The oriental dwarf kingfisher is documented for the first time in Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats
“At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” recalls Pravin Shanmughanandam, a birding enthusiast. He was looking at a gorgeous bird perched atop a tree at the Anamalai Hills near Pollachi, a mountain range of the Western Ghats, considered one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.
“It was in the evening. First, I saw a pair of Tickell’s blue flycatcher. Once the flycatchers took off, this colourful bird showed up right in front of me. I was unsure of photographing it as my camera was in the backseat. Luckily, the bird stayed on, bobbing its head and looking for a prey, perhaps a crab, lizard or a small fish.”
It was the oriental dwarf kingfisher, cherished by bird-watchers as a ‘Jewel of the Western Ghats’, and much adored for its bright and beautiful appearance. “One of the smallest among all kingfishers, it sports red, violet, blue and yellow colours and is endemic to coastal regions of the Indian subcontinent and countries of Southeast Asia too,” says Pravin, who is also the co-founder of Pollachi Papyrus.
While the Konkan Coast along the Western Ghats is a stronghold for this species (where bird watchers flock to during monsoon to photograph them in pairs during breeding), Pravin was surprised to spot it at the edge of the reserve forest, and proximate to human activity. “They were a pair, busy hunting. I could only get a glimpse before they disappeared into the thickets. I managed to get a few images of one of the individuals,” he adds.
His observation becomes the first ever record of the species in Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) and the first photographic record in the Anamalais, which covers a bigger landscape including Nelliampathy, Eravikulam, Parambikulam and Vazhachal in Kerala .
The Anamalai Hills are home to large mammals such as the Asiatic elephant, tiger, leopard, as well as endangered species like wild dogs, Nilgiri tahr, and lion tailed macaques. They are also home to all the 18 endemic bird species of Western Ghats. Peter Prem, field biologist at ATR Tiger Reserve has observed that over 300 species of birds have been recorded across the five ranges that comprises 954 sq km of reserve forests.
The latest addition to the list is the oriental dwarf kingfisher, also known as the three-toed kingfisher, the black-backed kingfisher, or miniature kingfisher. “This is exciting news for nature enthusiasts. Researchers say it comes as a no-surprise given the ATR consists of various types of habitats such as thorny scrub, dry and moist deciduous, riverine forest, tropical rainforest and shola-grassland. Man-made habitats such as monoculture plantations and large reservoirs harbour a variety of birds,” says Pravin.
The bird is only slightly larger than a medium-sized hummingbird and measures 12.5 to 14 cm in length (including bill and tail). They are highly territorial when selecting their habitation range. Normally, these territories are located where ample food sources are available. Says Pravin, “The record in the region becomes significant and calls for conservation of critical habitats.”