In the first half Mysore Zoo trip we had visited mammals of the zoo. In the second part let us concentrate on birds. Mysore Zoo holds distinction of having India’s biggest ‘Walk Through Aviary’. There are two parts to this aviary. One is at Mysore zoo and the other at nearby Karanji lake, which is also part of the zoo. Karanji Lake aviary is planned after the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore. It may not match the size and scale of the Jurong Park, but the aviary is attractive and as of now holds all the pheasants & a pair of Sarus Cranes.
Walk through aviary is tricky place to photograph. You are going into the bird’s cage through a path, birds will be all around you flying. Even though it is one the largest Indian aviary I found the place is too congested for taking good photos. The space they gave for mammals did not exist inside that aviary. So I had to select those species which were large and were sitting farther away from the outer wire fence to avoid cluttered background. Unfortunately I could not get any interesting facts about these individual birds unlike mammals earlier. So I added some salient facts about each species in their description.
The Great White Pelican,(Pelecanus onocrotalus) also known as the Eastern White Pelican or White Pelican is a bird in the pelican family. It breeds from southeastern Europe through Asia and in Africa in swamps and shallow lakes.
Great White Pelicans are large birds with mass of 10 kg, 1.6 meter long and with a 2.8 meter wingspan. It differs from the Dalmatian Pelican, the only larger species of pelican, by its pure white, rather than greyish-white, plumage, a bare pink facial patch around the eye and pinkish legs.
Males are larger than females, and have a long beak that grows in a downwards arc, as opposed to the shorter, straighter beak of the female. Immature birds are grey and have dark flight feathers. In flight, it is an elegant soaring bird, with the head held close to and aligned with the body by a downward bend in the neck. In breeding condition the male has pinkish skin on is face and the female has orangery skin.
Today, because of overfishing in certain areas, White Pelicans are forced to fly long distances to find food. Great white pelicans are exploited for many reasons. Their pouch is used to make tobacco bags, Their skin is turned into leather, the guano is used as fertilizer, and the fat of young pelicans is converted into oils for traditional medicine in China and India. Human disturbance, loss of foraging habitat and breeding sites, and pollution are all contributing to the decline of the Great White Pelican. The Great White Pelican is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
The Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) is a large non-migratory crane found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. The tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 1.8 m (5.9 ft). The Sarus Crane is easily distinguished from other cranes in the region by the overall grey color and the contrasting red head and upper neck. They forage on marshes and shallow wetlands for roots, tubers, insects, crustaceans and small vertebrate prey. Like other cranes, they form long-lasting pair-bonds and maintain territories within which they perform territorial and courtship displays that include loud trumpeting, leaps and dance-like movements. In India they are considered symbols of marital fidelity, believed to mate for life and pine the loss of their mates even to the point of starving to death.
The species is venerated in India and legend has it that the poet Valmiki cursed a hunter for killing a Sarus Crane and was then inspired to write the epic Ramayana. The species was a close contender to the Indian Peafowl as the national bird of India. Being ubiquitous in the flood plains of the Ganges, observations on their biology had been made by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir around AD 1607. He noted, for instance, that the species always laid two eggs with an interval of 48 hours between them and that the incubation period was 34 days.
The Sarus Crane is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Once the Sarus was a common sight; in the 19th century, more than 100.000 birds soared over the northern plains. Since then, the numbers have been falling drastically, and today there are less than 10.000 birds left in India.
The Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is a large duck which is native to Mexico and Central and South America. Muscovy Ducks had been domesticated by various Native American cultures in the Americas even before Columbus arrived. The first few were brought to Europe by the European explorers at least by the 16th century. They are widely traded as “Barbary duck” for the table. Muscovy breeds are popular because they have stronger-tasting meat – sometimes compared to roasted beef – than the usual domestic ducks which are descendants of the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Muscovy ducks are also less noisy, and sometimes marketed as a “quackless” duck; even though they are not completely silent, they don’t actually quack (except in cases of extreme stress).
The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is a species of swan, and thus a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is native to much of Europe and Asia, and (as a rare winter visitor) the far north of Africa. It is also an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa. The name ‘mute’ derives from it being less vocal than other swan species. Measuring 125 to 170 centimeters in length, this large swan is wholly white in plumage with an orange bill bordered with black. It is recognizable by its pronounced knob atop the bill. The phrase swan song refers to this swan and to the legend that it is utterly silent until the last moment of its life, and then sings one achingly beautiful song just before dying.
The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterbird which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia. The species was hunted to extinction in New Zealand, but later reintroduced. Within Australia they are nomadic, with erratic migration patterns dependent upon climatic conditions. Black Swans are large birds with mostly black plumage and red bills. They are monogamous breeders that share incubation duties and cygnet rearing between the sexes.
The Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in 82 AD of rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno (‘a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan’). He meant something whose rarity would compare with that of a black swan, or in other words, as a black swan did not exist, neither did the supposed characteristics of the ‘rare bird’ with which it was being compared. The phrase passed into several European languages as a popular proverb, including English, in which the first four words (a rare bird in the land) are often used ironically. For some 1500 years the black swan existed in the European imagination as a metaphor for that which could not exist.
The Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh made the first European record of sighting a black swan in 1697 when he sailed into, and named, the Swan River on the western coast of New Holland. The sighting was significant in Europe, where “all swans are white” had long been used as a standard example of a well-known truth. In 1726 two birds were captured near Dirk Hartog Island, 850 kilometres north of the Swan River, and taken to Batavia (now Jakarta) as proof of their existence.
The Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) commonly abbreviated to just Night Heron in Eurasia, is a medium-sized heron found throughout a large part of the world, except in the coldest regions and Australasia (where replaced by the closely related Rufous Night Heron, with which it has hybridized in the area of contact). The breeding habitat is fresh and salt-water wetlands throughout much of the world. These birds stand still at the water’s edge and wait to ambush prey, mainly at night or early morning. They primarily eat small fish, crustaceans, frogs, aquatic insects, small mammals and small birds. During the day they rest in trees or bushes.
The Silver Pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) is a species of pheasant found in forests, mainly in mountains, of mainland Southeast Asia, and eastern and southern China. The male is black and white, while the female is mainly brown. Both sexes have a bare red face and red legs. It is common in aviaries, and overall also remains common in the wild. Some of its subspecies (notably whiteheadi from Hainan, engelbachi from southern Laos, and annamensis from southern Vietnam) are rare and threatened. This specimen at the Mysore Zoo seems to be Jones’ Silver Pheasant (Lophura nycthemera jonesi)
The Red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) lives in thick secondary forest. In the morning or evening, the bird can be found in open areas or clearings. The red jungle fowl is native to Southern and Southeastern Asia. There are three other Gallus species, the green jungle fowl (Gallus varius), the grey jungle fowl (Gallus sonneratii) and the Ceylon or Lafayette’s jungle fowl (Gallus lafayettei). The red jungle fowl is considered the progenitor of the modern chicken breeds used today in commercial agriculture. The exact time and place of domestication are unclear, and this may have occurred more than once during human history. It’s believed that the modern chicken derives from birds kept by the people of the Harappan culture (2500-2100 B.C.), primarily for fighting purposes.
A sign of pure wild genotypes for Red jungle fowl is for males, an eclipse plumage. This eclipse plumage has been seen only in populations in the western and central of the species’ geographic range. It is believed that pure Red jungle fowl has disappeared from extreme south-eastern Asia and the Philippines. An eclipse plumage in male consist of a black long feather across the middle of his back and slender red-orange plumes on the rest of his body. It appears during breeding season. For a female, an eclipse plumage cannot be distinguished, but she does moult.
The Indian Peafowl or Blue Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) is a large and brightly colored bird of the pheasant family native to South Asia, but introduced and semi-feral in many other parts of the world. It is the national bird of India.
The male, known as a peacock, is a large bird with a size, color and shape of crest make them unmistakable within their native distribution range. The peacock is metallic blue on the crown, the feathers of the head being short and curled. The fan-shaped crest on the head is made of feathers with bare black shafts and tipped with blush-green webbing. A white stripe above the eye and a crescent shaped white patch below the eye are formed by bare white skin. The sides of the head have iridescent greenish blue feathers. The back has scaly bronze-green feathers with black and copper markings. The scapular and the wings are buff and barred in black, the primaries are chestnut and the secondaries are black. The tail is dark brown and the “train” is made up by elongated upper tail coverts (more than 200 feathers, the actual tail has only 20 feathers) and nearly all of these feathers end with an elaborate eye-spot. A few of the outer feathers lack the spot and end in a crescent shaped black tip. The underside is dark glossy green shading into blackish under the tail. The thighs are buff colored. The male has a spur on the leg above the hind toe.
The ornate train is believed to be the result of female sexual selection as males raise the feathers into a fan and quiver them as part of courtship display. Many studies have suggested that the quality of train is an honest signal of the condition of males and that peahens select males on the basis of their plumage. More recent studies however, suggest that other cues may be involved in mate selection by peahens.
The males display in courtship by raising the upper-tail coverts into an arched fan. The wings are held half open and drooped and it periodically vibrates the long feathers producing a ruffling sound. The cock faces the hen initially and struts and prances around and sometimes turns around to display the tail. Males may also freeze over food to invite a female in a form of courtship feeding. Males may display even in the absence of females. When a male is displaying, females do not appear to show any interest and usually continue their foraging.
The colors of the peacock and the contrast with the much duller peahen were a puzzle to early thinkers. Charles Darwin wrote to Asa Gray that the “sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail , whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” as he failed to see an adaptive advantage for the extravagant tail which seemed only to be an encumbrance. Darwin tried to develop a second principle of “sexual selection” to resolve the problem. American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer tried to show, from his own imagination, the value of the eye spots in camouflage in a 1907 painting.
It was only in the 1970s that this apparent contradiction was resolved based on the evolution of honest signalling and the handicap principle of Amotz Zahavi. The tail of a peacock makes the peacock more vulnerable to predators, and is therefore a handicap. But the message that the tail carries to the potential mate peahen is ‘I have survived in spite of this huge tail, hence I am fitter and more attractive than others’. It is like modern bodybuilding with steroids, where bodybuilders are willing to knowingly forfeit general health to high risk of injury and the immunosuppressant qualities of excess androgens, risk impotence, and grow to sizes that are inconvenient and impractical in the modern world, in exchange for the appearance of supreme physical health and reproductive fitness.