Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Rare night heron found exhausted

November 30, 2016

A Malayan night heron, a rare migrant bird, appeared in a garden in Thimbirigasyaya this week, spotted by Rajini Jayawardena who lives in Siripa Road last Sunday night.

“It was a relatively large bird and was in the garden, hidden in the darkness. It didn’t fly away even when we went closer to it so I was worried about whether the bird was injured,” Ms. Jayawardena said.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), based at the University of Colombo, was alerted and its MigrantWATCH team identified the bird as a Malayan night heron, which visits the country around this time.

As there were no visible injuries, the team believed the bird was exhausted and disoriented by its long flight of more than 2000 miles and decided to let it recover by itself.

Ms. Jayawardena kept a watchful eye on the heron to keep it safe from cats, crows and other predators. When even by Tuesday the bird did not show any improvement FOGSL decided to capture it and give it a check-up.

Dr. Sampath Seneviratne, who took care of the bird, said it had no injuries – it was simply exhausted. After receiving some first aid, the night heron was released to a better habitat in a Colombo suburban area.

Bird migration is in full swing with star migrants such as the greater flamingo flocking in their thousands in lagoons in the Jaffna peninsula, according to Janaka Bandara, who photographed these birds.

Global conservation giant meets in LankaThe Global Council of BirdLife International, the world’s largest partnership of conservation organisations with partners in more than 120 countries and territories, meets in Sri Lanka this week.

The organisation’s Chief Executive Officer, Patricia Zurita, said the meeting in Sri Lanka will contain important discussions.

BirdLife Global Council’s local partner is the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), represented by Professor Sarath Kotagama.

The public will have a chance to meet BirdLife International’s members and representatives of its Asian partners at the BirdLife Asian Partnership Bird Fair being held today from 7am-5.30pm at the Thalawathugoda Biodiversity Study Park located near the Kimbulawela end of the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Road. The event is free and more information can be obtained from

Published on SundayTimes on 20.11.2016

VIP migrants find haven in Colombo wetlands

November 20, 2016

This is the bird migration season and the remaining wetlands around Colombo are attracting some special migrant birds, particularly in the wetlands around Thalawathugoda.

While testing his new camera, Erich Joseph was lucky to capture the comb duck in a spot close to the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. This is a rare migrant and the sighting in our capital city indicates the importance of protecting the remaining wetland habitat in Colombo and its suburbs.

Another migrant, the glossy ibis, has also taken refuge in the Thalawathugoda wetlands. Rishani Gunasinghe, who managed to photograph a small flock of these birds, says that although they look a dull black at a distance, light shining on their feathers brings out their real beauty.

The comb duck

They have flown a long way – be kind

November 20, 2016

Published on SundayTimes on 30.10.2016

As the bird migration season begins, experts are urging the public to watch out for exhausted migrants found in their gardens and neighbourhood in coming weeks.A number of exhausted or dead birds were found this week. A disorientated dead Indian pitta, commonly known as avichchiya, was found dead after having flown into a window at Pelawatte, birdwatcher Will Duncan reported on October 18. Another dead pitta was by seen Harshani Ratnayake the same day.

After flying hundreds of miles, weakened birds can easily become disorientated and lose their way. Records indicate Colombo can expect more Indian pittas this month so people are asked to be vigilant.

Malayanan Night Heron
(c) Vimukthi Weeratunga

If an exhausted migrant is found, the bird should first be protected from predators such as dogs, cats, rats and crows. If the bird is able to fly and show recovery on its own, let it recover naturally under a watchful eye, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) advises. Its MigrantWATCH program is aimed at assisting such troubled migrants.

If the bird is unconscious or takes a long time to recover keep it in a dark, quiet and warm place; a clean cardboard box with small holes for ventilation would be a good enclosure for the troubled bird. Handle the bird as little as possible to avoid adding to its stress.When the bird is able to fly, release it as soon as possible in a safe environment. Attend to traumatic injuries (broken bones) as necessary and if extensive care is needed, consult a veterinarian.

Launching MigrantWATCH 2016-17, biologist Vimukthi Weeratunga called for the protection of bird habitat. “Decades ago, we could see thousands of migrant birds in wetlands such as Bundala but such large flocks are rare today in southern Sri Lanka,” he said, using the example of the “star” migrant, the greater flamingo, that has abandoned the Bundala wetlands.

“Even small home gardens in Colombo could be vital for the survival of some of the migrant species so the public can do its part and make home gardens bird-friendly,” Mr. Weeratunga said.The blue-tailed bee-eater, forest wagtail, barn swallow, brown flycatcher and brown shrike are some of the common migrants to be seen even in Colombo.

Mr. Weeratunga, a veteran photographer, has photographed rare migrant birds and asked birdwatchers to be watchful because common-looking birds could turn out to be a rare migrant that might be paying their first recorded visit to Sri Lanka.The long-distance migrants can be badly affected by the impact of climate change. Last year, the University of Copenhagen conducted a study based on observations of thousands of volunteer birdwatchers across Europe and found that birds are affected by changing climatic conditions and that while some species benefit from these changes, birds of colder regions stand to suffer.

Sri Lanka lacks sufficient data to analyse the adverse effects of climate change and other environmental issues on birds so the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), based at the University of Colombo, is calling on bird lovers to record sightings of migrants and submit them to the MigrantWATCH program.

As part of the program, the FOGSL has scheduled a two-hour public lecture by Professor.Sarath Kotagama on New Updates on Bird Migration on Saturday, October 29 at 9.30am at the Department of Zoology of the University of Colombo. A field visit to observe migrants in Colombo’s wetlands has been arranged for Sunday, October 30 starting from Thalawathugoda Wetland Park, from 6.30-9am.

These events are free and all are welcome, and the FOGSL is keen to meet those who are new to birdwatching. For more information about these events and how to be part of this Citizen Science program, call organisers on 0712289022 or email

Malaka Rodrigo is a coordinator of the MigrantWATCH programme.

She wears my ring, say UK bird researchers

December 2, 2015

A bird found with a ring on Puttalam lagoon last week caused puzzlement over the link between the ring and the bird. The ring was etched with the words “British Museum London” and bore other markings that were meaningless to many people.

One erroneous report stated, “London Museum bird accidentally lands in Sri Lanka with a ‘Stolen Ring’” and said the ring was silver.

Second ‘ringed’ bird in Chillaw photographed by Supun Perera

Second ‘ringed’ bird in Chillaw photographed by Supun Perera

But the bird neither visited Sri Lanka accidentally, nor had it stolen a ring. It has been identified as a lesser crested tern (Thalasseus bengalensis), a common winter migrant to Sri Lanka that can be seen this time of the year.

The ring was a piece of metal sealed around its leg by researchers in order to monitor its movement. The ring is not silver but made out of a light, non-corrosive alloy.

Bird ringing, also known as bird banding, is used by ornithologists to study the species. They catch a bird and fasten a uniquely numbered ring on one of its legs that helps to distinguish the bird individually.

The band states where the bird was ringed, and this shows experts who might find the bird elsewhere the path of its migratory flight.

The ring of the bird found in Puttalam was numbered DE65264. Following the website marked on the ring., The Sunday Times contacted the ringing team.

Pic by Hiran Prinkara Jayasinghe

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO), which ringed this bird, said it had ringed this bird on June 22, 2012. The bird had been a juvenile at the time.

The researchers said the bird had been ringed at Al-Jarim Island in the Persian Gulf near Bahrain.

The island has a large breeding populations of bridled terns and lesser crested terns, so the bird found in Sri Lanka could have been born on that island in the Middle East. Sri Lanka lies 3700km from the ringing site.

Ringing began more than 100 years ago to study the movements of birds. While it continues to generate information about movements it also allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to breed as adults, as well as how many adults live from year to year and how many birds disperse to different breeding sites.

Collection of this information helps us to understand why bird populations increase or decrease- vital information for conservation.

The BTO organises bird ringing in Britain and Ireland and said that each year more than 900,000 birds are ringed by some 2,500 highly-trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers.

Ringing has yielded fascinating information to the BTO. The bird that travels the furthest, it found, is an Arctic tern that travels 18,000km.

BTO researchers recaptured a Manx shearwater in July 2003 and found it had been ringed as far back as 1953, making it the known longest-living wild bird at 55 years.

The lesser crested tern found in Puttalam is now in the care of the Department of Wildlife’s Anuradhapura office. Veterinarian Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe says the bird is being treated for a leg injury.

Another ringed lesser crested tern found earlier this month could, according to the data it was carrying, have been ringed by a team from Iran.

Published on 29.11.2015 on SundayTimes – (please note that the captions of the ‘second bird ringed at Chillaw got mixed up in the printed and web versions of SundayTimes that mentioned it as ‘The ‘ringed’ bird in Puttalam’. The photo credit should goes to Supun Perera.

 Lanka bird ringing programmeSri Lanka now has its own National Ringing Program conducted by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

This programme centered at Bundala started in 2002 and has resulted in the ringing of a large number of birds, particularly migrant birds.

Migrant birds start arriving in Sri Lanka around the middle of August, ahead of the winter in their native lands. After spending around six months in Lanka they return to their breeding grounds towards the end of April the following year.

The ringing exercise takes place four times a year – three during the migratory season and one in July. The three migratory season operations are conducted at the start of the wintering period (September to October); in mid-winter (December to January), and the end of the wintering period (March to April).

Birds are captured with “mist nets”. The operation usually starts at dusk with these large nets being set up on a lagoon. The nets are checked periodically and the entangled birds are taken into the camp for ringing. 

The bird is measured, weighed and interesting marking noted. Then a small metal ring with is attached to its leg with marking stating that the bird had been tagged in Sri Lanka.

The programme is now 10 years old and is expected to bring interesting results in the future. During the most recent ringing camp, researchers found a white-browed bulbul ringed 10 years ago.

This is the season to watch migratory seabirds

September 6, 2015

Sri Lanka enjoys many wildlife spectaculars, including the phenomenon of the annual mass migration of hundreds of thousands of seabirds. “August-September is the best time to observe the great mass migration of seabirds. During the peak in September as many as 3,000-4,000 bridled terns (Sterna anaethetus) fly southwards within sight of shore in one hour,” reveals Rex I. De Silva who has studied this fascinating phenomena over many years.

Flesh-footed Shearwater. Photo (c) Robyn PickeringIn a good year, approximately half a million bridled terns will fly southwards during the daytime. Many seabirds take part in long annual migrations, crossing the equator after the breeding season. As many as 50 different species of seabirds have been recorded in Sri Lanka.

At present the area (or areas) of origin of the migrating brindle terns is not known, nor is their ultimate destination. It is suspected that the migration is a post-breeding dispersal of birds nesting in possibly the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, in Makran on the coast of Pakistan, and the Maldives, Mr. De Silva said.

A less spectacular but equally interesting sight in September and October is the southward migration of flesh-footed shearwaters (Puffinus carneipes). According to Mr. De Silva, these birds leave their breeding grounds in south-west Australia each May and embark on a lengthy “continuous migration” which takes them north and west to the Arabian Sea and thence southwards past Sri Lanka, back to their homes in time for the next breeding season. Shearwaters never approach closer than about 1.5km from land and detailed observations are conducted out at sea.

Bridled-tern-in-flight (c) Don Hadden

The best season for seabird-watching is during the south-west monsoon (usually May-October). Other than the brindled tern, this is also an opportunity to observe several other seabird species such as the wedge-tailed shearwater, Wilson’s storm-petrel, lesser frigatebird, brown skua, pomarine skua, brown noddy and lesser noddy.

Land-based watching can be carried out from practically anywhere on the western coast. Especially favourable locations are Talawila, Chilaw, Negombo, Colombo and its coastal suburbs, Beruwela, Bentota, Ambalangoda, Hikkaduwa and Galle.
The western coast is primarily of low elevation, few places having altitudes in excess of 50m, and these low coastal regions are ideal for studying the seabird migrations as the birds usually are low-flyers, hence a telescope at sea level will show more of the movement than would observation from a higher site.


Alarm as global seabird population plummets
A recent study analysing data of 162 seabird species from 1950-2010 revealed the populations have reduced by 70 per cent. Seabirds are also considered as indicators of marine habitats, so this also rings alarm bells about the states of world’s ocean, the scientists say.It is feared that the uncontrolled collection of fish from the ocean has left seabirds less food and thst this could be one reason for the decline in numbers. Seabirds are usually migratory birds, so if one area in their flyway is affected the population can drop even though the environment is sound elsewhere. This is a problem faced by all migratory species.Seabirds usually breed in colonies densely packed during the egg-laying breeding season. Several sand islands of Adam’s Bridge, which links Jaffna to India’s Rameswaram, are famous seabird breeding grounds. The third island from Mannar is special as it is used by thousands of seabirds for breeding. The island is less than 5ha but researchers found seven species of terns breeding there, building nests on the sand. Of these, six are listed as endangered species since this island is the only known breeding site in Sri Lanka for them.It is reported that the eggs are sometimes collected by the villagers and even unwary tourists could disturb this breeding colony. These islands have been declared as national parks, giving them protection. Conservationists urge that this protection should be enhanced to the level of “Strict Nature Reserve”, where access to the island would be permitted only for scientific purpose.
Chance to watch and learn about flyover
The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) has organised a seabird-watching public meeting on Sunday, September 13 at Wellawatte. Only a limited number of people can be accommodated, so register without delay by calling to 0718440144 or emailing is when the bridle tern migration will be at its peak. It is also when other migrants such as the blue-tailed bea-eater, barn swallow etc. will be flying over Sri Lanka. MigrantWATCH 2015/16, a FOGSL project, invites you to keep observing the migratory birds around you and share the data. Several field visits and lectures on migrant birds will be held. Use the contact details given above for more information.Published on SundayTimes on 06.09.2015 

Energy – Make it Bird Friendly..!!

May 14, 2015

On World Migratory Bird Day this weekend (9-10 of May), Sri Lanka celebrates the 200 birds that migrate to the island annually and become an important part of this country’s biodiversity. These birds fly thousands of kilometres, even crossing great oceans, in order to reach their destinations during the two-way journey. They are vulnerable to dangers lying in their path that could bring devastating results even though the sites at their destinations are protected.

World Migratory Bird Day was declared to raise the awareness of these special creatures and the threats they face. “Energy – Make it Bird Friendly” is this year’s theme to highlight the harm faced every year by millions of migratory birds which struggle with the massive expansion of energy generation and distribution.
Collisions and electrocution due to power lines as well as barrier effects from energy infrastructure can cause death and displacement. Wind farms could be particularly disruptive if set up across migratory routes.

“We need clean and cheap power that doesn’t pollute environment, so we should find ways to minimise damage and keep monitoring the impact of energy infrastructure once it is set up,” said Devaka Weerakoon, Professor of Zoology at the University of Colombo.


‘Birding with the 3rd eye’

January 24, 2015

“Birds’ welfare comes first” is the message of the FOGSL photography exhibition. This article has been published on SundayTimes on 07.12.2014 –

Dushantha Wasala’s photograph “The Battlefield” showing a mid-air fight of Malabar Pied Hornbills was the overall winner of the “Birding with the 3rd Eye” exhibition. Sandaruwan Abayaratne, S.N.P. Rodrigo, Dr. Gihan Rajeev and Dr. Sudheera Bandara won first prize in the categories Bird portrait, Bird behaviour, Endemic and Rare Birds and Birds in Crisis respectively.

‘Mid-air Battle’ – the overall winner


Today is the final day of the exhibition being held at the University of Colombo with the aim of reminding nature lovers that the birds’ welfare should come first and that the ethical photographer can explore a great deal of birdlife – undisturbed.

The exhibition contains 150 photographs selected from the competition held recently. Nearly 100 photographers submitted close to 500 bird photographs and an independent panel of judges – wildlife photographers – Kithsiri Gunawardane, Mendis Wickremasinghe and Isuru Udana de Zoysa selected the winners.

“It is good to see people are getting more and more interested on nature, but at the same time the same excitement should not disturb nature. Our main aim is to raise awareness that the animal’s welfare should come first,” said Dr. Sampath Seneviratne of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) that coordinated the exhibition.

Photographers always try to go close to the birds to take their photos. But it is important to keep a safe distance. If the animal shows signs of distress, then you should stop disturbing it. You also need to be patient – never force an action. The most beautiful photographs result from natural action,” Dr. Seneviratne added.

Nest photography is another area that photographers need to be careful about. Never encroach on nests as certain species will abandon the young. Some birds select a safer place that is hidden from the predators, but if you remove foliage to get a good shot, you could be exposing the nest.

So educate yourselves by learning about birds that will allow you to take a good bird photograph without disturbing them, appeals the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka.

Veteran Herpetologist and expert wildlife photographer Mendis Wickremasinghe says the competition is unique as it has different categories helping to recognise different aspects of bird photography. The competitors could submit the photos under categories such as Bird portrait, Bird behaviour, Endemic and Rare Birds, Birds in Crisis. “If these are judged under the same category, it is natural that a Bird Behaviour photo emerge the winner. But in this format, even a portrait kind of photo is recognised,” he explained.

With the experience of judging the photos, Mendis said there were lots photos submitted for Bird Portrait and Behaviours; but very few for categories such as ‘Birds in Crisis’ and ‘Birds Habitats’. “It looks like photographers have not properly understood these categories, meaning their attention is mainly on taking a photograph. But these are categories photographers can contribute toward conservation through educating others through their photos,” Mendis added.

[The Birding with the 3rd Eye exhibition and the P.B. Karunaratne Bird Exhibition has been held on December, 2014 at the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo]


Overall winner gets the prize from Mrs.P.B.Karunaratne.

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I spy with my little eye a bird!

January 24, 2015

‘Wild in Ruins’, Lester Perera’s exhibition celebrates both wildlife and archaeological sites. This article was published on 31st of August 2014.

Well known wildlife artist and leading naturalist Lester Perera is ready with his next exhibition of wildlife art under the theme ‘Wild in Ruins’. Among the colourful paintings of birds using watercolours and acrylics, the exhibition contains black and white ‘ink and pen’ drawings. At a glance, they seem to showcase archaeological sites in Sri Lanka, but a closer look will reveal the birds that perfectly blend into the ruins. There are kingfishers perched on top of ancient korawakkgala, the owl in wata da geya, an Indian Pitta in the ruins of Polonnaruwa- hence the theme ‘Wild in Ruins’. Lester says he wanted to promote birding in Heritage Sites through this exhibition while also highlighting the importance to step up conservation of Sri Lanka’s wildlife, before human activities ruin them. In a colour sketch the artist has shades of different colour to bring life to a painting, but in black and white, the artist has to use different shades of the same colour to give depth to the drawing, which needs lots of patience and skill. “Drawing wildlife in black and white is more difficult, but I enjoy it. It is like a meditation that brings me enormous personal pleasure,” Lester says. This is Lester’s 8th exhibition of wildlife art. With almost 30 years’ experience as a birdwatcher, Lester is undeniably one of the most accomplished bird artists in the region. He has exhibited his work at many international exhibitions and was invited by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for “Art on the wing” 2005 to exhibit his work along with the leading wildlife artists in Europe at the Maclaurin Gallery in Scotland.

He annually donates his work to the Oriental Bird Club of the UK to be auctioned at the British Bird Watching Fair held in Leicestershire, the proceeds of which are used for significant bird related conservation work in the Orient. “I’m already framed as a ‘Bird Artist’, but I also wanted to prove I’m versatile and I can take up the challenge of drawing other things,” says Lester explaining why he has chosen to focus more on habitats this time – particularly archaeological sites. As a renowned naturalist, Lester points out that people need to enjoy nature as a whole when they go out into the wild. “Other than birds, leopards or elephants – there are so many things to observe when people go out into a forest. Simple things such as the fallen leaves on the forest floor in different stages of decay can be something unique to explore,” added Lester, who is critical of the behaviour of visitors to wildlife parks who chase behind animals like leopards in a crazy effort to photograph them. It is not easy to become a wildlife artist in Sri Lanka as there is very little assistance from the state and no proper government run Art Gallery that can be used by the budding artists to showcase their talents, points out Lester who feels it is high time the State played a more active role in fostering the arts. “Wild in Ruins” will be at the Harold Peiris gallery of the Lionel Wendt on September 6 and 7  of 2014 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wild in Ruin - Indian Pitta (Black & White) Wild in Ruin - Owl (in Black & White) Wild in Ruin - A kingfisher (Black & White)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peacocks’ tragic dance of death on expressway

August 24, 2014
Drawn to cleared roadsites, the beautiful birds are falling victim to predators of steel

Huge warning boards recently erected at the Matara end of the Southern Expressway carry an unusual caution: “Danger – Peacocks Ahead”. 

Large warning board on Southern Expressway near Matara (C) Sajeewanie Kodippili

Large warning board on Southern Expressway near Matara (C) Sajeewanie Kodippili

“After the Galle-Matara stretch of the Southern Expressway opened in March we found that dozens of peafowl were colliding with vehicles,” said an expressway official, explaining why the boards were erected.

The accidents are mostly fatal for the poor peafowls but also result in severe damage to vehicles.

“Suddenly there was a loud bang and the large windscreen of the luxury bus we were travelling in got smashed in,” said a recent traveller, H.B.J. Palitha, describing the moment when a peafowl hit his vehicle. “It was lucky that the collision ended with only damage to the windscreen.”

“The peafowl was gasping for air and died soon afterwards. We had to waste time stranded on the expressway until police arrived to record the incident.” More than 10 buses plying the expressway have been damaged to date due to collisions with peafowl, said K.G. Karunasena, who works as a bus driver on the route. 

An injured peahen

An injured peahen

“Being large birds, peafowl cross the expressway flying low. This is the worst possible height at which a collision can happen, and as they appear from nowhere we don’t have time to slow down our vehicles,” he said.

“Even now, collisions still occur,” Mr. Karunasena said; a double cab travelling in front of him last month had been hit by a peafowl.
Peafowl naturally prefer open areas so the clearances made for the Southern Expressway have provided them an ideal habitat. Peafowl in the area would have been attracted to this newfound playground as the land was being cleared but with the opening of the expressway their playground has turned into their deathbed
Peafowls traditionally inhabit dry zone areas and were not common in this area a decade ago but they have rapidly multiplied in the past few years, local villagers say.

Luckily for these avian victims of the expressway Sri Lanka’s only Wildlife Hospital, managed by Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG), is at Hiyare, close to the expressway. WCSG President Madura de Silva says the hospital receives several peafowl victims each month. He said that collisions even happened on the Galle-Colombo stretch but the number of victims increased drastically soon after the Galle-Matara portion of the expressway opened six months ago.

According to Southern Expressway bus drivers interviewed by The Sunday Times most collisions occur in the morning between 6am and 7am when peafowls are active. They do most of their foraging in the early morning and shortly before sunset, which is why accidents are common at these times. The peafowl roam around in small flocks, and this is the time they also usually make their ritualistic dance.

While expressways are built to save travelling time, the risks of a collision killing wildlife, and the risk to human life and property and time spent on official recording of an accident, should make the public think. Surely it would be a good idea to slow down in the areas that are prone to wildlife collision as the large billboards warn?

Published on 25.08.2014

Plan highways with respect for Mother NatureWith the Government planning the country’s sixth expressway, the 72km Ruwanpura Expressway (E06) that will link Colombo and Ratnapura, environmentalists are stressing the importance of setting up these major roads with minimum damage to the environment.“When it comes to building a new expressway, it is important to avoid taking the easy route sacrificing our wetlands, forest reserves and national parks. Such short-sighted planning and design result in massive long-term ecological harm to the country,” said Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka (RPSL) President, Sriyantha Perera. He made these comments based on a recent statement in some media by Deputy Minister (Project) Highways, Ports and Shipping Nirmala Kothalawala that “the proposed expressway would be built on state land and swamps”. Expressways built through flood plains and wetlands end up contributing towards flooding of the surrounding area as the natural storm-water paths become blocked, affecting local people, said Mr Perera.

In June, the Sothern Expressway entrance at Welipanna was flooded and environmentalists allege this was due to water flow being disturbed by the elevated construction across swamps. Environmental Conservation Trust spokesman Sajeewa Chamikara said that while building the three expressways, seven wetland areas and five catchments had been completely or partially damaged. “The highways are located in the south-west monsoon region where heavy showers are expected annually, so this should be a point of concern” Mr. Chamikara added. This is also true for Ratnapura where heavy rains are reported and flooding is a frequent hazard.” 

For the planned Ruwanpura Expressway, Rainforest Protectors propose building an elevated expressway above the existing Panadura-Ratnapura highway as the best option without having to further destroy environmentally sensitive habitat, especially the rainforests of Ingiriya and the flood plains of the Kalu Ganga. Let Sri Lanka lead the way in sustainable development in the 21st century on its way to becoming the “Miracle of Asia”, environmentalists say.

Road Number Name Route Length (km) 

E01 Southern Expressway (Kottawa-Matara) 128
E02 Outer Circular Expressway (Kottawa-Kerawalapitiya 29.2
E03 Colombo-Katunayake Expressway 25.8
E04 Colombo-Kandy Expressway (Kadawatha-Katugastota) 98.9
E06 Ruwanpura Expressway (Kahathuduwa-Pelmadulla) 71.8 


Welcome the New Year listening to the ‘Nature’

December 31, 2013

In the soft dawn of a New Year, a sweet sound will steal your heart

For the many preparing to see in 2014 to the booming sound of rock bands and firecrackers the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka has a counter-proposal: welcome the dawn of the New Year to the sweet sound of the dawn chorus. Birds are nature’s wonderful songsters and they sing every morning to welcome the day but their songs mostly go unnoticed due to our busy lifestyle. With all their skills, musicians and composers who have been inspired by the charms of birdsong have not been able to emulate the perfection of Nature’s melody.

The Sunbird. Pix courtesy J.F.R.De Fonseka

Says FOGSL, there’s no better way to see in the New Year than by listening to our birds singing their dawn chorus, but if January 1 is disturbed by the sounds of crackers and you are feeling too sleepy from late-night partying to wake up in time to hear the birds, select any day of the first week of 2014 and listen to nature’s symphony to remind yourself of the need to be closer to nature.

If you listen to the dawn chorus in your area regularly you will notice changes in the melody as some birds intensify their singing during the breeding season. The best example is the well-known songster, the Asian Koel (koha), who starts singing its beautiful song to attract its mate around April.

The Oriental Magpie Robin (polkichcha) is another common songster that enriches the dawn chorus by singing from the highest point in the area. The birds start the day around 4:30-5 a.m. Get up early before sunrise and keep listening!

Oriental Magpie Robin

Oriental Magpie Robin – A common songster in our home gardens

The Spotted Dove

published on SundayTimes on 29.12.2013

Our feathered friends from across the seas are back

September 24, 2013

The birds are back and one of the earliest migratory visitors to Sri Lanka away from the harsh winters in the north is the Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater, point out Ornithologists.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater (c) Rajiv Welikala - Copy

These birds leave their breeding grounds mainly in northern India and settle down here in various parts of the country, even in our home gardens. As its name implies the bird’s staple diet consists of flying insects such as bees dragonflies and butterflies. In the absence of trees their favourite perching platforms consists of television antennas and electric wires, making them a common sight even in a busy urban environment.

It has been recorded that some migratory birds arrive in Sri Lanka as early as August, but a majority make their journey from mid-September to October.

While some of these migrants fly into wetlands and forested areas, many of them opt for home gardens in urban areas. The Barn Swallow, Forest Wagtail, Brown Shrike, Brown Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher (sudu redi hora) and Indian Pitta (Avichchiya) are a familiar sight in home gardens this time of the year.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) has this year too asked bird enthusiasts and other householders to keep an eye on who comes when and who leaves when, to help build up more data on migrant birds. In 2011 the group launched the programme, Migrant WATCH, to promote the observation of migrants and in turn their safety.

A Slaty-legged Crake rescued from the heart of Colombo a couple of years ago

Sometimes these migrants exhausted by their long-distance flight collide with window panes and get hurt. They can also become easy prey to domestic cats and dogs.

Bird experts say if one finds a migrant bird in distress put it in a cardboard with a few holes for ventilation and place the box in a quiet warm place. It if is too weak to fly it is recommended that small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C be given. When the bird is able to fly again release it in a proper environment, the experts say.

Join these events 

The Migrant WATCH will be launched on September 29 (Sunday) with a birding session at the Thalangama Tank in Battaramulla at 7 a.m. A lecture on ‘Waders and Other Migrant Birds’ will be delivered the day before, September 28 (Saturday) at 9.30 a.m. at the Zoology Department of the University of Colombo. The FOGSL especially welcomes those who are new to bird watching to take part in these events

Some of the other events organised include a wader workshop at the Bundala National Park (from October 16-20)) and a field visit to Mannar (December 13-16). For more information about these programmes contact FOGSL on 2501332 or 0718440144 or email 

The elusive New Year messenger

April 14, 2013

Today is Avurudu but have you heard the messenger of the New Year, the koha? �The song of the koha, or the Asian Koel, is a special part of the Avurudu season, like the Western cuckoo is termed the first harbinger of Spring. But do we hear the koha’s melodious song as frequently as in the past or is it fading away like other Avurudu symbols such as erabadu flowers and cadju puhulam? ..or has change of the climate made an impact for timining of this melodious call..? – by Malaka Rodrigo

Pic by Udara Samaraweera

Some readers reported hearing koha’s song less frequently this year. “I haven’t heard the koha in my neigbourhood,”lamented Gayani Karunatilake, who lives in Nugegoda.�Reaction is varied. Responding to a query posted on the Facebook group“Nature”, Kavinda Jayasooriya said he noticed koha calls had increased this year.

Posting on the same group, Jagath Gunawardane, an ardent birdwatcher, said that based on his observations the koha’s call was less frequent now. “The calling reached a peak during the last days of March, and now we are having a reduction in calling. It will be even less during the New Year days,”he predicts.

Sarath Ekanayake, had a different view. “During March-April this year, kohas could not be seen or heard in my surrounding area around Kandy,” he said.

“I saw the koel in February but haven’t heard the calling.”�Mr Ekanayake also shared an interesting observation from a villager of Ambalangoda who said the koha was being found in large numbers in home gardens in the area, sometimes in flocks of five to seven birds.

So what makes these changes..? could the changing climate has made an impact for the timing of Koel’s song..? 

Studies in other countries show that timing of migratory birds are slightly changing. ScienceDaily last year reported that climate change and global warming has started changing the migratory patterns of the birds. ( Ornithologists believe that the urge to migrate is triggered by a series of facts such as day length and the new report which was published on PLoS journal points out that the timing of arrival of the migratory birds have now got advanced.

Ornithologists highlight the impact for the birds due to early arrival can be bad. Professor of biology Allen Hurlbert says that “Timing of bird migration is something critical for the overall health of bird species”. “They have to time it right so they can balance arriving on breeding grounds after there’s no longer a risk of severe winter conditions. If they get it wrong, they may die or may not produce as many young. A change in migration could begin to contribute to population decline, putting many species at risk for extinction”

Prof.Sarath Kotagama, the foremost Ornithologist of Sri Lanka says there are no particular scientific data on changing of migratory patterns in birds that comes to Sri Lanka, but stress the importance of collecting data on migratory birds and scientists also says Global Warming can impact the timing of breeding. The koel’s song is its breeding call, and the posibility of any impact could not be ruled out.

But to conclude, scientific data is required. The migratory patterns of the birds in America have been researched using bird observation data feed into internet based eBird forum by amateur Ornithologists. Since 2002, eBird has collected more than 48 million bird observations from roughly 35,000 contributors. This kind of Citizen Science program is proposed for Sri Lanka as well.

Addressing the Annual BirdWatchers’ Conference organised by FOGSL on March 30, Mr. Fernando said everyone could help in the conservation of birds by properly documenting and sharing those casual observations.

“If you observe the birds around you throughout the year, you can easily monitor any changing patterns of different birds” he added. “Different people have different perceptions on whether the Asian koel is found in their gardens as frequently as last year and whether its song is heard.

“If we kept a record last year on days we heard the koha, or the numbers in which they visited our gardens, then we can compare those records and make conclusions as we have a data set to compare.”�These simple observations collectively could be used as scientific data to monitor any decline or change in population.

The Asian koel is omnivorous, and the large numbers of crows solve their housing needs so the bird can adapt to rapid urbanisation. Ornithologists in general do not see a decline of its numbers. “But no one can say that even the koha is perfectly safe as there can be unexpected phenomena affecting even common birds,” says Chandima Fernando of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL).

“The house sparrow was once very common around Sri Lanka. But they are not to be seen any more in many areas. This population decline could have occurred over a period of time but because we haven’t monitored them, we didn’t realise they were in trouble,” he said.

Mr. Fernando also revealed that FOGSL plans to launch another Citizen Science program called “Garden Bird Watch” and welcomes the Sunday Times readers interesting in joining the initiative to send an e-mail to or call FOGSL secretariat on 011-2501332.

Perhaps this Aluth Avurudu is the best time to pay some attention to the common birds. Why not start by observing the koha this year? If you can capture any photographs of kohas, send them to the Sunday Times or email to

The bandit bird

The Avurudu song of the koha is the song of the male vying with other cuckoos to impress a mate. The melody signals the start of the breeding season, which usually coincides with the April festive season.�As the koha’s melodious song is seasonal it is commonly believed that the Asian koel is a migratory bird but Prof.Sarath Kotagama says this is a misconception. The Asian koel could be seen in our home gardens throughout the year if we look closely.

The Asian koel, like many other cuckoos, lay eggs in the nests of other species. Different cuckoos target the nests of different birds. Our beloved “Avurudu koha”selects the crows as foster parents for its young.�The male koel deliberately distracts the crows to allow the female koel to lay its egg in the crow’s nest. A single egg is usually laid, and sometimes the female egg even throws out the host’s egg.

Some baby cuckoos eject the host fledgeling but the koha young are not hardwired to that bad habit. Nevertheless they are very active and quick and eat most of the food brought to the nest by the foster-parents, which eventually causes the baby crows to starve. By the time the crow mothers realise something is wrong the koel is strong enough to flee the nest and the angry foster parents. The male Asian koel is blackish with red eyes, while the female is spotted and often mis-identified as a different species.

Published on SundayTimes on 14.04.2013

Rise for the Sparrow – where has gone our ‘ge kurullas’..?

March 20, 2013

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is indeed a special bird that was common decades ago. They were considered a good-will bird, so boxes, pots with holes were kept inviting them to nest near our houses. Sparrows were a common scene in most  the public places like markets or railway stations. But this bird once commonly recorded started to disappear without our knowledge. Now Sparrows are gone from many places they were once common or their numbers have reduced. This decline of sparrows has been recorded from different parts of the world puzzling the Ornithologists.

The decline of Sparrow under our radar has also highlighted the importance of keeping an eye even on common species. To highlight these facts and promote sparrow conservation, the 20th March has been declared as World Sparrows Day (WSD) by a group of Environmental Organizations around the world. The theme this year is given as “Rise for the Sparrows” urging the public to have a look at these birds once common in their vicinity.

rise for the sparrows

The World Sparrow’s Day has been initiated by the Nature Forever Society of India in collaboration with the Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) and numerous other national and international organisations across the world according to Wikipidea. Their website mentions the theme ‘Rise for the Sparrow’ is aimed at empowering and inspiring citizens, corporate and educational institution to actively get involved in sparrow conservation, monitoring and creating awareness with regard to the conservation of house sparrow and other common birds. They aim to reach out to people across the the world to empower them with simple solutions which will not involve a lot of time and resources but at the same time will have a significant impact on sparrow conservation.

Elephants or Leopard could be more threatened, but we can do very little to protect them. But here is an opportunity to study and help a bird that is being declined in our presence. Following is World Sparrow Day organizers mentioned on ways you can help the Sparrows..

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia

Male House Sparrow (c) Wikipedia


Every creature has a significant role to play in the web of life. Just as the little house sparrow is a major indicator of the health of our environment, each of us can help in various ways to protect the house sparrow. We need to come forward to help the bird by raising awareness on the issue. We also need to start house sparrow habitat conservation drives by providing water and food regularly, by switching back to organic gardening, planting more hedges and putting up nest boxes dedicated to house sparrows.


Do you identify with the problem the house sparrow faces? Share with us ways you came up with to help the bird.

Would you like to help but can’t think of a way to reach out? Look up our ideas. Which group do you identify with? There’s an idea for everyone!

The lonesome one some sparrow :

If you are an individual and would prefer to celebrate World Sparrow Day by yourself or with a small group, you could resolve to set out a sparrow feeder filled with grain and a fresh bowl of water every day beginning March (?) 2011, at the same time and the same place. House sparrows love seeds and kitchen scraps. They feed their young insects with aphids and caterpillars. Most birds need to drink water at least twice a day, throughout the year. Sparrows, which are seed eaters, need more water since the seeds are dry. Put out a shallow dish of clean water in a shady place. Make sure the water is changed regularly, otherwise, the birds can fall ill.

Gather information :

on the problem and address a group of people to raise awareness.

Cosy twosome :

Sparrows are known to be extremely loyal to their partners. Just like you! Celebrate their commitment to each other with your loved one. One reason why there are fewer house sparrows is modern construction. House sparrows love to tuck into crevices but glass and concrete constructions leave little space for them. You can order nest boxes made of recycled wood from us or put up your own.

The happy, chirpy family :

Go for a picnic. Remember to take some grain. Set them out near a thicket, some distance from you, and watch for sparrows and other small birds. Teach children the importance of birds and how we must give them space. Make sure you leave the picnic spot as clean as you found it except for the crumbs and grain you left for your feathered friends.

A school of sparrows :

Are you a member of your school Ecology Club? Celebrate WSD with a presentation on why we need the house sparrow, the dangers it is facing and how each of you can help. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Prof Sparrow :

College eco clubs can twitter away. Organise an awareness campaign with posters and audio visual information in a public place that draws the most footfalls and eyeballs, like the entrance lobby of your college. Put up feeders and nesting boxes.

Sparrow community :

There is a lot more you can do in your neighbourhood, office or institution! Request the local municipal authorities to permit you to plant hedges in the park. Don’t allow the hedges to be landscaped, since that is dangerous to birds, small animals and insects. Place grain bowls regularly at one place in the park or on the window sill, but make sure the feeding birds are safe from dogs, cats and human footfalls.

E-savvy sparrow :

Are you adept at social networking? Place our link and all the others that deal with the house sparrow on your account so that all your friends get to know about the threat to the doughty little bird.

Locals target endemic birds as pets & Birds detected at BIA raises Interpol concern

March 11, 2012

Locals Target Endemic Birds as Pets
by Malaka Rodrigo

A bird-import racket was busted by the Customs last week, but another covert and illicit bird trade is being conducted within the country. The operatives catch birds in remote areas, sometimes deep in the jungles, and supply these to pet shops. The law allows only exotic birds to be kept as pets, but these pet shop owners deal in any indigenous birds.

Parrots, munias, the black-headed oriole, grackles and even sparrows are among the birds being traded. The grackle, or Hill Myna, known locally as Salalihiniya, is especially vulnerable. The bird is in big demand because it comes under the business category of “birds that can talk.”

The grackle, or Hill Myna

The racket came to light last year when a Galle resident was caught in the act of delivering grackles caught in the wild to a pet shop in Mount Lavinia. Acting on a tip-off that birds were being transported to Colombo, Madura de Silva and Nadeeka Hapurarachchie of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, accompanied by members of the Flying Squad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, lay in wait near the Mt. Lavinia pet shop in question.

A three-wheeler drew up in front of the pet shop, and a man stepped out. He was caught in the act of handing over a plastic crate containing grackles to the pet shop owner. The man told the Flying Squad the grackles were caught in the jungles of Gampola. He said he had also supplied other bird species, including the Layard’s Parakeet, a bird endemic to Sri Lanka. It is understood that the illicit bird business has been going on for quite some time. The bird supplier and the pet shop owner were both fined.

Madura de Silva told the Sunday Times that there seems to be a growing demand for endemic local birds. Some of these birds have permanent nesting sites, and repeatedly visit the same tree and tree hole to lay their eggs. This makes them easy prey to bird catchers.

It is quite common for villagers to keep birds, such as the mynah and the rose-ringed parakeet, as pets. Usually, these are birds that have been found abandoned or lost as fledglings, and out of compassion the villagers adopt the birds and take care of them. It is a different situation in the towns and city, where illegal bird trading is a lucrative business.

While these birds may not be threatened species, they could be in danger if they became heavily targeted species, warned Madura de Silva.

All indigenous and migratory birds, except five bird species, are protected under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance of Sri Lanka. The five unprotected species are the Large-billed Crow, the House Crow, the Rose-ringed Parakeet, the Scaly-breasted Munia and the white-backed Munia. The Rose-ringed Parakeet and two species of Munia are often available for sale in pet shops.

It is illegal to keep even unprotected bird species without a licence, says environment lawyer Jagath Gunawardane. He believes there are a few organised groups engaged in the illicit bird trade, but the “situation is not out of control.” He recommended a proper investigation to review the situation.

Birds Detected at BIA Raises Interpol Concerns

  • Exotic species brought into country illegally to be sold at exorbitant amounts
  • Questions over co-ordination of various agencies involved in implementing Animal Diseases ActThe recent detection at the BIA of an attempt to smuggle several exotic varieties of birds into the country has triggered interest of the Interpol that is probing whether this was part of a global live animal trafficking trade.

By Chandani Kirinde

Interpol’s Environmental Crime Committee in a letter to the Criminal investigation Department (CID) has requested any intelligence that the CID may have gathered from investigations into the illicit trafficking of birds, the Sunday Times learns.

Samantha Gunasekera

The recent detection was of a consignment of 121 live birds brought down by a regular importer who had documents to support the import of only ten birds as per the permits issued by the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWC). These permits are given only after a quarantine report is obtained from the importer as required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The market value of the birds was around Rs. 13.6 million but the declared value was just US $ 1130 (around Rs. 120,000). The man was fined Rs 450,000 and the birds were handed over to the National Zoological Gardens where they will go on display in about a month’s time. The ten birds for which the man had proper documentation were handed over to him.

While most of the birds were varieties of parrots, what was disturbing was that among them were several small exotic varieties of duck and a pair of swans which are high-risk carries of Avian flu (bird flu).

Customs Bio-Diversity unit Director General Samantha Gunasekera who led the detection having kept tabs on the importer for more than a year and having been tipped off by an informant said this was perhaps one of the few cases that was detected while in other instances live animal and bird cargo are smuggled into the country for ornamental purposes to be sold at exorbitant rates.

Another shocking revelation was the amount people are willing to pay to buy different types of macaw and cockatoos to keep as pets. The blue and gold Macaw, indigenous to South America is sold at around Rs.1. 2 million while prices of other exotic birds range between Rs. 100,000 and Rs. One million. (See graphic for prices of imported birds sold in Sri Lanka). “The bird consignments come from Bangkok but the birds originate from South America, Australia or New Zealand,” Mr.Gunasekera said.

While the Customs Department makes the detections, the quarantine office run by officials of the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) are entrusted with checking live cargo. “The importer has to inform the Department when the consignment is due and our officials check them when they arrive to give clearance.

If there is some suspicion we keep the animals or birds at a quarantine centre outside the airport and release them later,” a spokesman for the Department Dr. Susil Silva said. However, the Sunday Times learns that the DAPH has come under criticism particularly that the live cargo is not examined properly and that regular importers are allowed to leave with the goods without proper scrutiny.

When questioned Dr.Silva said the Department works with the resources available and that so far the Department has ensured that no diseases are brought into the country. “We have to implement the Animal Diseases Act and that is what our officials do,” he said.

The Sunday Times found out that with varying government agencies involved in enforcing laws pertaining to this area, there seemed a lack of co-ordination. For example the Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWC) which issues permits and is entrusted with carrying out raids now functions under the Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wild Life whereas it was earlier under the Ministry of Environment which formulates policy on environment related matters. The co-ordination between the DAPH and the Customs too seemed inadequate.

Environment activist and lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said although the Flora and Fauna Ordinance provides adequate laws to deal with the import and export of live and endangered species of both animal and plant what was lacking was its implementation as well as trained officers.

“The law has been amended to meet present day situations but it has to be better implemented and we need more trained personnel so that we can close the loopholes that exist,” he said. Meanwhile, Samantha Gunasekera of the Customs said that other than the import of live animals, the unchecked import of various types of plants and fish too has proved to be hazardous to local bio diversity.

One of the 121 consignment of birds that were detected at the airport. Pic by Mangala Weerasekera

“I warned many years ago that the import of piranhas and knife fish was detrimental to the survival of fish species. Their import was banned much later but now these fish are found in our waterways,” he said.

He added that similarly other types of animal imports could cause much harm. “The Customs sometime back detected a pair of ferrets that had been imported as pets but these creatures are a highly invasive species and if released into the wild could wreak havoc by killing off many of the smaller animals found here,” he said.

“We need to educate the public as well as have better trained people to ensure that both local bio diversity is protected and there is no trafficking of endangered species,” he added.

Permits before pets

The Department of Animal Production and Health has reiterated that those who want to bring their pets (cats, dogs, birds etc.) into the country need to obtain an import permit from the Department prior to their arrival in Sri Lanka.

An official said despite many public notices to this effect, many airline passengers still continue to bring pets without a valid permit and this has caused inconvenience to the quarantine officers who are forced to send them back to the countries from where they were flown in.

He said, sometimes the pets are not accepted by the respective countries and are sent back to Sri Lanka, causing further inconvenience to officials and the owners.

Published on SundayTimes on 19.02.2012

Feathered migrants come back to Bundala Wetland

October 30, 2011

It’s the migratory season, and birds from overseas are arriving to stay out the winter months with us. And some of the visitors are old friends, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Sri Lanka is the destination of choice for a variety of migrant birds, and they usually stop over at the same sites every year.

This was proved by two feathered visitors – a Common Redshank and a Lesser Sand Plover – that were captured recently in the Bundala National Park, on the southern coast.A team of bird lovers working for the National Bird Ringing Programme noted that the two birds had been ringed during earlier visits to the national park: the Common Redshank was ringed in 2009, and the Lesser Sand Plover in 2007.

Exhausted Pitta found in Maradana in 2009
Setting up mist nests in Bundala at dusk

Bird migration is a source of fascination to bird lovers. Year after year, during the visiting season, these overseas callers are drawn to Sri Lanka, because of the island’s geographical position, just below the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Sri Lanka represents their final destination in their long journey from their homes in northern climates.

The National Bird Ringing Programme, a scientific study of bird migration patterns, is a joint venture of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka and the Department of Wild Life Conservation. The programme was launched six years ago, in April 2005, at the Bundala National Park.

Migrant birds start arriving in Sri Lanka around the middle of August, ahead of the winter in their native lands. After spending around six months in the island, they return to their breeding grounds towards the end of April the following year. Of the 492 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka, 169 or 36 per cent are migrants. Waders, ducks and coastal birds represent the bulk of the visitors.

The Bundala wetland, about 15 kilometres east of Hambantota, is a paradise for migrants, and has been the base for the ringing programme.

Ringing is a delicate operation, and is generally conducted at dusk. Mist nets (nets with small holes eyes) are strung up around the Bundala lagoon. Birds that get entangled in the nets are taken to the camp and their statistics recorded. A small, individually numbered ring is attached to the birds’ legs.

The ringing exercise takes place four times a year, three during the migratory season and one in July. The three migratory season operations are conducted at the start of the wintering period (September to October); in mid-winter (December to January), and the end of the wintering period (March to April).
Researchers say the ringing programme should be expanded to other locations in the country in order to allow a better understanding of the migrants.

Habitat loss is a serious threat to migrants, says ornithologist, Professor Sarath W. K. Kotagama. The migrants are highly vulnerable to disruption of habitat, such as the cutting down of swathes of forest. These disruptions may threaten the very survival of the bird species, he says.

Watch out for migrants in trouble 

Anyone who cares about birds and wildlife would be interested to know that you do not have to go all the way to the south coast, to places like the Bundala Nature Reserve, to see migrant birds.

Some of the more common migrants visit home gardens as their temporary residence, and even hover around populated urban areas, including the city of Colombo. These visitors include the Indian Pitta (Avichchiya); the Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Sudu-Redi Hora); the Blue-tailed Bee-eater; the Brown Flycatcher, the Barn Swallow, and the Forest Wagtail.

The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, an affiliate of BirdLife International, organizes “MigrantWATCH”, an opportunity for bird lovers to observe and study migratory birds.

Some of the common migrants need our help in order to survive. The Indian Pitta, for example, arrives in Sri Lanka, usually exhausted after its long journey. Protect the bird if you see it in your garden.

The Sunday Times reported one such Indian Pitta that was rescued in Nugegoda. and another that was rescued in Colombo. Alert residents can help the tired bird by rescuing the troubled Indian Pittas found in their gardens. “This is one of the reasons we started MigrantWATCH,” says a member of the Ornithological Society.

If you spot a troubled migrant bird, or would like to participate in the MigrantWATCH programme, call the Field Ornithology Group (011) 2501332 / 0776248302, or write to

Upcoming Migrant WATCH activities:

* Lecture on “Migration and Bundala Birds” by Prof. Sarath Kotagama on Saturday, October 29, at 9.30 am, at the Science Faculty of the University of Colombo (entrance on Thurstan Road)
*  Field visit and workshop to Bundala to study migrants and wader birds: 10 to 13 November

*  Field visit to Mannar : 8 to 11 December
*  Field visits to Thalangama and other wetlands to see migrants

(call (011) 2501332 / 0776248302 for details).

Published on SundayTimes on 30.10.2011

From the Himalayas to your doorstep

October 24, 2011

(This is the migration season and during this time of end October, the migrant Indian Pitta has been found several occasions exhausted after their long journey. This is another article done in 2009, where a pitta has been rescued in heart of populated Colombo. Since the same can be repeated this year, the article is repost here, so that you can help if you get an exhausted visitor in your own garden or even at your office..!!)

Sri Lanka, being the southern tip of the Central-Asian flyway, has about 200 migrant birds visiting each year. The Indian Pitta is probably the most beautiful of them all. This bird that breeds in the Himalayan foothills may visit your home garden this season, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Suranga had just finished his morning workload when he heard the raucous cawing of a flock of crows. He looked to see what the commotion was all about. For a moment, he thought a rainbow had fallen from the sky. But it was only a multi-coloured bird which, fluttering weakly, landed near him. Gathering all its remaining strength, it tried to fly but ended up getting stuck in the nearby AC. Suranga with his fellow workers at the Delmege Company rescued the bird, placing it carefully in a cardboard box.

“We never expected to find such a beautiful bird in a congested Colombo neigbourhood like Maradana,” said Chandana Hettiarachchi, Maintenance Manager of Delmege. A bird lover himself, Chandana identified the bird as an Indian Pitta known as Avichchiya in Sinhala and called the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens for advice on how to treat it.

Though the Indian Pitta feeds on insects and worms, this Pitta had happily eaten the fruits and rice offered to him. It was also drinking water showing signs of early recovery, so the rescuers kept the bird in its box in a dark corner without disturbing it. After a few days, its strength regained it flew off to explore its new territory.

This is not the only instance of an exhausted Indian Pitta being rescued in Colombo during the migration season. The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) too reported two Indian Pittas found in Colombo a few weeks ago. One of them died of exhaustion, but the other recovered and flew away, much to the delight of the rescuers.

“It is not uncommon to find exhausted Indian Pittas at the start of the migration season. They are not sick, but get disoriented after the long journey,” explained veteran Ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. He advised that the troubled birds be fed with mild sugar syrup and if unable to fly, provided a safe place away from possible predators, until they are fit to fly again.

The Indian Pitta is called Aru-mani-kuruvi in Tamil which means the 6 ’o clock bird and its loud, clear double whistle ‘wheet-tew’, can be heard in the morning and evening around 6 ’o clock. So listen for this unmistakable call – it maybe a visitor from the Himalayas.

If you see a troubled migrant

There may be exhausted late comers who may still land on your doorstep. Dr. Deepani Jayantha offers some tips on helping them.

  • An exhausted or injured bird could be fully conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious. Such a bird should be protected from dogs, cats, rats, crows, shikras etc. Keep them in a dark, quiet and warm place. Handle them gently only if necessary and never force-feed a semi-conscious or unconscious bird.
  • If it is too weak to fly on its own; try giving it small amounts of low concentrated glucose saline with Vitamin C.
  • If the bird is able to fly, release it as soon as possible in a proper environment.
  • If it is necessary to keep the bird for a few days for medical care, provide a proper cage (avoid injurious materials) with a perch protected from predators. Attend to traumatic injuries (broken bones) as necessary – if extensive care is needed, consult a veterinarian
  • Provide clean food and water. 

Published on 2009 on SundayTimes

Fly, fly, pant, pant.. there’s more to go!

October 24, 2011

What do you do if you come across a dead-beat migratory bird?
By Malaka Rodrigo, Pic by Sasitha Weerasinghe

(This is the migration season and during this time of end October, the migrant Indian Pitta has been found several occasions exhausted after their long journey. This article has been done in 2007, where several such pittas are rescued. Since the same can be repeated this year, the article is repost here, so that you can help if you get an exhausted visitor in your own garden)

“The day has just arrived at my garden in Kalubowila, but the morning sky was gloomy and hinted more rains. ‘Kelie’- my female dog was suspiciously looking at a darker corner in the garage. In the shade, there was a bird. It didn’t move….. It looked at me innocently, through its wide open eyes. ‘Kelie’ was vigilant, but haven’t tried to attack, may be understanding the anguish of the exhausted bird. I have taken it to a veterinary surgeon and later handed over to one of my friend to look after it, as it couldn’t stand on its own. Small worms were fed and the bird showed hints of recovering. However, it was too weak and after three days, on Saturday 10th November, the bird – Slaty-Legged Crake died.

This was the experience of Dulani Dissanayake, a bird watcher who tried to save the life of a migrant bird that would have been exhausted after its long flight.

Over 200 species of birds migrate to Sri Lanka, during the migratory period that starts usually in late August and extends upto to March/April. The bird visitors travel mainly from Europe and northern parts of India. Circulated on the email network of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) last week, were two more accounts of migrant Indian Pittas found in home gardens. The Indian Pitta found in Udahamulla in the garden of Sasitha Weerasinghe was also exhausted, but recovered after being fed with water.

The Indian Pitta found at Udahamulla.

But the Indian Pitta at Pelawatte in the garden of Dr. Udaya Kumarasinghe was not that lucky. This Pitta had been observed over the past few years in his garden and Dr. Kumarasinghe had even treated the bird two years ago. On that occasion, he had been seated on his verandah when the Pitta just fell off a nearby tree. He nursed it and the bird recovered in an hour or so and flew away but returned to his garden for the rest of the season. The Pitta came back last year as well. Some of the territorial birds show site tenacity which drives them to the same location year after year.

“It is common to find the migrant birds exhausted after a long flight. Those migrants who travel during the night may be attracted to the light. This is why many birds are found in home gardens. Birds that are attracted to light may collide with windows and get hurt. They can also be easy prey to domestic cats and dogs while resting. Otherwise, birds usually recover on their own,” says veteran ornithologist Prof. Sarath Kotagama. Birds may be found even in the heart of Colombo, where the lights of the buildings attract migrants. But such incidents are rarely recorded, he adds.

Emphasizing the importance of collecting data, Prof. Kotagama invites bird watchers to send their records to the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) which is also conducting the National Bird Ringing programme in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, primarily to study migrant birds.

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Usually before the migration, birds feed a lot to gain the strength needed for their long flights. Their bodies are streamlined for flight and in addition, migrant birds employ several other mechanisms to minimize the effort of flying. Larger birds like eagles, cranes and storks soar in the sky, using the thermal upwind. They fly to a higher elevation and then manoeuvre with the wind to move forward with minimum effort.

Larger birds usually migrate during the daytime through a route mostly across a land area. Small birds like Flycatchers and Indian Pittas prefer to travel at night. Not having the advantage of soaring, they have to beat their wings continuously to travel.

If you find an exhausted bird, you need to be calm and not panic the bird further. Chase away the cats, dogs, crows and any other potential predator and leave the bird as it is to recover. If the bird seems to be extremely weak, it could be given water.

Bird Flu: is it really safe..?

There are fears about the spread of Bird Flu through migrant birds. But Avian Influenza has not reached the island or any location that is on the migratory route.Still it is always best to take precautions before handling a sick bird. Using a pair of gloves and cleaning up thoroughly after handling such a bird is indeed wise.

The best we can do is protecting the habitats that are used by these migrants. Start the effort in your own home garden. Plant a tree, make a shade for the exhausted migrants to rest and live in peace during their stay.

Published on 18.11.2007 on SundayTimes

Sinharaja bird wave – On the wings of a wildlife spectacle

October 5, 2011

The Sinharaja rainforest’s ‘Mixed Species Feeding Bird Flocks’ is a unique spectacle that can also be promoted as a tourist attraction, a leading zoologist said recently. Addressing a gathering of wildlife enthusiasts and tourism industry representatives at a lecture titled “Sinharaja Bird Wave” at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce auditorium, Prof. Sarath Kotagama, said that two or more species feeding and moving in the same direction is known as a ‘Mixed Species feeding flock’.

A painting that captures the mixed species flocks in Sinharaja

In Sinharaja, some of the flocks could have as many as 35-50 individual birds from dozens of different species. It is a spectacular sight and the usually silent Sinharaja forest erupts into a cacophony of bird calls for a few minutes, as the flock approaches. On an average, there could be about 12 different species of birds, with some flocks recording as much as 30 – 40 different birds. Some researchers have recorded flocks consisting of over hundred individuals.

The birds do not stay for a long time in one place, as they move forward all the while feeding. In a few minutes, the noise recedes and the forest is once again engulfed in silence. Bird flocks is a phenomenon well documented but least understood, Prof. Kotagama said. Researches have revealed its formation, function and other interesting scenarios.

The nucleus or the centric bird species that take the lead in forming the bird flocks are the Orange-billed Babbler and Crested Drongo. Usually, in the morning, the Crested Drongo that inhabits the forest canopy, starts calling, which is believed to be the wakeup call to other members of the flock. Then the Orange-billed Babblers start steering the flock forward.

The Sinharaja rainforest, as its name implies, receives plenty of rain. This feature hinders birds from locating food and therefore moving in a group helps them to find food. It is believed that this ‘feeding efficiency’ is one of the reasons for these flock formations. Interestingly, various birds travel in the flock at different levels. A rainforest can be divided into different levels, based on height and vegetation, namely ground, under storey, sub canopy, canopy, above canopy and emergent. Different birds specialise at different levels. For example, when the Orange-billed Babblers feed on the under storey, they disturb lots of insects which take flight. These become easy prey for the birds hovering above at canopy level.
Security is the other major advantage these birds enjoy moving as a unit. Many birds mean many eyes. So they are able to detect a predator and warn others, says Prof. Kotagama. An added advantage is that these birds move at different levels, so that dangers at all levels are covered. When a predator like an owl is present, some of the birds flock closely to mob the intruder. Unable to bear the continuous mobbing by the chattering birds the predator usually gives up and departs.

Prof. Sarath Kotagama

Prof. Kotagama said that researchers have also identified vocal signals used by the birds to communicate. Of them, the most important is the ‘alarm call’. The Crested Drongos play the role of sentinels, usually warning of any danger from above. As soon as the Drongos make the alarm call, the whole flock goes silent and ‘freezes’, so as not to reveal their location to the probable predator. Only after the Drongos give the ‘all clear’ call do they come out.

Bird watching is becoming popular around the world and Sri Lanka can easily be promoted as one such destination. However, it was important to highlight and present the unique features within the country, if we are to become an Ultimate Wildlife Safari as Sri Lanka Tourism is trying to promote. Citing ‘The Gathering’ which has been nominated as one of the 10 Best Wildlife Spectacular events of the world by LonelyPlanet, Prof. Kotagama said the mixed-species Bird Flocks can be presented to the Tourism industry as the ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’.

Public lecture
The ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’ is one of four lectures organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), together with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB). Sri Lanka Tourism has declared September the month of Wildlife, particularly focusing on ‘The Minneriya Elephant Gathering’, recently named as the 6th Best Wildlife Spectacle of the World, by the prestigious travel guide LonelyPlanet.The final lecture of the series will be on Blue Whales, to be delivered by Gehan De Silva Wijeratne on September 28, at 5.30 pm, at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Auditorium, Navam Mawatha, Colombo 2.The Lecture is open to the public free of charge.International conference on bird flocks in Sinharaja
An International Conference on Bird Flocks was held recently in Sinharaja.
Prof. Kotagama and other zoologists started their researches in Sinharaja as far back as 1981. This was a landmark research started soon after logging at Sinharaja was completely stopped in 1978. Since then, the research on Bird Flocks continued with over 500 observations to date, making the feeding flocks of Sinharaja the most studied Bird Flocks in the world.

To share this knowledge with other researchers who conduct flock studies in other parts of the world, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), a local affiliate of BirdLife International, organised an International Conference on Mixed-species Bird Flocks recently in Ratnapura and Sinharaja rainforest. The conference was attended by international experts on bird flocks. Another objective of the conference was to afford university students interested in Ornithology, to get international exposure on flock studies and scientific research.

Workshop on location
FOGSL will also conduct a special four-day workshop on Sinharaja Bird Flocks for bird lovers, in Sinharaja, starting October 8. The team will leave the University of Colombo on October 8, and stay in the rainforest. FOGSL has also opened their trips to non-members and those interested in obtaining an ornithological background knowledge to ‘Sinharaja Bird Wave’. Further details of the programme could be obtained from Prof. Kotagama’s office on or call 2 501 332.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.09.2011