Urban Birds of Prey (Part II)

Let's have a look at some more raptors that can be seen in our city.

White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

The magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) is an opportunistic carnivore with a diet that includes fish, turtles, sea snakes, birds and mammals. It is also monogamous., i.e. a pair remain together until one bird dies, after which the surviving bird quickly seeks a new mate. Mumbai's coastal areas would be the best place to observe this bird.

Oriental Honey Buzzard
Pernis ptilorhynchus)

The Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus) is a bird of prey from the family Accipitridae. It has a long neck with a relatively small head (resembling the pigeon), making it appear quite distinct from other raptors. It is called the Honey Buzzard as it is known to feed on comb, larvae, pupae and adult forms of bees and wasps. It's diet also includes other insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and smaller mammals. 

Changeable Hawk-Eagle
Nisaetus cirrhatus)

Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) is a bird of prey, more often seen perched on trees instead of flying. It is not a very large bird, but can still prey on animals bigger than its size. Usually it perches on tall trees, scanning the ground from above and swooping down to hunt small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and also other birds.

Eastern Imperial Eagle
Aquila heliaca)

Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) is from the genus Aquila (that comprises true eagles). It is a large raptor that can grow to about 3 feet in length, 6 feet in width and 3 kilograms in weight, making it capable of hunting on prey very easily. When the eagles are about four years old, they form monogamous pairs and stay together for life. This raptor was initially found in lowland areas, but due to forest degradation and habitat loss it is forced to stay in high elevations.

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) is a migratory bird of prey. To avoid the harsh cold winters of its breeding place (eastern Europe and Central Asia), it migrates to India and other countries of southeast Asia every year. At present this raptor is classified as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN Red List.

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Urban Birds of Prey (Part I)

Raptors are ‘birds of prey’ and they are one of the most fascinating hunters of all time. They are found throughout the world and they adapt very well to various habitats. They are known for their stealth, speed and killer instinct. Today let's look at some of our urban raptors (birds of prey).

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
One of the most common raptors that we see are kites. Here is the Black Kite (Milvusmigrans), a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. When they soar above in the sky you can easily identify them by their slender body and forked tails. The Black Kite can easily be called, 'Raptor of urban skies', as it is very abundant in our city.

Shikra (Accipiter badius)

Next comes the Shikra (Accipiter badius), a small raptor often seen being bullied by the numerous crows found in our city. You will most likely get to see one in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The bird has a very peculiar call that goes like, 'kik-ki.. kik-ki..'. It is a very skilled hunter and it is known to prey on birds and animals bigger than its size. In Hindi  the word 'shikra' or 'shikara' means hunter; the birds has been given this name keeping the above fact in mind.

Common Kestrel
(Falco tinnunculus)

The Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is another bird of prey in the family Falconidae. These birds are usually see 'hovering' in heights looking for prey. While they 'hover', their wings remain in motion to keep them stationary in the sky, and their heads remain still which helps them track on the prey movement below. Once a prey is targeted, this bird swoops down in high speed to grab the prey with its sharp tallons and then it perches on a nearby branch to relish the amazing hunt. No wonder they are called 'birds of prey'!

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a fish-eating bird of prey. It is found throughout the world, except for Antarctica  The Osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the Peregrine falcon. The Osprey's diet mostly comprises fish, and so it is often found near coastal areas. Maybe you could chance upon this bird on your next visit to a beach.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Finally, the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), a bird of prey from the family Falconidae, found almost throughout the world, making it the most widely found raptor and bird species. While hunting, the Peregrine Falcon is known to dive at a high velocity from skies, which reaches a speed of almost 322 km/hr! Thus, the Peregrine Falcon is also known as the fastest member in the animal kingdom. 

The Day after Diwali

Photo by yanivg

It’s the day after Diwali. Last night a huge number of people all across the city celebrated the festival by lighting up firecrackers. This morning the sweepers have swept away the remains of those crackers, and well, we think that’s the end of the story. But no, unfortunately our episode with the fireworks doesn’t end that easily. Firecrackers leave behind an after-cloud of toxic substances that are harmful in various ways.

So today let’s take a look at the harmful substances that linger on in the atmosphere, long after the colourful fireworks display has died down.

Fireworks consist of gunpowder and some ‘unique’ chemical substances that give them their colour and effect. Some of these substances include cadmium, barium, dioxins, strontium and perchlorates, apart from other chemicals. If you think that use of fireworks doesn’t really cause much harm, let me tell you what these ‘unique’ chemicals alone are capable of doing.

Cadmium: It is widely used in fireworks without any restriction. But this is one of the 6 substances that are banned by the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) because of its life-threatening nature. Cadmium is a well-known environmental hazard and also carcinogen (cancer causing agent). I do not know why the Indian government has not imposed a similar ban on the use of this substance as of yet?

Barium: It is used in fireworks to bring in a greenish colour when it is combusted. Once combusted, the fumes that come out of barium-induced fireworks are known to accumulate in your lungs and cause Baritosis (symptoms like cough, wheezing, and nasal irritation among others). Barium also affects our nervous system and may cause cardiac problems, weakness and paralysis!

Dioxins: They are highly toxic substances and they are well-known environmental pollutants. Besides, they are also known to cause damage to the growth and immune system of young children. And yes, they are carcinogens too.

Strontium: It is a radioactive substance and it’s known to cause skeletal diseases that include bone cancer. It is a big threat to children as it interferes with their bone growth.

Perchlorates: They are the substances that help in the combustion of fireworks. They are known to damage the thyroid gland, causing diseases like hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. They hinder growth of the body and so they affect infants, children and pregnant women the most.

These are just some of the problems that fireworks cause. Obviously then, fireworks don’t make our celebration a happy one! 

Aristo Mendis 

Bio-indicators in your Locality

Mumbai is the commercial capital of India and it is developing at a very fast rate. But at what cost does this development come?

Our city’s pollution problem is a well-known fact – we are the 10th most polluted city in the country! The pollution problem is currently a very serious one and it is detrimental to our health. In this blog post, we are not going to look at how we could tackle this problem; instead we will consider how to identify if our own residential area is pollution free or not? And we are going to do this with the help of ‘bio-indicators’.

Bio-indicators are basically flora and fauna that can be used to monitor the health of the environment. All plants and animals act as bio-indicators in one way or another. And here are some of the most common bio-indicators that we come across.

Lichens: Lichens are unusual and amazing organisms and they consist of fungus and algae living as one. They are found throughout the world; and in cities they can be seen growing on trees, walls, rocks and soil surfaces. The interesting fact about these organisms is that they get their food from sunlight (algae prepares food for the fungus with the help of photosynthesis, and in return fungus protects the algae). These organisms cannot tolerate living in an environment with polluted air. And so, with the presence or absence of lichens, you can find out that your locality is polluted or not!

Butterflies & Moths: A nice population of different types of butterflies and moths indicate a healthy environment. So if you find them in your locality, it means that the place is suitable for pollination which in turn indicates that there are a good number of plants and trees in your locality. Butterflies and moths also indicate that there is natural pest control in your locality.

Birds: That birds are good bio-indicators is a well-known fact. Birds depend on a varied diet that includes fruits, insects and other small organisms. And these insects/organisms depend on plants and trees for their existence. Plants/trees in turn depend on a healthy environment to grow. So basically if there is a good population of different types of birds in your locality, it indicates that you are living in a healthy environment.

Frogs: They are also known to be good bio-indicators. Frogs depend on healthy land and water habitats to survive and they cannot tolerate toxic chemicals in the environment. They are known to exist since 250 million years, but all of a sudden many species of frogs are on the verge of extinction. This indicates that there’s a problem with the environment we live in. Even you must have noticed that the number of frogs that you see these days is drastically less than what you could have seen 10 years back!

Over the next few days try to observe if these bio-indicators exist in your locality or not – that will give you a good idea of how environmentally healthy your area is!

- Aristo Mendis