The scientific name sutorius means "cobbler" rather than "tailor" while Orthotomus means "straight-cutting".

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The species was earlier placed in the family Sylviidae but more recent molecular studies place the species within the family Cisticolidae, along with Prinia and Cisticola.

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A number of subspecies are recognized within its widespread range in South Asia and Southeast Asia. The nominate race is from the lowlands of Sri Lanka. Race O. s. fernandonis is found in the highlands of Sri Lanka. Neighbouring India has O.s. guzuratus in the peninsula and west to Pakistan while towards the north O. s. patia is found in the Terai of Nepal along the Himalayan foothills until Myanmar. A small population of O. s. patia is also found in the northern Eastern Ghats. The hills of northeastern India have O. s. luteus. In Southeast Asia O. s. inexpectatus and O. s. maculicollis are found in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. South east China, including the island of Hainan, and Tonkin in Vietnam have O. s. longicauda while O. s. edela is found on Java.

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The common tailorbird is a brightly coloured bird, with bright green upperparts and creamy underparts. They range in size from 10 to 14 centimetres and weigh 6 to 10 grams. They have short rounded wings, a long tail, strong legs and a sharp bill with curved tip to the upper mandible. They are wren-like with a long upright tail that is often moved around. The crown is rufous and the upperparts are predominantly olive green. The underside is creamy white. The sexes are identical, except that the male has long central tail feathers in the breeding season, although the reliability of sexing data accompanying museum specimens used in determining this sexual dimorphism has been questioned. Young birds are duller. When calling, the dark patches on the sides of the neck become visible. These are due to the dark pigmented and bare skin that are present in both sexes and sometimes give the appearance of a dark gorget

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Tailorbirds are found singly or in pairs, usually low in the undergrowth or trees sometimes hopping on the ground. They forage for insects and have been known to feed on a range of beetles and bugs. They are attracted to insects at flowers and are known to favour the inflorescences of mango. They also visit flowers such as those of Bombax, Salmalia for nectar and are sometimes covered in pollen, giving them a golden-headed appearance.

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The birds roost alone during the non-breeding season but may roost side-by-side during the breeding season, sometimes with the newly fledged juvenile sandwiched between the adults. The roost sites chosen are thin twigs on trees with cover above them and were often close to human habitation and lights.

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The breeding season is March to December peaking from June to August in India, coinciding with the wet season. In Sri Lanka the main breeding periods are March to May and August to September, although they can breed throughout the year.

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Although the name is derived from their nest construction habit, the nest is not unique and is also found in many Prinia warblers. The nest is a deep cup, lined with soft materials and placed in thick foliage and the leaves holding the nest have the upper surfaces outwards making it difficult to spot. The punctures made on the edge of the leaves are minute and do not cause browning of the leaves, further aiding camouflage. The nest lining of a nest in Sri Lanka that was studied by Casey Wood was found to be lined with lint from Euphorbia, Ceiba pentandra and Bombax malabaricum species. Jerdon wrote that the bird made knots, however no knots are used. Wood classified the processes used by the tailorbird in nest as sewing, rivetting, lacing and matting. In some cases the nest is made from a single large leaf, the margins of which are rivetted together. Sometimes the fibres from one rivet are extended into an adjoining puncture and appearing more like sewing. The stitch is made by piercing two leaves and drawing fibre through them. The fibres fluff out on the outside and in effect they are more like rivets. There are many variations in the nest and some may altogether lack the cradle of leaves. One observer noted that the birds did not utilize cotton that was made available while another observer, Edward Hamilton Aitken, was able to induce them to use artificially supplied cotton. The usual clutch is three eggs.

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The incubation period is about 12 days. Both male and female feed the young. Mortality of eggs and chicks is high due to predation by rodents, cats, crow-pheasants, lizards and other predators. The young birds fledge in about 14 days. The female alone incubates according to some sources, while others suggest that both sexes incubate; however, both parents take part in feeding and sanitation. The males are said to feed the incubating female. An unusual case of a pair of tailorbirds adopting chicks in an artificially translocated nest belonging to a different pair has been recorded. Nests are sometimes parasitized by the Plaintive Cuckoo.

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Common Tailorbird, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Common Tailorbird, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Common Tailorbird, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Common Tailorbird, 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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