More than 300 species of birds have been identified in Gir
over the years. There are many who believe that had Gir not been a Lion
sanctuary, it could have easily passed off as a protected area for the
incredible diversity of birds it harbours; birds that occupy forest
floors, small plants and shrubs and even the canopy of the trees.
There are birds that feed on fruits, grains and insects, besides the magnificent birds of prey that are carnivores. Yes, even birds can be carnivores! Chief among these are the Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle, Brown Fish Owl and the Great Horned Owl.
The Jungle Bush Quail, Painted Sandgrouse, Paradise
Flycatcher, Whitebrested Minivet, Pigmy Woodpecker, Blackheaded Oriole,
Crested Swift and the Pitta are some of the better-known birds of Gir.
Then there are tiny birds that speak loudly and flap their wings faster
than the eyes can see. Such birds, like the Purple Sunbird, work long
hours to gather enough food to keep going.
Having learnt to exploit a variety of food sources has helped the great diversity of avifauna to flourish. Several species live in harmony because they have developed slightly different ecological niches (role or way of life within the ecosystem) foraging at different heights and at different food sources when in flocks.
Many birds like Babblers, Myna, Rosy Pastors go for hunting in noisy groups. Woodpeckers with their long tongues move upwards over the furrowed barks of trees, searching for wood beetles and grubs.
In the forest glades of Gir, beauty of bird-life, its varied songs and their pleasing bird songs, the graceful flight of the paradise flycatcher with its white flowing tail swaying gently in the air, the bright golden yellow colour of the Golden Oriole and the peacocks with their iridescent feathers bring a sense of life thriving undisturbed.
Witness and enjoy incredible engineering feats like the Baya
Weaver bird's nest, Hoopes with their crest raised moving along the road
sides like mechanized toys gone berserk, and small flocks of Munias,
Minivets, Titis, Ioras flashing different colours playing hide and seek in
the lower parts of the tree canopy, while the Koels, Tree Pies, and the
magpies keep singing at times without a pause.
Then there are the rose-ringed and the blossom headed Parakeets, moving in flocks, feeding and making a non-stop chatter. Green Pigeons survey the wonders of their surroundings from the top canopy of large trees after feeding, and when there are ground fires during peak summer, it is always the Drongos who are active in catching insects in flight.
In the shelter of the Fig trees may also quietly lurk a Great Horned Owl, a pair of spotted owlets, looking for potential prey. Any remains of carcass brings a large number of white-backed, Longbilled and occasionally the colourful king Vulture. A drive back towards late evening will be rewarded with sightings of countless Nightjars sitting on the roads.
Songsters like the Magpie Robin, Sunbrid, Warblers and Bulbul, that sing from topmost boughs, can be easily sighted and unfortunately easily forgotten, for they seem to be singing the same tunes repeatedly. What one remembers, however, is the Golden Oriole or paradise flycatcher pouring silver chords from impenetrable shadows. The warning calls of Nightjars or booming tunes from the depths of banyan echoed by the great horned owl. The Grey Partridge's loud and insistent calls from the midst of nowhere and sometimes the eerie silence that befalls an area at the presence of a lurking predator in the shadowy vicinity.
Any bird that preys on other living animals is strictly
speaking, a predator, or a bird of prey. However, true birds of prey have
powerful claws called 'Talons' for grasping and killing prey, besides
hooked beaks for tearing the flesh.
Birds of prey are divided into different groups. Falconiformes, which include Kites, Vultures, Hawks, Eagles, and Falcons and Strigiformes, which include all Owls. Falconiformes are generally active during the day while he owls mostly hunt by night. The eyes of diurnal birds of prey are absolutely vital to their existence.
The bodies of birds of prey are small and light in relation to the wingspan. Large Eagles seldom flap their wings; they pick up a thermal and then rise to heights from where they can continue to soar with ease. Kestrels, which hunt over open country by hovering, continually flap and twist their wings, reducing their efforts by spreading the long tail to obtain extra lift.
While hunting, the perched raptor watches the ground intently. The Bonelli Eagles normally catch or kill their prey on the ground. A peregrine falcon delivers a glancing blow with its powerful hind claw, immediately knocking the prey to the ground.
The group known collectively as birds of prey, or reaptors, includes a generally night hunting order - the Owls, and a day hunting order that includes the Hawks, Eagles, and Falcons, as well as the carrion feeding Vultures. They all feed on meat, although the 'meat' for the smaller species is generally insects, and some feed only on fish. All have powerful, sharp bills, and all but the Vultures have grasping toes tipped with curved, sharp claws, or talons.
Some species of birds are permanent residents, staying in
the breeding area round the year although breeding is strictly a spring to
summer phenomenon. Many tropical birds also spend the whole year in the
same area; some of these, where seasonality is at a minimum, may nest at
almost any time.
However, many species of birds migrate to escape the cold climes to warmer places- that is, they make regular seasonal movements away from and back to the breeding area. This might be no more than a movement from exposed high mountains down to sheltered valleys for the winter. The opposite extreme is the long distance migration undertaken annually by many species, like the siberian cranes who come to Bharatpur in Rajasthan.