Birds Of India

Incredible India has a wide array of feathered species. There are approximately 1314 species of birds in the country. Forty two of them are endemic to India. Here’s a brief overview of thirty out of the hundreds of Indian birds that exist:

peacock full

Peacock, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Peacock: It was declared the national bird of India because of its grace and beauty and connotations related to Indian philosophy and spirituality. Indra, the Hindu god of rain and thunderstorms, is often portrayed as a peacock. It is also considered as the vehicle of Hindu god Muruga. It’s believed in India that when the male bird spreads its wings, rain is on the way. Wild peacocks live in forested regions near water bodies in India. The bird is also domesticated in villages.

magpie robin

Magpie Robin

Magpie Robin: This bird is found in India, right from the Himalayas in the north to Cape Comorin in the south. At one point of time, it was believed that at least a pair of magpie robins lived in every Indian garden of Agra and Oudh. The male bird is a white and black bird, unlike the larger English robin. It’s seen as flying above the ground at a height of 6000 feet, performing gymnastic feats in the air. It lays eggs either in the hole of a building or in the hole of a tree.

Indian Snake Bird: This fish eating bird has a dagger like beak and long neck. It throws the fish up in the air and swallows it. It’s an agile swimmer and powerful flier. Nicknamed the Indian darter, the bird is found both in salt and fresh water bodies; in creeks, tidal estuaries and lakes. Once, this bird was kept as a pet by Indians. The Buddeas, a band of gypsies who wandered all over East Bengal in boats loved keeping these birds as pets.


Scarlet Minivet

Minivets: This bird is as colorful as a rainbow: red, yellow, gray, blue, green, black and white. These tiny longed tailed birds are veritable nomads who don’t remain in one place, unless they are nesting. There are various species of minivets in India, with most of them dwelling in the Himalayan mountain range. The cup like nest of these birds, composed of grasses, twigs, moss and cobwebs is in itself a work of art.

Pied woodpeckers: Of the many species of woodpeckers that dwell in India, a few have pied plumes. Most of them live in the Himalayas. One species lives in Cochin and another in the Andamans. This black and white bird has a yellow forehead and short red crest. The lower plumes are white in color. Like other woodpeckers, this bird also searches for insects in tree trunks. Nuts, seeds, berries and fruit are also a part of its diet.


Pied Crested Cuckoo

Pied crested cuckoo: The upper part of the bird is black and the tail feathers are white. It’s also called the Rain Bird as with the onset of the monsoon, this bird can be seen. It has migratory instincts and graces India during the wet season.

Vulture: This bird of prey, though available all over India, is depleting in numbers; nine species of vulture exist in the country nowadays. They are most prominent in cremation grounds. A common sight is vultures feeding on the remnant of an unburned corpse which is afloat on the water of the River Ganges.

Peacock, tail spread.

Peacock, tail spread. Photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

The Indian Robin: This bird is found in grassy and stony regions and scrub forests. They lurk in dry habitats and avoid areas of wet rainfall. These birds have queer nesting habits with nests made of grass, cotton and vegetable fibers. The nest is lined with human or horse hair, feathers and snake’s skin. It mainly feeds on insects but may catch a lizard or a frog when feeding the young.

The Shikra: This bird of prey is a slightly built bird as big as a pigeon. The upper plumes are gray, the wings and tail are black, the breast is white with brown spots in young birds. It was a favorite of falconers as it could be trained to procure food with great alacrity. However, as it has feeble claws it can’t tackle large quarry. The bird feeds mainly on lizards and also gulps down sparrows, small birds, mice and rats.

Grey Hornbill: This bird is found on the plains of India at an elevation of 2000 feet. It’s found in the southern Himalayan foothills and the Ganges delta in the east. It makes nests in the hollows of lofty trees between April and June. It tries to keep away from human beings, which is why it loves to inhabit forest tracks. It feeds on fruit, and is often seen on Banyan and Peepal trees. After plucking a berry, it tosses the fruit up into the air and then catches it with its beak.

Flamingo: The two types of flamingos which exist in India are the common and lesser flamingos. Flamingos can be seen in lakes and backwaters around Chennai. The Pallikarnai wetland in Chennai, Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat and Sewri in Mumbai are some of the places where these birds are found in India. In the Runn of Kutch, when there’s sufficient rain, flamingo nests can be seen. The bird is unfortunately decreasing in numbers in the country.

Paddy Bird: Also known as the pond heron, it looks for prey from small water bodies. It is often seen at the side of soaked paddy fields. It’s frequently seen standing on the water’s edge, all huddled up. It bears the ill reputation of being a lazy creature. The bird loves snacking on frogs and water insects. It is commonly seen in the country’s wetlands. It is often seen making use of the water hyacinths to dig deeper into the water to find prey.

Merlins: They are pygmy falcons which are found at both sea level and high mountains. They feed on reptiles, small birds, insects and bats. They tend to inhabit deserted nests of other birds. In earlier times, they were used for the purpose of falconry.

Green pigeons: In the wild, these birds love to inhabit fruit trees, preferably in forested areas. It happens to be the state bird of the Indian state of Maharashtra. These yellow footed green plumed birds live in flocks.


parrot photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Parrots: These birds are often kept as caged pets in India. Some pet owners even clip their wings and teach them human talk. The Kamasutra manual says that it’s necessary for a man to teach a parrot to talk. They are also considered birds of love in India and many a fable has been woven around them. The first written mention of the parrot was apparently in the ancient Rig Veda text of India.

Parakeets: These birds which have originated in India live from 25 to 30 years. The Ringneck variety can live up to 50 years. The Ringnecks feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables and berries. They are seen in miniscule cages in many Indian households, though it’s illegal to do so. They’ve been bred in captivity in India ever since 200 BC. They are popular as pets as they can mimic human voice.

Bulbul: There are various kinds of bulbuls in India. They come in various colors- yellow, red, orange etc. They munch on fruits, seeds, tiny insects, nectar, arthropods and small vertebrates. These birds are known to be monogamous.

Common Cuckoo: This solitary and shy bird is found in open woodlands and forested areas. In villages, the sweet song of the bird, rings through the trees, especially in spring. It also has the negative reputation of being a brood parasite. It lays a solo egg in the nest of a crow or a drongo and destroys an egg from the nest to lay its own. Thereby the lazy bird shirks the responsibility of child raising.

Wire tailed swallow: They are called wired tailed as they have fine long outer tail feathers which hang like wires. They are generally spotted in pairs near water bodies and human habitats. They feed on insects which are often caught while they are flying. They build bowl like nests close to water bodies.

Kingfisher: Out of ninety species of kingfishers in the world, a dozen are found in India. The Common Kingfisher or River Kingfisher is quite widespread in the country. The White Throated Kingfisher, also known as the Tree Kingfisher resides away from water bodies. The Pied Kingfisher is found in fresh waters. The Blue Eared Kingfisher is spotted in streams in deeply wooded areas. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher loves to live in shaded streams in moist forests with broad leaved trees. The Brown Winged Kingfisher is seen in mangroves, coasts, creeks and tidal rivers. The Stork Billed Kingfisher dwells in sluggish waterways and shaded lakes. The Ruddy Kingfisher lives in forested swampy mangrove areas. The Crested Kingfishers prefers swift mountainous rivers and river foothills.

Terns: Though predominantly sea birds; they are also found in marshlands, ponds and lakes. They also eye places which are fast drying up, as they can find their prey which comprises of fish more easily there.

Indian crow variety

Indian crow variety, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Red Turtle Dove: This bird exists throughout India, more so in South India, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It’s a summer visitor to the country. They like to reside in wooded tracts and tree plantations. They try to stay away from deserted regions.

Hoopoes: This bird can be seen in North India digging out insects from the soil from dawn to dusk. Their egg laying season is in early spring of the northern hemisphere. They build nests in the cavities of trees and buildings. Unlike some other bird species, they aren’t wary of humans.

Sarus Crane: Also the largest bird of India, this crane was once found nowhere outside the country. This happens to be the only crane species in India which stays in the country all year round. It exists along the Gangetic plains. It lurks about in shallow waters digging into the mud eating aquatic plants, insects (mainly grasshoppers) and fish (during captivity). It breeds predominantly during the monsoon in India.

This bird is venerated by Indian Hindus and there was a prohibition against eating its flesh in ancient Hindu scriptures. It was a close contender to the peafowl in the race to being the national bird of India. It’s been observed that if the bird’s mate is killed, its partner wails for days. The killing of the bird is believed to have inspired a deeply grieved sage Valmiki to pen the Hindu epic Ramayan.

Swallow Plover: These plover like birds with fork tails, skim over the surface of water and predominantly feed on insects. They lay eggs on sandy islets. An interesting feature of the eggs that they lay is that each egg looks very different.

Sunbirds: These birds are honey suckers who are found in the warmer parts of peninsular India and fly away from the colder parts of the country in winter. The male birds have lovely voices and sing as sweetly as canaries. Sometimes they feed on tiny insects. They build unique nests with cobwebs wound round branches from which the nest hangs. Their pear shaped nests are lined with cozy silk cotton.

myna bird

Myna bird, photo courtesy of Kurush Dastur

Myna: This bird has a black hooded head, brown body and yellow patches below the eyes. Mynas in north-west India are paler than the south Indian birds. They breed all over, right from sea level to a height of 3000 meters in the Himalayas. This bird uses and also usurps the nests of woodpeckers and parakeets, often by knocking out the chicks. They feed on arachnids, insects, reptiles, crustaceans, seeds, small mammals, grains, fruits etc. Seeing one myna is considered unlucky and seeing a pair is thought to be lucky in India.

Indian crow

Crow variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Crow: It’s a very common bird in India. They are carrion birds which are believed to clean up the place. Crows’ nests are seen often on Indian trees. At marketplaces they are seen sifting through garbage for scraps of food. This bird also has an interesting place in Hindu mythological literature.

Sparrow: Sparrows, seen widely in India twenty years ago, now are an endangered species in the same country. The house sparrow has a merry, chirping call. Animal activists all over India are raising a hue and cry to save this bird. These tiny birds feed on cereal grains, livestock feed and insects.

Indian pigeon

Pigeon variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Pigeon: Feeding pigeons is considered as a pious act in India. A common sight is people feeding numerous pigeons food grains in public places, especially early in the mornings. White pigeons with tails with gorgeous plumes were patronized by Indian royalty in yesteryear.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life. 

Why Religious Indian Hindus Don’t Eat Beef

One thing that Westerners find intriguing about India is that the country, by and large, regards cows as sacred. Many wonder what the reasons for Indian Hindus not eating beef are. The rationale as to why Indians of the Hindu fold find the cow as a lovable animal and cannot even think of making it into beef burgers has multifarious dimensions.

Movie poster in India pertaining to the countries first film on the slaughter of cows.

Indian poster for the movie Aahinsa, the country’s first film on the slaughter of cows. The director is Yousuf Ali Khan.

History of the Indian Hindu practice:

 Certain historians argue that ancient Indians ate beef. Archaeological excavation pertaining to the non-Aryan Harappan era in India, which dated back to 6000 BC, is believed to indicate that beef was consumed by the indigenous people. Some historians also aver that cattle were also consumed in the Vedic Age (1500 BC to 500 BC). The Rig Veda, book of hymns, composed during the early Vedic Era, however, suggests that substitutes to animal sacrifices were thought of. Often barley and rice were offered instead of slaughtering an animal.

As per certain historical theory, around 700 BC, cattle were allowed to be slaughtered for ritual purposes and hospitality. However, as cows were killed in large numbers, there was a serious shortage of milk. Hence, the religious rules were changed to venerate the cow, so that the milk supply continued to flow. As the economy evolved from a hunting-gathering one to an agrarian one, the cow began to be protected rather than killed. The Athravaveda; the ancient religious book of hymns, chants and spells, later went on to say that eating even a barren cow would bring ill luck to the souls of one’s ancestors.

Lord Krishna, who is considered as an incarnation of God by Hindus, lived and preached in India in the BC era and was born to a cow herder’s family. He displayed immense affection towards cows. He grew up with milk maids being his closest buddies. Traditionally, Krishna is shown playing a flute, with a cow in the background.

As per Hindu mythology, the holy cow Kamdhenu, enjoys the status of a goddess and is considered as the mother of all cows. It was believed that she gave her devotees whatever they desired.

Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism; religions which originated from Hinduism; also advocate the non-consumption of beef. The Buddha who preached non-violence to all living creatures was against animal sacrifice, especially that of the mother cow.

Film stars Kashvi Kanchan and Nafe Ali Khan, promotional photo for Aahinsa.

Film stars Kashvi Kanchan and Nafe Ali Khan, promotional photo for Aahinsa.

The reason which triggered the historic 1857 revolt against the British was that the Indian Hindu soldiers refused to bite off the cartridges, which were made of beef fat. It is feared that eating beef or killing a cow will condemn one to hell. Not all Indian Hindus, however, refrain from eating beef.

The cow possesses mother-like and gentle qualities:

The cow is considered to be a gentle and docile animal. It has the most serene eyes. Hindus, especially those who reside in villages, are accustomed to handling this sweet and calm bovine. The cow is regarded as a beloved household pet in these homes. Can anyone ever kill a pet for providing for food on the dinner table?

Nafe Ali Khan, promotional photo for Aahinsa.

Nafe Ali Khan, promotional photo for Aahinsa.

Those who keep milch cows and take them out daily to graze have noticed very maternal traits in the cows. For instance, while in the green fields, the mother cow affectionately lows to her calf, lovingly nourishes and fondles it. Of course all animals have maternal instincts but those who have cows as pets in India aver that the cow is one of the most motherly of all animals.

Mother Cow Is In Some Ways Better

In the Rig Veda, human longing, sacred devotion and maternal affection is diagrammatically represented by a cow with her calf. The cow that is abounding with milk is considered the embodiment of maternal energy. Mahatma Gandhi, renowned Indian freedom fighter, revered the cow greatly. He said, “Mother cow is in many ways better than the mother who gave us birth. Our mother gives us milk for a couple of years and then expects us to serve her when we grow up. Mother cow expects from us nothing but grass and grain. Our mother often falls ill and expects service from us. Mother cow rarely falls ill. Our mother when she dies means expenses of burial or cremation. Mother cow is as useful dead as when alive.”

The cow is seen as having maternal-qualities.

The cow is seen as having maternal qualities.

A variety of dairy products

India’s rich cuisine boasts of a wide array of dairy products. Ghee or clarified butter, considered a super food in India, is the ingredient of many dishes and is essential in many Indian Hindu ritual offerings to God. The Indian kitchen offers curdled, non-curdled, fermented and other dairy products.

Just a few of the many dairy products are paneer and channa (Indian cottage cheese), khoa (made from thickened or dried whole milk), kulfi (Indian ice cream), dahi (curd), shrikhand (strained yoghurt blended with sugar), kheer (a rice dish with milk and sugar), and many mouth watering sweetmeats.

Western dairy and confectionary items are also highly popular in India. Milk and dairy products contain calcium, Vitamin B 12 and magnesium. A huge chunk of the Indian population comprises of vegetarians. As they don’t have non-vegetarian options to choose from, the many dairy products offer them varieties of food, including Vitamin B 12, which is generally provided from meat.

Flyer for the movie Aahinsa.

Flyer for the movie Aahinsa.

Cow Excreta

Though the idea may appear to be repugnant, the truth is that cow’s urine and feces have crucial uses in India. Cow’s potty, known as cow dung, is rich in minerals and is consequently used as manure. Dung is made into biogas, which generates both heat and electricity. Cow dung, when burned, acts as a natural mosquito repellent. Dung mixed with water also helps to ward off many other harmful insects.

Not all of India is a warm country. There are chilly regions too and winters can get quite cold in some places. Cow dung pasted on the walls serves as a natural thermal heater. Dried cow dung is used as firewood, thereby saving many trees. It also serves as a component in mud brick houses.

Sprinkling cow urine is thought to be a spiritual cleanser in Hindu rituals. It’s also used as a floor cleanser. It acts as a natural pesticide, thereby serving as an essential component in organic farming. Cow’s urine, with neem and custard apple leaves, when boiled together, forms a bio-pesticide.

Cow’s urine has many medicinal properties as per Ayurveda, the Indian medicinal system. It is believed to have beneficial effects in treating fevers, cancer, leprosy, anemia, liver ailments and asthma.

As the cow is such a useful animal, it makes greater practical sense in India to keep the animal alive rather than roasting it. In fact, household wealth from time immemorial in India has been measured in the number of cows one has. Many a tragic tale has been woven around situations when one lost one’s cow while grazing or had to sell off the household cow when falling into abject poverty. So before ridiculing Indian Hindu culture for  abstaining from beef, one should read the logical reasons as to why people do so.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life.

Total Recall


question markIf you’re like us, you’re appalled at the frequency and number of recalls on pet food in the US.  How can anyone keep up with it all?  We thought we’d start with a list of helpful links we encourage pet owners to check on a regular basis.

If you live in the United States, we suggest you start with the USFDA website, which contains an up to date list of every recall out there.  You can also find a wealth of information at the Humane Society of the US, including Tips To Protect Your Pets From Contaminated Food and Treats, Poisonous Foods to Pets, Poisonous Plants to Pets and Common Household Dangers to Pets.

We weren’t able to find any corresponding links for our readers logging in from India, Canada and the UK, but these might be a good place to start:

Food Safety and Standards Agency of India

Food Standards Agency of the UK

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

We would love to hear from our readers outside the US about any helpful links we can pass along to our readers.  Please comment here, or e-mail







Finding The Best Vet

Vet questions: CaduceusWhen we polled our potential readers before opening Your Pet Space, we found one of the most important things to them was how to find the best vet. The worst time to find a new veterinarian is when your pet is having an emergency, so hopefully this will help you be prepared ahead of time.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is a good place to start.  They have a search feature that allows you to find accredited facilities in your area that have been evaluated on their facilities, staff, equipment and patient care.  You can also find vets that are open 24 hours or that specialize in areas such as dermatology, oncology or cardiology.  InfoVet of Canada also offers this service for our friends up north.  And for our friends in India, we recommend Bring Fido.

Another great way to find the right vet for your pet is to get recommendations from other pet owners who share your general philosophy (such as, if you don’t want your pet routinely vaccinated).  You could also ask local animal shelters, dog trainers, groomers or pet sitters.

But, once you find an accredited vet near you, how do you know it’s the right vet for you?

  • Arrange for a first appointment without your dog to speak with a veterinarian.
  • Once you’re there, check whether the space is clean, modern and well-organized.
  • Ask about whether vets on staff share responsibility and cover for each other during vacations or other absences.
  • Do you have good rapport with the vet? This is critical.
  • Ask questions! The best thing you can do as a pet parent is not be shy asking what you really want to know.

You may want to ask:

  • How are overnight patients monitored?
  • What sort of diagnostic and monitoring equipment does the practice use?
  • Does the vet refer patients to specialists?
  • How are patients evaluated before anesthesia and surgery?
  • Does the practice have licensed veterinary technicians on staff?
  • What is the protocol for pain management?
  • Does the practice offer emergency after hours treatment? If not, to whom do they refer?
  • What’s the average cost of routine procedures like wellness exams, titers and teeth cleaning?

Above all, don’t be afraid to change vets if you are not happy for any reason.  Trust your gut.  Your pet will thank you.