Wings – the biggest differentiator between us and them! They can practically go anywhere for free, see the world, go over forests and oceans and rivers and wherever they fancy. Don’t we just envy them? We all carry a similar dream of freedom and travel, if only we had wings!

And yet, surprisingly, birds lead a life pretty much in a small area, living in small communities and going through certain daily rituals, just like us! To have the right equipment for exercising total freedom and still living within a confined life, there must be something for us to learn from them, just to understand our dreamt future.

There are two ways in which people seek out birds in nature – first those who want to take a photo, often for commercial or academic purpose, but sometimes just as a record. You need a good quality camera with fast shutter speed and long-lens to get success in this. The second are those who only want to observe the amazing variety of this marvellous creature, their differences and similarities, their lifestyle and the food choices, their habits and patterns in life. Apart from an empathic attitude and respect for nature, they only need a set of binoculars, something powerful yet light enough for them to carry for long. A set of sweat-absorbent clothes in natural forest shades (dull greens, earthy brown or camouflage), water bottle, hat (for sunny times) and something to take notes (paper or phone with e-bird app). You’re all set to venture on this heart-warming, healthy and insightful hobby.

As you start paying attention to the birds living in the area you visit, you will notice several aspects of their lives:

Their lives are tightly integrated with their natural habitat, just like us:
The larger geographic climatic conditions define a specific habitat – snow clad, very cold, dry and cold, hot and humid, with plenty of water, with barely any water, with several fruit-bearing trees, with plenty of nectar-filled flowers. Pay attention to what kind of area you are in, to know what to expect.

They build lives adjusting with other birds in the area, just like we do:
While grasslands and water-bodies certainly have very different types of birds, you will see different species occupying distinct zones in each habitat. Some of them live in bushes, some mostly live in grass; some occupy shallow edges of lakes, some only swim in deeper waters; some live at the canopy levels only, while some are usually found sitting on open rocks; some live usually around human settlements, while some fly away when they see you at a distance! Where do you see bird activity?

They evolve distinct features, as they adjust to the changing world, just like us:
They have a set of beak, wings, coloured feathers and two feet, yet they are all so different! Beak tells you what type of food they eat, wings show how far and long they have to fly daily, feather colours tell in which micro-area they usually nest, feet tell you how they catch their food! Do you notice these differences? Then you would also notice similarities across some species!

They have a social life, just like us:
The fact that they live in some level of social connections will be easily visible to you. Raptors usually live alone while bush-birds live in small to large groups. Fruit eaters will fly long distances, moving from one tree to other; water birds would rather stay close to their food source. Some are usually silent, but most birds talk a lot! Listening to them, can you guess what they might be talking about?

They display a range of emotions, just like us:
They show it differently, but all those basic emotions we live through daily, birds have them all too! Greed, fear and anger would be easily visible, but they also go through joy, love, jealousy and pain. Can you notice these differences?

They have individual personalities, just like us:
Although birds of a single species look very similar in appearance, there are visible differences between juvenile, adult males and adult females. There are differences in their attitude, behaviour and activities. They have a range of calls (sounds they make – or language) which have distinct meaning, mostly to their own fellows, but sometimes to communicate with other bird species! Can you imitate different sounds?

Sometimes they fight too, but NOT like us:
Territory, food and mate are usual reasons birds will fight, but they don’t seem to kill each other on these matters. They show anger, they pose up with an attitude but soon as a winner is settled, they move on!

Enjoy watching a whole range of birds in their natural habitat or migratory grounds as you visit some of the preserved locations around your town. Also, reflect on your own life, as you watch them live theirs.

Hesarghatta, Bangalore: Few kilometers off Bombay highway lies this last grassland near Bangalore, spread over an area of 1000 acres including the man-made reservoir.

Nandi Hills, Bangalore: This hillock is located off Hyderabad highway after Bangalore airport. Different bird species are found as one climbs through the trek to the top.

Ranginathittu, Mysore: 120km towards Mysore lies this small bird sanctuary, made at a bend of the river Cauvery (requires ticket for people, camera, boat, parking). Several species of waterbirds make it a home all year through, with added flocks during migratory winter season.

Masinagudi: 250 km towards Ooty drive one crosses this bushy grassland that has very different set of bird life. There are several places to stay and plenty of local guides and jeeps to take you around.

Kotagiri, Nilgiri forest range: 20km from Ooty lies this quiet little town within the Nilgiri hill range that still has several pockets of pristine forest. Several species of local and migratory birds are found in great numbers as one goes through walks around tea gardens and hills.

Kaikondarahalli, Bangalore: Bangalore city has several medium sized lakes, many of them now under protection and tastefully beautified to support several species of waterbirds. Kaikondarahalli lies on the Sarjapura road and has a beautiful 2.5km walking track as well as dirt track to run/cycle.

— Text and Photos by Anand Gupta