Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Urban excitement over barn owls

April 17, 2017

Kirulapana Barn owl showing its beauty (c) Shantha Jayaweera

The barn owl is a rare bird in Sri Lanka categorized as ‘near threatened’ in the 2012 National Red List, but it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke that one was seen in Kirulapona on April 1.

It had been attacked by crows and had fallen from the roof of a four-storey building, where it had taken refuge. It was handed over to wildlife expert Shantha Jayaweera who later released it. “Even through it had been attacked by crows, there were no external injuries.”

The barn owl (tyto alba) is a beautiful owl species with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upper parts. Its scientific name means, ‘white owl’. Barn owls have adapted to living among humans. Granaries, warehouses, old buildings where its favorite prey, rats and mice, live attract the owl.

Mr Jayaweera thanks all those who ensured the owl’s safety. He stressed that owls do not represent a bad omen, but helps to remove harmful pests such as rats. According to National Geographic, on average, a wild barn owl eats about four small mammals a night. That is 1,460 rats per year.

The barn owl is about 34 centimetres in length but its long wings make it looks bigger and elegant when flying. It mainly hunts by sound rather than by sight where its acute hearing can detect the slightest movement and sound of its prey.

The barn owl’s heart-shaped face collects sound in the same way as human ears and its hearing is the most sensitive of any creature tested, according to some literature. Barn owls are faithful lovers. A pair mates for life unless one gets killed. It breeds between February and March.

Mr Jayaweera, who is a senior member of the Young Zoologists Association, recalled that the National Zoological Gardens once received an injured barn owl from a public library few years ago. Responding to a post on social media, many shared sightings in Colombo and the suburbs.

“I have seen barn owls in Duplication Road, Fife Road, and near the Golf Club,” said Rex I De Silva.

Namal Kamalgoda had seen one in Town Hall, the National Museum and also in Dehiwala.

Others reported sightings in Pettah, Fort and surburbs such as Kottawa, Moratuwa and Ratmalana.

The rescued barn owl with Shantha Jayaweera

Environment lawyer, Jagath Gunawardane, who is also an expert on birds, stressed that unlike other rare birds of Sri Lanka, the barn owl is mostly found in old buildings in towns.

Another bird expert, Moditha Hiranya Kodikara Arachchi, shared an observation of a barn owl in Kandy inside the old Electricity Board building. “This barn owl was day-roosting on fans in the office without any trouble, until it was chased away because of droppings all over the office,” he said.

Experts fear that rat poison could harm these owls. According to the Barn Owl Trust, even a rodent eating a dose is not enough to kill it, and it may carry the poison in its liver for several months. So, before a poisoned rodent dies, the weakened rat may be caught by a barn owl, which then ingests the poison. Unfortunately, no research has been carried out on the effects of sub-lethal doses on wild barn owls.

“There could be a viable population of barn owls throughout Colombo and many other urban areas. It is an iconic bird in our urban settings,” said veteran ornithologist, Prof Sarath Kotagama.

He is inviting the public to share their barn owl sightings in Colombo and suburbs. Note the date and location by or call 071- 8440144.

Barn Owl facts (c) Barn Owl Trust

Published on SundayTimes on 16.04.2017 

Koha’s call overseas comes from another species

April 11, 2017

Singer of the Avurudu song – the Male Asian Koel (c) Udara Samaraweera

The Koha or Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) is considered the harbinger of Sinhala and Tamil New Year for its beautiful song aimed at attracting a mate.

Its call can also be heard beyond Sri Lanka’s shores.

The Koha’s call is heard even in Australia, reminding Sri Lankans who live there of Avurudu.

One Sri Lankan who heard the bird sing, asked last year: “What on earth was a Koha doing in Sydney?”

A search on the video sharing social media platform YouTube suggests the Sydney Koha is different. It is not the same species found in our island, but the Eastern Koel or Pacific Koel scientifically classified as Eudynamys orientalis.

This bird is also called the Common Koel and its male is easily identified by its glossy black plumage, tinged with blue and green, and striking red eye – similar to the Koha found in Sri Lanka. The female has glossy brown upper parts, heavily spotted with white, and a black crown.

But unlike in this part of Asia, the Koels in Australia start to sing in September or October. According to BirdLife Australia, the Eastern Koel is a species that migrated to Australia from areas north – New Guinea, Indonesia and possibly the Philippines. It breeds in northern and eastern Australia, mostly in Queensland and NSW, southwards at least to Sydney, where they are common in the suburbs. A few venture into eastern Victoria, and vagrants have been seen as far afield as Melbourne, the Murray River and Adelaide. They remain until March or April, when they return to their non-breeding grounds.

This explains what Sri Lankans living in Australia have been hearing.

It is colloquially known as the rainbird or stormbird, as its call is usually more prevalent before or during stormy weather.

The male Pacific Koel that sings a song very similar to our own Koha

According to the literature, the closely related Asian Koel, Black-billed Koel and Pacific Koel form a superspecies which are sometimes treated as subspecies. Superspecies is defined as “a group of largely allopatric species which are descended from a common evolutionary ancestor and are closely related but too distinct to be regarded as subspecies of one species”.

The Asian Koel is a brood parasite which lays it eggs in the nests of some other birds. In Sri Lanka, the Asian Koel particularly chooses a crow’s nest. But in the Australian conditions, the Eastern Koel lays its eggs in the nests of Red Wattlebird, friarbirds, the Magpie-lark and figbirds that are usually smaller than the Koel. The young Koel will grow to nearly twice the size of the parents, but the foster parents continue feeding it until they realize the mistake.

Eventually, the young birds migrate northwards, usually later than the adults, to return as a breeding bird the following spring, accordign to the BirdLife Australia.

The songs of the male Eastern Koel amazingly resemble those of the Koha in Sri Lanka. Visit and search for “Eastern Koel Calling” to listen to their calls.

Pacific Koel (female) 

Save Kirala Kele, a cry from environmentalists

February 22, 2017

In December, a Baillon’s Crake a rare migratory bird to
Sri Lanka was spotted in Kirala kele (c) senehas karunarathna

With World Wetland Day being celebrated on Thursday (February 2) bird lovers here have called to protect the Kirala Kele wetland that recently made headlines due to the sighting of a record number of migratory birds.

Kirala Kele in Sinhala means ‘forest of kirala trees- or a ‘mangrove forest’. It covers an area of 1,800 ha with 310 ha of it being designated a wetland located at the exit of the Southern expressway in Godagama about three km from Matara town.

In December, a Baillon’s Crake a rare migratory bird to Sri Lanka was spotted in Kirala kele. The bird was seen in a particular area of the wetland, and bird watchers flocked to the wetland to see this rare bird. Subsequently more rare migratory birds such as the grey-headed lapwing, turtle dove, comb duck, marsh and even the greater spotted eagle were sighted in a small stretch of the wetland.

Kirala Kele earlier came under the purview of the Southern Development Authority. It was deemed a sanctuary in 2003 and declared as a conserved area under the ‘Sri Lanka – picturesque sites programme’ by a special gazette notification. Kirala kele is made up of different types of wetlands – marshland, mangrove areas, paddy lands, and irrigation canals – as well as numerous home gardens as it borders populated villages. Several encroachments are visible in many areas and concerned environmentalists have brought to attention the urgent need to protect it.

Ruhuna University’s Prof.Saman Chandana Ediriweera who has been researching the biodiversity of Kirala Kele for several years says, ” the area is an ideal wetland habitat for many organisms and can be considered as one of the most valuable conserved areas in the Matara District.” According to a study conducted by IUCN Sri Lanka, 83 plant species, 25 species of fish and 13 mammal species including the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey inhabit Kirala Kele. The study recorded 103 bird species of which 48 were wetland birds and with the recent sighting of rare birds the number would be higher, Prof. Ediriweera said.

He warned that recent human activities within the premises of sanctuary would prove harmful to the ecosystem. He identifies garbage dumping, removal of vegetation, hunting, spread of invasive weeds as major threats to the wetland. Prof. Ediriweera says authorities should take immediate steps to curb these threats and save Kirala Kele wetland.

As Kirala Keleis a protected area, and now in the absence of a Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) field office in Matara,    it  comes under the purview of the field office at Kalamatiya.

Other migratory birds like the turtle dove was also spotted
(c) Moditha Kodikara Arachchi

Meanwhile Kalamatiya wildlife ranger Uthpala Adaranga said they regularly visit the sanctuary, but as private lands can exist inside a ‘sanctuary’, they are powerless to stop activities within the sanctuary that could be inimical to its ecosystem. In addition Kalamatiya is located about 50km away from Matara, posing a difficulty to monitor this protected area regularly. Environmentalists in Matara have highlighted the need for a DWC office in Matara so that quick action could be taken when the need arose.

In addition to being an important habitat in 2010 a plan was initiated to promote Kirala Kele as a tourist attraction with World Tourism Day celebrations being held in Kirala Kele. But the drive to promote it as a tourist destination didn’t last long.

Published on 05.02.2017

Time ticks by for tragic painted-snipe chicks

December 26, 2016

Wild and free – time in the outdoors for the orphaned chicks.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.12.2016

Many tragedies that Sri Lanka’s precious wild creatures face do not often make the news, unlike human road traffic fatalities. Heart-warming tales of survival are rarer still.

While a road traffic accident last week claimed the lives of 12 innocents, including 10 from the same family in northern Chavakachcheri,  two new-born greater painted-snipe chicks became survivors of an accident where the father and a newborn perished – yet another reason that drivers should not become assassins.

The Wildlife Conservation Department’s Hikkaduwa office handed over the two chicks to the  Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle and they are now being cared at the Hiyare animal hospital, which has a rescue and rehabilitation program.

WCSG president Madura de Silva suspects that the chicks would have hatched a few days earlier. Volunteers at the animal hospital have fed the chicks with worms and the response has been good after initial difficulties. Painted-snipes usually feed on insects, worms, crustaceans, molluscs and seeds.

Volunteers have also gradually introduced the chicks to the outdoors.

“Their chances of survival are not high, but we are trying our best to save them,” de Silva said. “If they can get through the critical period, then we will try our best to rehabilitate them with an aim of releasing them.’’ The chicks could be introduced to the care of a domesticated ground-dwelling  bird such as a hen, so that the orphans  can pick up survival skills.

The greater painted-snipe (rostratula benghalensis) have long beaks. They are a brightly-coloured ‘snipe’ like bird. Painted-snipe inhabit swamps, marshes and even undisturbed sections of paddy fields. They are more active at night. Chicks are buff coloured and have black stripes running along their body length. The coloration helps keep them camouflaged.

In parenting,  the female, which is more colourful and larger, nurtures the chicks, but the male also shares responsibilities such as helping to incubate the eggs, experts say. The female is  known to initiate courtship and may also mate with more than one male.

A volunteer feeds an orphaned painted-snipe chick. Pix by Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle

The unlucky painted snipe male and a chick

Don’t trash nature’s gifts, wildlife experts plead

December 11, 2016

Birds; victims of careless garbage dumping by us humans.
Pix by Sumith Bandara

Reckless disposal of garbage in our localities can put precious bird life in peril as two recent incidents showed.Wildlife specialists are appealing to Sri Lankans to be a lot more considerate after rescuing two species of bird that endured the horrors of human encroachment of their habitat.

Herpetologist and wildlife photographer Mendis Wickramasinghe and two assistants Sumith Bandara and Saman waited until dusk last Sunday to go to the aid of a purple heron (karawal koka), which often feeds on fish in marshes and paddy fields, struggling to free its beak tangled in a plastic contraption.
Photos of its plight at Boralasgamuwa tank, caught the attention of social media users and drew the usual chatter.

Wickramasinghe and his aides freed the blue heron from its misery. They then checked for possible wounds and released the bird. The following morning they visited the location to give it a meal of fish, but the blue heron had other ideas and flew off to feed itself.Bandara said it was a happy outcome, but he pleaded with Sri Lankans to abandon destructive habits. “People need to be more careful when dumping waste,” he said.

But then two days later, he had to rescue another bird from similar circumstances.Being a keen wildlife photographer, Bandara again visited the Boralasgamuwa tank on Wednesday evening. He soon saw a yellow bittern (kaha metikoka) with its beak entangled in a net. Bandara noticed it was a discarded mosquito net.

As dusk approached Bandara and friend Amila Ranga waded into deep water and released the bird from the net. It was a risky exercise. The exhausted bird appeared disoriented and stood by for a few minutes before taking flight.Bandara also noted that strings used for kite flying have also become death traps for birds.

Published on SundayTimes on 11.12.2016 –

Kind hearts and a bedraggled crow

December 4, 2016

As Colombo received torrential rain this week, humans, animals and birds managed to rush to some sort of shelter, be it under a roof or in the thick foliage of a tree – all except a particular crow.

Residents of Thalawathugoda spotted the crow soaked in the rain, unable to fly. They went up close but it didn’t move. Even though the unfortunate crow is not the most attractive of birds the people of this household had it in their hearts to feel for its  discomfort.

Executing a crazy plan, they extended an umbrella attached to a stick to protect it from the torrential rain. Folding its wings, the crow seemed happy to escape the rain and was surely grateful to the wildlife lovers. The next morning, the rain had stopped and the though the umbrella was still standing the crow had disappeared.

“We hope the crow is out of harm’s way and flew back to its flock safely,” the residents said wishing to remain anonymous as they said the act was committed for the love of animals, not seeking publicity. Every day, they said, we hear bad news of humans abusing animals so may this be an example to inspire everyone to care for others.

The umbrella placed over the wet crow 

Published on SundayTimes on 27.11.2016

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