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The birds are plump about the size of a half-grown domestic chicken and the males are darker- coloured (almost black) and glossier than females, which are paler more brown than black. Les generally have a pair of spurs on each leg, while the females have a single, smaller spur on each leg.
Spurfos are” known to breed from around November until March-April and also during July-August. They build a small, well-concealed nest in a shallow excavation dug under a stone or bush, often lining it with a few dead leaves. Two uniformly whitish eggs (around 42×3 1 mm in size) are laid. Nestlings resemble adult females, but are somewhat paler, and have a brownish red iris and a dusky red bill.
Junglefowls occur in most large patches of forest in all zones, but are more often heard than seen and the male’s distinctive cry carries a considerable distance through the forest. Although less common at higher elevations, the junglefowl is known to breed up to elevations of around 1,650 meters. Wilpattu National Park is perhaps one of the best places to get good sightings of these birds.
Junglefowls feed in much the same manner as the domestic fowls, sc atching among the dry leaves on the forest floor in search of Their flight is strong; they rarely take wings unless surprised and generally escape danger by runnin hese birds roost on trees. Males are believed to defend territories during the breeding season, advertising their presence with the familiar chuck-joy-joycee. Males also declare their territories by flapping their wings.
Available information suggests that junglefow/s breed year-round. It seems that the cocks are polygynous and leave all family care to the hen. The nest is usually scratched out on the ground beside a log, rock or tree, under a bush or beside a rock, and lined with a few leaves. Two to four creamy white eggs (sometimes with brown or purple-brown markings) 3×4-3.5x5cm, resembling domestic chicken eggs, are laid. The chicks begin moving out of the nest and feed independently when still quite young. During the non-breeding season, males often move about in small ‘bachelor groups’.
The wood pigeon is essentially a mountain bird, above 1,650 meters altitude (they wander to lower elevations occasionally). The species has recently been recorded from the Sinharaja Forest at an elevation of just 300 meters. These birds prefer forested areas, and are abundant in the few remaining patches of forest around Nuwara Eliya, and in the Peak Wilderness. They frequent the forest canopy, feeding on berries and fruits, especially wild cinnamon. A very shy bird, the wood e n are generally found in pairs except when roosting and feeding. They call a deep hoo.
The nest made from sticks is usually placed 7 meters or higher above the ground. Like most r pigeon nests, it is flimsy and untidy. A single glossy-white egg, around 3×2.5 cm in size, is laid during the northeast monsoon.
The red face, white belly, long tail and white tail tip are the best marks for a rapid identification of this bird, a large specimen that could reach 46 cm in length. Their call, which is a soft krrrr, times emitted together with clicks of the bill and hisses, when excited, is very rarely heard.
Male malkohas are smaller than the females. The male’s iris is brown, whereas that of the female is white. As y, they are entirely confined to undisturbed tall forest patches in the wet zone, scattered tall forests and riverine vegetation of the dry zone, and also some parts of the central hills up to about 1,300 meters altitude.
A very few red-faced malkoha nests have been recorded. The nest is a shallow cup made of twigs, grass, roots, and leaves, put together on a tree fork. The breeding season is believed to be around May, a clutch of two or three eggs being laid. The eggs are broad ellipses, 35.8×27 mm in size, white, with a chalky surface often stained with nesting material.
The green-billed coucal could be mistaken for the (very) common coucal, but is most easily differentiated from that species by its dark, reddish-brown wings, pale-green bill (ivory during breeding) and the purple sheen on its head and neck (the sexes are alike). Adults measure up to about 45cm in length. Fledged young have a slate grey iris.
Of all the forest birds, the green-billed is possibly the most difficult to see, invariably confining itself to the undergrowth. Like the common coucal, after heavy rain and in the morning, green-bills come out into open areas to dry out their plumage. The species is most easily identified and located from its loud, booming call, made during the mornings and evenings. The call has been described as ‘similar in character to that of the common coucal, but is usually only two or three-syllabled and deeper, with a sonorous, mournful quality. Both sexes call, but the males call more often. The frequency of calls increases during the breeding seas° these birds feed on small animals such as lizards, beetles, butterflies, spiders, snails and grasshoppers.
Little is known of the breeding behaviours of the green-billed coucal. The nest has been described “as being domed, made of sticks, twigs, roots and grass, lined with green leaves and supple green twigs”. It is normally placed among the thorny canebrakes, 1.2-1.5 meters from the ground. Two or three chalky white eggs measuring about 34.7×27 mm are thought to be laid, and the breeding season is believed to last from January to July.
Its presence is detected from the call which sounds very much like that of a forest frog. During day it rests in low branches in very dense vegetation. Nothing is known about its breeding.
Their flight is swift and rapid. During flight they call with a sharp three-syllable whistle: twit, twit, twit.
The bird feeds on nectar, pollen and the juicier fruits occurring in the canopy; they are also known to feed on soft seeds. Hanging Parrots are known to fly considerable distances to suitable feeding trees and up to twenty birds may sometimes be seen feeding on a single tree. At night they rest rather like bats, hanging from their feet, head-down, hence the common name.
They occur everywhere in the central hills up to about 1,400 meters altitude, ascending somewhat higher during the non-breeding season (northeast monsoon). They are plentiful throughout the lower hills and the wet zone and moderately plentiful in dry zone areas close-to the hills.
Hanging Parrots breed between January and August, selecting their nesting sites and mating in January: eggs and young have been recorded between February and August, with a peak during April and May. The nest is built in a hole or natural cavity of a tree. The entrance is anywhere from 2-12 meters above the ground. Nest building and incubation are entirely the duty of the female. Nesting materials include strips of leaves which are brought into the nest by the female tucking them among her rump feathers. The nest is an assemblage of leaf strips in which the female lays three chalky white spherical eggs about 1.9×1.6 cm in size, of which she incubates only two.
Completely herbivorous, the birds feed on fruits and flower buds, like all other parakeets. They do not feed on paddy, and it is uncommon to see the birds descending to the ground. The male Layard’s parakeet can easily be distinguished from the female by its red, yellow-tipped bill; the female has a black upper mandible, the lower mandible being tinged with red.
The breeding season appears to spread over the entire year, peaking from January to April and then again from about the end of May to September. The birds nest in tree hollows, often in an old dug-out nest of another species. No nesting material is used.
The eggs are laid on bare wood. Two or Three white, broadly oval eggs, 2.5×2 cm in size, are laid. Both sexes play a part in caring for the brood. Layard’s parakeets are entirely arboreal, preferring forested areas interspersed with open tracts caused by streams and forest clearings. They also frequent mixed forest plantations and gardens with large trees (e.g. Kandyan gardens) and being recorded in suitable habitats throughout the wet and intermediate zone, and hill country (up to about 1,700 meters altitude).
These small owls, just 19 – 21 cm in length (the sexes are alike), have a distinctive call sounding rather like k’raw…k’raw…k’raw…k’raw… k’raw, the syllables slowing slightly as the call progresses. They are crepuscular as well as nocturnal hunters, feeding mainly on insects — but, like many other owls, probably also prey on rodents and similar-sized animals.
Chestnut-backed owlets breed between March and May, the eggs being laid in bare tree hollows. Two shiny white eggs (34.0 x 27.4 to 35.8 x 29.2 mm), are laid.
The sexes are about the same size, but the male may be distinguished from the female by its mainly cream-coloured bill, blotched in black at the base. The female’s bill is black with a cream stripe along the lower edge of the upper mandible. The call of this species is usually a loud kaa.. kaa.. kaa, developing into a ka-ka-ka-ka, other calls also having been noted (e.g kuk…kuk…kuk-kuk-kuk; ko…ko… ko-ko-ko)
These hornbills breed between April and August. Nests are built in tree cavities, the female entering the hollow and sealing herself in with a mortar made of her own excreta. A narrow vertical slit is left open however, through which the male feeds her several times each day. Here she lays between one and three white eggs (41.5x33mm) and incubates them, during which period she moults. Once the chicks hatch, the newly-fledged female breaks free from her cell and assists the male in feeding the brood.
This is the commonest barbet of the hill country at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 meters in the wet zone. The species range extends also to the low-country wet zone, and suitable damp areas of the dry zone. The Labugama and Kalatuwawa forest reserves are among the closer places to Colombo in which these birds are regularly sighted.
Yellow-fronted barbets generally occupy mid and upper layers of the forest canopy. Their call commences with a kow o wo ow ow ow ow and changes to kuiar, kuiar, kuiar repeated many times. They then fall silent for much of the day, beginning to cry out once in the evening., During feeding, however, the birds fall silent, a number of birds often being seen feeding on the same fruit tree. Yellow-fronted barbets are regular members of the mixed-species feeding floc at Sinharaja, and presumably feed on insects.
Breeding takes place during two marked seasons; March to May, and August to September. Both birds excavate the nest chamber. The chamber entrance is usually 3 – 6 meters above the gr sometimes higher. The diameter of the entrance is about 25 cm, the chamber depth being .5 cm. No nesting materials are used, and up to three pure white eggs. Both parents participate in incubating the eggs and feeding the young.
The nest is built on an open branch attached to it with mosses and lichens. The shallow cup holds around 2-3 eggs. The hatchlings stay stiff in the nest well camouflaged, even though the nest is exposed. The parent birds defend the nest and nestlings very well.
Blue Magpies prefer undisturbed forests (although they are often seen around the villages). Today they are known from few suitable patches of forest in the wet zone foothills.
They are shy but noisy bird; usually move around in pairs or small groups. Members of the flock keep in contact by calls. The blue magpies are omnivorous, feeding on insects, beetles and lizards, and rather less on fruits.
They spend most of their time among the foliage probing for food under tree-bark and descending to the ground only in search of prey.
Blue magpies breed from January to around the end of April. The nest is much like a crow’s but placed among smaller branches. The clutch varies from 3-5, four being the most common. The eggs are oval somewhat pear-shaped, measuring about 30.5×22.1 mm. The ground colour varies from off-white to white, faintly tinged with oliver grey or slightly yellowish, speckled or blotched all over with pale reddish to dark brown markings. Magpies are corporate breeders.
Yellow-eared bulbuls are restricted to the higher hills, mostly above 1,700 meters altitude. They do descent to about 1,100 meters on the western slopes, but are rarely seen below 1,200 meters on the eastern side of the central mountains. They also occur in the higher parts of the Knuckles Range and Sinharaja.
They are rather shy birds that generally keep to the forest and seen occasionally in gardens. The sharp whee, whee, whee call is unmistakable. They gather in large numbers, preferring to feed on berries among shrubs and in the mid-canopy. Yellow-eared Bulbuls breed throughout the year, with two peaks in March-May and August-October (the former being the major peak). An open, cup-shaped nest is built in a tree fork about 3-5 meters above the ground. The nest is constructed mostly from green moss, the cup being lined with fine ferns and rootlets. The speckled eggs which sometimes appear pinkish with reddish brown markings, measure around 23.4 x 16.7 mm.
The breeding season appears to be from mid-March to about the end of May, with a
Second season from about mid-August to end September. The nest is located close to the ground, often beside an opening or footpath. The nest is placed on top of a s concealed among the foliage. It has an open cup shape. Two pale-pink eggs (21.7 x 26.1 mm) covered with fine, purple-brown specks coalescing at the larger end, are laid.
The brown-capped babbler is essentially a scrub, low jungle and forest undergrowth bird. These babblers feed on or near the ground, rarely showing themselves in the open except to move across such areas. They usually move about in pairs or small parties. These birds are more often heard than seen. They call mainly in the mornings and evenings, the calls becoming more intense during the breeding season. The most common of these is a clear whistle, which sounds rather like prit-tee-dear. They usually call continuously for a long period.
In the hill country and wet zone, brown-capped babblers breed during March – April and September – December, while in the dry zone there appears to be only a single season from February to April. The nest is generally built on the ground often at the foot of a large tree or under a clump of bushes. The nest is a domed structure with the entrance at one side about 10 cm across and 7.5 cm high. The inside is lined neatly with semi-decayed leaves and fibers. Outside is covered with leaves from the surroundings, providing camouflage.
Two or three oval eggs (22.2×16.2mm) are laid. The laid eggs are usually coloured white or buff, with grayish green speckles or brown, reddish-brown, purplish-brown or blackish-brown blotches, the markings more dense at the larger end.
The bird is found in all suitable humid tall forest patches in the island except in the north peninsular. Its present distribution is primarily restricted to this habitat preference. In the hill country the bird is seen in the estates with good tree cover, specially along river reservations.
They are regular members of mixed species feeding flocks of the wet zone. The call is often a duet, the male calling first followed almost immediately by the female. Thus, it is heard as a single call.
They are known to breed from December to February. The nest is built from mosses, leaves etc. in to a bank, ledge, tree cavity, an open cup-shaped. 3-5 white eggs are laid.
Unlike the common babbler, this species prefers dense, damp jungles and undisturbed forests. Although they do occur along the edges of cultivations adjacent to forests, they usually avoid cleared areas. Orange-billed babblers are seen in home gardens however, if there is sufficiently dense cover. (Given its preferred habitats, its present distribution is patchy.) The species is distributed throughout the western and south-western wet zone, and the central mountains, up to altitudes of around 2,100 meters, wherever a suitable habitat exists.
As its name suggests, this is a noisy bird, always moving in flocks of 10-15 or more. As the birds move through the forest whilst feeding, their repeated contact calls help maintain the flock’s cohesion.
Hardly anything is known of the breeding behaviour of this species, though it is thought to nest between March and May. Very few nests have been found. Nests found have been on low forks of bushy trees, usually among creepers in dense forest. The nest is similar to that of the common babbler. Two or three sky blue eggs, about 24.2 x 18 mm in size, are laid.
Adult male and female Ashy-heads measure up to about 25 cm in length and are alike in appearance, but juveniles have rather reddish under-parts, brown to bluish legs and feet, and yellow gape and eyelids.
An untidy, football-sized open nest is built on the fork of a slender tree, about 4 meters above the ground. The nest is a shallow cup rather like that of a common babbler. 2-3 sea-blue eggs are laid.
The species occurs mainly above altitudes of around 1,000 meters, though in some areas it is known to descend much lower. These small birds measure up to 11 cm in length. White-eyes breed from around March to May, April being the peak period. The nest is a small cup suspended from a fork, generally 2 – 3 meters above the ground. The nesting material usually consists of rootlets and mosses, bound on the outside with cobwebs. The inner cup is about 3.5 cm deep and measures 5.5 – 6 cm in diameter (the outside is about 14 cm in diameter). Both sexes build the nest, feed and care for the young. Two or three pale blue eggs are laid (16.5 x 12.0 mm), but it is not yet known whether both parents incubate the eggs.
These birds are largely restricted to the wet zone forests of the central hills, between altitudes of around 300 and 1,600 meters. These mynahs usually travel in pairs or small groups of up to about six individuals, congregating however, in much larger numbers whenever a suitable tree is in fruit. Their diet consists almost entirely of fruits, in search of which they sometimes descend on to smaller trees. Otherwise, this is a canopy bird almost never coming down to the forest floor.
There are two breeding seasons, from March to May and again in August-September. Nesting is in tree hollows, usually high (7 – 15 meters) above the ground. Two lightly-spotted or blotched greenish blue eggs are laid, each about 33 x 25 mm. No nesting materials are used, the eggs being deposited on bare wood.
White-faced Starlings are purely arboreal in their habits, almost never being seen on the ground. They feed on fruits and insects, stealthily and gracefully waking up to them along branches. White-faced starlings are common members of the mixed species feeding flocks. Their call (short chirps) is heard mostly when they are in small flocks.
Until very recently, nothing was known about the breeding and nesting habits. We now know that they nest in the cavities of trees at fairly high elevations. The eggs are pale blue and measure 25 x 20 mm. The only nest recorded so far contained two eggs.
White-faced starlings occur over a narrow altitudinal range, from about 300 meters above the sea level, to around 1,200 meters. They are seen mainly on the slopes of the southwestern and southern hills, almost always in undisturbed natural forest.
Both sexes are about the same size (20 cm long), the male being darker-coloured than the female.
There is single breeding season, from January to May, during which a large nest is built of roots, twigs, leaves and moss, with a deep cup at its Centre. Up to two pale green eggs (30.8 x 21.8mm), faintly speckled in reddish-brown (especially at the broad end) are laid.
Spot-winged thrushes occur between altitudes of around 300 and 1,300 meters, wherever there is a suitably dense and undisturbed forest cover. Shy, mostly solitary birds, they keep mostly to the damp floors of dense forests, coming into the open only in the early morning or late evening. Males call very frequently during the morning and late evening while being seated on a low branch.
The nest is usually placed in a fork at about 1.7 – 4 meters above the ground. It is constructed of sticks and moss, with a deep cup neatly lined with the fern rootlets, grasses and decaying leaves. Two eggs (26.8 x 19.7 mm) are generally laid, but only one usually hatches. The eggs are pale bluish green, freckled with light reddish brown, or light red and reddish grey with few markings. The young leave the nest quite early, to be fed by away from the nest by its parents.
It was considered till recently to be seen only in the hill country. It was first caught in Sinharaja in 1980, around 300 meters altitude and is now confirmed breeding resident of the reserve. Thus, it appears that it is most likely present at lower elevation forest reserves, but its shy elusive habit has resulted in not being detected.
It is a year round territorial bird. The nest is built up in trees at about 3 – 5 meters, a large cup with a lot of moss padding. Around two eggs that are bluish with some brown speckles are laid. The breeding season is generally from February – March and occasionally from July to October.
The dull-blue flycatcher is essentially a hill country species, still common in well-wooded areas between 1,300 and 2,000 meters altitude.
The song is modulated so as to sound as it comes from far off, even though the bird may actually be quite nearby. Dull-blue flycatchers prefer open interfaces in the vegetation, from the edges of which they can obtain a perch with a view, and flit to and fro to get their food. These birds are generally not shy, and allow one to approach quite close.
The breeding season lasts from mid-March to about end May. However, a second season from ‘August to September is known to occur. The nest built entirely of green moss, with the inner cup lined with fine, hair-like black fern or moss rootlets. The nest is placed in a ledge or crevice, or sometimes in shallow tree cavities or on branches. Nests are usually found in deep shade 1 – 3 meters above the ground. Two pinkish eggs (20.5 x 14.8 mm), rather thinly freckled with pale reddish markings more concentrated at the larger end, are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young.
White-throated flowerpeckers prefer tall forests and mainly inhabit the highest reaches of the forest canopy. They descend close to the forest floor to feed on the fruits of Osbeckia (Sinhala: bowitiya) and the seeds of Freycinetia (Pandanaceae), at which times they may be approached closely; the fruit of the parasitic plant Dendrophthoe falcate is a particular favourite. These birds are known also to feed on insets and spiders.
The call is heard most frequently around midday from the treetops: a weak tze-tze-tze ests are found on 18 – 38 metres tall dipterocarp trees. The nest is small (11.4 cm long & 8.9 cm wide), pear-shaped structures suspended from branches. The nest material consists of soft substances such leaf buds and pieces of bark padded together with cobwebs. The entrance has a porch-like shelter. The nest is constructed by the female, who also incubates the eggs. Two eggs, white with spots and speckles of purplish brick red measuring15.4 x 11.2 mm, are laid.
The birds come to fruiting trees in large numbers, and call “coo” in a very distinct manner often indicating its presence even if not visible among the vegetation canopy.
As of all pigeons, the nest is very flimsy with a few sticks put together. The nesting season is from December to June. Small white eggs are laid. The chicks are brought up on “pigeon milk”.
Reaching just 17 cm in length, this is the smallest of the Sri Lankan barbets, being only slightly larger than a sparrow. It occurs almost everywhere in the
wet zone, up to altitudes of about 1,300 meters, and in scattered parts of the dry
zone. Except during the breeding season, these birds move in flocks upwards
of ten individuals gathering on fruiting trees. These barbets are not restricted to forests, and can often be seen in cultivated land and gardens.
The call is a slowly-repeated wok wok wok or a rapid op op op op. This is a purely arboreal species, never descending to the grounds. They usually call from the tops of the highest trees wherever they occur. Crimson-fronted barbets are not common in dense forests, and are more often seen in home gardens. Breeding occurs throughout the first half of the year. A hole about 15 cm deep is excavated in dead branch of a tree (breadfruit and dadap being favourites), with an entrance hole about 5 cm in diameter. Two or three white eggs (25.5 x 18.2 mm) are laid on the bare wood.
The bird is found in all habitats with good forest cover but not very abundant and common (rare). The presence is often noted by its distinct call (a trill) that it makes on flight. Plantations and home gardens are visited if close to a forest patch. The pair sticks together all the time.
The breeding season is from October to March. The nest is in a tree cavity. 1 – 3 white eggs are laid.
Moving in pairs or small groups, the bird is distinguishable by its habit of searching for insects. Rolling its head to the side it peeks in to the vegetation in search of the food items. Calling very softly to each other, the pair or small group combs the forest for its food.
The bird builds a neat cup attached to a branch with mosses and lichens. In this shallow cup it lays about three eggs. The young stay steady crouched in the nest appearing to be like a broken piece of branch until the parents approach to feed. This is a well camouflaged stance. The breeding season is mainly in the months of April —May. 2 – 3 Bluish green to white eggs are laid.
Text by Prof. S W Kotagama