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 Post Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:29 am 
Koels, Coucals, Barbets and Babblers

Colombo is a bird watchers paradise, and is a prime location for observing our feathered friends and studying their habits, and is unmatched in any other capital city in the world. Few other cities enjoy such a varied landscape as that of Colombo. Its diversity of scenery is reflected in the wonderful rich bird life that abounds in the gardens of the city. This article is designed to help recognize and remember some of the common birds that frequented our home gardens, and still do, and it is hoped that it will bring back unforgettable memories of those wonderful days, when we had the time to, “Stand and Stare” as a poet so aptly put it.


The most common bird found in Colombo is the Crow, belonging to the family Corvidae. There are two species, the House Crow (Corvus splendens), Kolamba Kaputa and the Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos), Kalu Kaputa. The House Crow is relatively smaller than the Jungle Crow with a smaller beak, smokey-grey neck and glossy wings. Sexes are alike. The Jungle Crow on the other hand is larger with a heavy beak, and the plumage is black thro-ughout. Both spe-cies mingle freely, but do not interbreed. Both species are notorious parasites of man and are seldom found at any great distance from human habitation. Their nests are a mass of twigs lines with fibers, and set in a tree with no attempt at concealment. They lay 3 to 5 eggs of a coloration of green to blue.


Another common garden bird is the Koel. The Koel belongs to the family Cuculidae (Cuckoos), Koha and is widely distributed in Colombo. Its presence is largely governed by that of the two species of Crows as they often victimize the crows by foisting their eggs on the Crows and leaving them to foster their offspring. Hence the breeding season corresponds with that of Crows.


The Coucal, Attie-Kukkula belongs to the same family as the Koel, It is about the size of a Crow, with a long and broad tail, with a slightly curved black bill, and chestnut wings. Its principle haunts are well wooded cultivation and scrub jungle, and is found in most home gardens. Much of its time is spent on the ground and in hedges. Its flight is slow and laboured, and hops to the topmost branch of a tree for take off. The Coucal hunts solitarily and is a notorious robber of other bird’s eggs and young, and will eat almost any small animal like lizards, frogs, snakes, mice, and even snails. The Coucal’s call is one of the best known bird-sounds, with its far-sounding, “Hoop oop oop oop oop” ending in a curious sound donk, much like a cork being extracted from a bottle. Its nest is a mass of creeper stems and leafy twigs, and the female lays two to three dull chalky white eggs.


Barbets belong to the family of Capitonidae, and although there are four species found in Sri Lanka, it is mainly the Brown-Headed Barbet, Polos Kottoruwa that prevails in Colombo. This bird can be recognized by its large brown head and breast, yellow naked face, and heavy reddish-colored bill. Overall body, wing and tail color is green. Its monotonous call of, “Kottuur kottuur kottuur” can be heard over great distances to be answered only by its mate. It lives mainly on berries, fruits, and wild figs, and is often seen eating berries of the Jam Fruit tree (Muntingia calabura). The female lays three to four dull white eggs in a hole pecked out in a soft- wooded dead stump or branch.


Babblers belong to the family Timaliidae. The most common of the species that invades the home gardens of Colombo is the Southern Common Babbler or “Seven Sisters”, Demma-litcha. This yellowish-grey bird is always found in flocks of seven or more. Its pale bluish-white eye gives it a curiously anemic look. It feeds on insects and vegetable substance, and most of the food is taken on the ground. The troop keeps up a noisy chatter, and its members indulge in a kind of dance. The nest of the Babbler is a fairly deep cup, and the eggs, three to five in number, are a beautiful glossy turquoise blue. Breeding proceeds to some extent all year round.


Sunbirds belong to the family Nectariniidae and are a family of very small birds. The commonest are the Purple-Rumped Sunbird, Mal-Sutticha and the Purple and Lotens Sunbirds, Dum-Sutticha and Run-Sutticha.

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