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Malabar Gray Hornbill

Ocyceros griseus

Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Malabar Gray Hornbill, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Malabar Gray Hornbill, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Malabar Gray Hornbill, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai
Malabar Gray Hornbill, Endamic bird of Western-Ghats you can see 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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