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Indian Great Horned Owl
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Perhaps the most beautiful, most enthralling and prominent of Auroville's faunal treasures are its birds. The shapes, sizes, colours, etc, of these avian wonders defy description; their sheer numbers would make any ornithologists' visit here extremely rewarding, though perhaps somewhat confusing at first.

One of Aranya's regular visitors and participants, Mr. Eric Ramanajam from Goa, has been working during the last five years in close collaboration with the 'Avian Rehabilitation' centre in Auroville and shares with us here his knowledge of, and love for, some of Auroville's feathered inhabitants in a poetic and informative way.

Dawn songs, flutes and babbles...

Tree PieIt begins at dawn, when you are awakened by the bird song. At first, still half asleep, you wonder how such a variety of birds can occur in such a small area, for you can hear the chattering of the Tailorbirds and accompanying them the hoarse cries of the Tree Pies. Then the Magpie Robin flutes joyfully, and as the last of its song dies, the Coucal bursts into an excited mournful Babble.

As the sky lightens, this confused and cosmopolitan orchestra gathers momentum: a Hawk Cuckoo vies with the cacophony of sound produced by the Babblers (or Seven Sisters, a very apt name indeed), and the cackle from a covey of Mynas contrasts sharply with the dulcet tones of the Spotted Doves. If you survive this musical onslaught and manage to drift back into a doze, you are suddenly awakened by harsh cawing - a warning that the ever present Crows have appeared (if you have been unwise enough to leave your windows open, you may have to take immediate defensive action).

The peacock

If you are still contemplating going back to bed, your plans may be rudely shattered by shrill cries of help, apparently delivered by someone in deep distress. Looking for the source of this sound you discern a peacock in full glory, prancing and pirouetting, with its burnished tail glinting and quivering in the early sunlight. Presently it lowers its tail, and, throwing back its head, deafens the morning with its nerve shattering cries.

Community of avian residents

As you slip on your clothes and go out into the fresh morning air, you are apprised of a less noisy, though equally - if not more - absorbing community of avian residents (in fact some are migrants). A white ribbon flutters gracefully and provocatively in the breeze, alights on a branch, and transforms itself into a Paradise Flycatcher. A Drongo flies erratically, twisting and turning in mid-air in its endeavour to catch some misguided insect, and then flies back to consume its booty and discover some Crows close by. Undaunted, it promptly proceeds to shoo the Crows away, ignoring their large size and murderous beaks, and -surprisingly - succeeds, due to sheer persistence. A white-breasted Kingfisher drops into the long grass and emerges with a small struggling garden lizard, which it promptly dispatches to a happier world by the simple expedient of beating it on a branch. If you are lucky, you may espy a Shikra at arms length, its cryptic plumage blending in well with the dappled light and shade of a forest tree.


Brahminy KiteYour bird watching may progress throughout the day, but if you're wise enough you may avoid the mid-day heat by relaxing under a banyan tree's cool shade. Overhead some Clark Crosses, gliding in never ending circles, will always confront you. A quick perusal through your bird guidebook and you may presume these to be Pariah Kites, but beware, they could be immature Brahminy Kites or, more interestingly, Marsh Harriers. While the forked tail may be indicative in identifying the former, it is difficult to discern between the latter two. Below these, quick in flight, are small birds that ornithologists know as Palm Swifts (though they don't necessarily nest in palm trees).

Night life

Evening approaches, and as the sun dyes the sky a beautiful salmon pink, the Spotted Owlets awake, and one is immediately apprised of their presence by their cacophonous chitterings and chatterings. Dark sets in and all outlines get blurred, a period when all seems to stand still - an impression heightened by the near absolute silence. This is the prelude for the night-time game of life and death yet to unfold among the shadows cast by ancient and not so ancient trees, and in the grass growing so plentifully close by. This peace is invariably broken by a squeal in the grass - the sure sign of some unfortunate rodent meeting its end in the murderous talons of a Barn Owl. Amongst the chatter of the Spotted Owlet and mumbling groans and hisses of the Barn Owl, one may also be able to discern the soft monotonous call - very similar to drops of water falling into a bucket - of the pretty Collared Scops Owl.

Thanks to the 'green brigade'

One may wonder at the richness and diversity of the bird life in Auroville, but it should be realised that all this is the result of careful stewardship and encouragement by Auroville's 'green brigade'. Nearly a hundred avian species are now known to inhabit the area of the future township.. Nearly a hundred avian species are known to inhabit the area of the future township and, though their population remains in doubt, it can be gauged by the fact that over 300 peafowl are known to occur here.

The Great Horned Owl, - an uncertain future

Great Horned OwlThe pleasantness of this overall situation is more than slightly marred by the alarm one feels when appraised of the fact that some species are in real trouble, and face an uncertain future: they may no longer exist here in the very near future. The perfect case in point is the Eagle Owl, better known to Indian ornithologists as the Great Horned Owl. There was a time when this species was fairly common, and old-timers in Ravena's and Forecomers' canyons nostalgically remember the birds in their jurisdictions. Today you would be very lucky indeed to see this huge owl, though you may hear its curiously mournful call if you are patient.



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