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Indian Roller

Coracias benghalensis

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The Indian roller, is a member of the roller family of birds. They are found widely across tropical Asia from Iraq eastward across the Indian Subcontinent to Indochina and are best known for the aerobatic displays of the male during the breeding season. They are very commonly seen perched along roadside trees and wires and are commonly seen in open grassland and scrub forest habitats. It is not migratory, but undertakes some seasonal movements. The largest populations of the species

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The Indian roller was originally described as belonging to the genus Corvus. Alternate names for the Indian roller include the Indian blue roller, northern roller and southern blue roller.

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The Indian roller is a stocky bird about 26–27 cm long and can only be confused within its range with the migratory European roller. The breast is brownish and not blue as in the European Roller. The crown and vent are blue. The primaries are deep purplish blue with a band of pale blue. The tail is sky blue with a terminal band of Prussian blue and the central feathers are dull green. The neck and throat are purplish lilac with white shaft streaks. The bare patch around the eye is ochre in colour. The three forward toes are united at the base. Rollers have a long and compressed bill with a curved upper edge and a hooked tip. The nostril is long and exposed and there are long rictal bristles at the base of the bill.

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Three subspecies are usually recognized. The nominate form is found from western Asia (Iraq, Arabia) east across the Indian Subcontinent, and within India north of the Vindhyas mountain ranges. The subspecies indicus is found in peninsular India and Sri Lanka. The southern form has a darker reddish collar on the hind neck which is missing in the nominate form. The race affinis of northeastern India and Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar, Indochina) is sometimes considered a full species, but within the Indian region, it is seen to intergrade with benghalensis. The form affinis is darker, larger and has a purplish brown and unstreaked face and breast. It has underwing coverts in a deeper shade of blue

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The Indian roller is distributed across Asia, from Iraq and United Arab Emirates in south-western Asia through the Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, Lakshadweep islands and Maldive Islands into Southeast Asia. Its main habitat includes cultivated areas, thin forest and grassland.

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Indian rollers are often seen perched on prominent bare trees or wires. They descend to the ground to capture their prey which may include insects, arachnids, small reptiles, small snakes and amphibians. Fires attract them and they will also follow tractors for disturbed invertebrates. In agricultural habitats in southern India, they have been found at densities of about 50 birds per km2. They perch mainly on 3—10 metre high perches and feed mostly on ground insects. Nearly 50% of their prey are beetles and 25% made up by grasshoppers and crickets. It has been suggest that the Indian roller could play a role in controlling agricultural insect pests due to its feeding behaviour.

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The feeding behaviour of this roller and habitat usage are very similar to that of the black drongo. During summer, they may also feed late in the evening and make use of artificial lights and feed on insects attracted to them. They are attracted to swarms of winged termites, and as many as 40 birds have been seen to perch on a 70-metre stretch of electric wires.

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Its habit of feeding near roadsides sometimes results in collisions with traffic. A decline in the numbers of these birds seen along roadsides in northern India has been noted.

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A study on roosting behaviour found that immediately after waking up, the birds spend a few minutes preening followed by flying around their roosting sites. Favoured perches include electric or telegraphic wires. They have also been observed perching in trees and shrubs. Rollers tend mostly at a heights of 3-9 m height from where they forage for ground insects. They may also use taller perches and obtain insects from the upper canopy of trees.

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The display of this bird is an aerobatic display, with the twists and turns that give this species its English name. The breeding season is March to June, slightly earlier in southern India. Displays when perched include bill-up displays, bowing, allopreening, wing drooping and tail fanning. Holes created by woodpeckers or wood boring insects in palms are favoured for nesting in some areas. Nest cavities may also be made by tearing open rotten tree trunks or in cavities in building. The cavity is usually unlined and is made up mainly of debris from the wood. The normal clutch consists of about 3-5 eggs. The eggs are white and broad oval or nearly spherical. Both sexes incubate the eggs for about 17 to 19 days. The young fledge and leave the nest after about a month. Nearly 80% of the eggs hatch and fledge.

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The call of the Indian roller is a harsh crow-like chack sound. It also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink calls. It is especially vociferous during the breeding season.

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The bird bathes in open water by plunge-diving into it, a behaviour often interpreted as fishing. But it may occasionally attempt fishing from water.

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Blood parasites Leucocytozoon of the family Plasmodiidae have been noted in the lung tissues. Parasitic helminth worms Hadjelia truncata and Synhimantus spiralis were recorded as well.

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Indian Roller, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Roller, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Roller, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Roller, 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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