Birds are among the most colourful denizens of this planet. The gardens of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are
home to a large number of birds. Shri Samar Singh has done a meticulous study of garden birds which
turn out to be as many as 107 species belonging to 33 families, ranging from the glorious Blue Peafowl
down to the tiny Minivets and Munias. Shri Samar Singh has with great devotion produced this
beautifully illustrated book. This will be a most welcome addition to ornithological literature of the
country, and will be particularly welcomed by the large number of bird-lovers. I would like to
congratulate Samar Singhji upon the book and hope that it will be widely circulated.
Birds have always fascinated humankind and the reasons are quite obvious. Among all the higher forms
of life called the vertebrates or back-boned animals, birds are certainly the most beautiful, most
melodious, most admired, most studied and most defended. They far outnumber all other vertebrates,
except fishes, and can be found virtually everywhere throughout the world. Perhaps the central part of
Antarctic is the only place on the world’s surface where birds have not been found.
Descended from the reptilian stock similar to the dinosaurs, birds have radiated explosively
over the earth in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colours and habits. Currently, they inhabit every
continent and occupy almost every conceivable niche. Some even nest underground. Altogether, there
are about 9, 000 living species of birds, which the scientists have placed in 27 major groups called
Orders and around 155 Families.
Considering that life on earth extended into the spectrum of time for more than two billion
years, birds are a latter-day creation, Palaeontologists believe that they began to branch off from the
reptilian stock sometime in the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago, shortly after the first
mammals appeared. Well-known scientist T.H. Huxley described birds as glorified reptiles” because
birds share many characteristics with reptiles, such as certain skeletal and muscular features, somewhat
similar eggs and an ‘egg tooth’ on the upper jaw at hatching time. However, the unique feature that sets
them apart from all other life forms is that they have feathers, which are indeed a marvel of natural
engineering. No other creatures possess this special feature.
The association between human beings and birds has been very long and intimate. In fact,
birds have helped humankind in various ways for thousands of years-from the Geese whose warning
cries saved Rome to the Canaries that were used to warn miners of methane gas leakage. They continue
to provide such lifesaving service by acting as reliable indicators of the health of our environment,
specially regarding the dangers arising from chemicals and other toxic substances in the atmosphere.
Moreover, birds play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of Nature by controlling insect pests and
rodents as well as in cross-pollination of plant species, seed dispersal and as scavengers. Further, there
are birds that have made remarkable contributions to human welfare, economically and otherwise. The
classic case is that of India’s wonder bird, the Red Junglefowl, which is the progenitor of all poultry
forms worldwide and has been responsible for several outstanding contributions to medical research and
India’s richness in avian diversity is well recognized. Of about 9,000 bird species in the
world, around 1,200 are found in India. This means about 13 per cent of the world’s total, which is very
remarkable for an area that is only about 4 per cent of the world’s total landmass. The more spectacular
part is the fact that out of 27 orders and 155 families of birds for the world as a whole, India accounts
for about 20 Orders and 77 Families. Of the total of 1.200 bird species found in India, about 900 are
resident species and the rest, about 300, are migratory, mostly coming from Central Asia and Eastern
Europe during the winter period.
Several bird species are quite at home in the urban areas. In this respect, Delhi ranks high as a
city with a thriving bird population. In India, it is clearly the riches city in birds, with an amazing list of
more than 400 species, which means at least one-third of the country’s total number of bird species.
Very few cities in the world can boast of such avian richness. Delhi’s bird list includes several summer
and winter visitors as well as passage migrants, mainly because the city is well positioned along the
north-south flowing Yamuna on one of the major Asian Flyways. No doubt the most favoured areas are
the riverbanks and the Ridge, but several large well-tended parks and gardens and even the trees along the
city roads, particularly in south Delhi, attract a rich variety of birds. Agra and Jaipur also have several
green spaces that attract birds of different types.
Birds and gardens have a symbiotic relationship for quite obvious reasons. The concept and
practice of gardening is certainly homocentric: it is human initiative for human pleasure and benefit.
But, in this scheme the natural elements necessarily play a vital role and a garden without trees and birds
is inconceivable Gardens and groves in ancient times were built mostly temples and palaces. Several
sacred groves are still in existence all over the country, but the gardens of the remote past have not
survived the vicissitudes of time.
As far as Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are concerned, these were the seats of powerful kingdoms in
medieval times and witnessed, under royal patronage, the flowering of human ingenuity in many spheres,
including gardening and horticulture. The was specially so during the Mughal period in the 16th and 17th
centuries and then again under the British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the post-independence
period over the past six decades also several new parks and gardens have been established along with the
restoration of those set up earlier. These are like the ‘green lungs’ of these three important cities, which
form the well-known ‘Golden Triangle’ favoured by the tourists visiting India. An added attraction is, no
doubt, the diversity and richness of birdlife harboured in these places.
In this connection, the role of vegetation diversity has to be noted. The more diverse the
vegetation, the greater the variety of birdlife therein. This is for the simple reason requirements in terms
of food, camouflage, roosting, nesting, etc. vis-à-vis trees, shrubs, bushes and other vegetation. Hence,
many manicured gardens and parks having only certain types of trees and shrubs generally attract lesser
number of birds, whereas the relatively small garden area of the India International Centre in New Delhi,
having quite diverse trees and vegetation, accounts for as many as 83 bird species. In shot, there is a
direct relationship between vegetation diversity and bird diversity.
The list of garden birds in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur given in the book includes 107 species
belonging to 33 different Families. The descriptive notes are on selected species, specially the
prominent and interesting ones. As the book title indicates, only those birds have been listed which
frequent gardens and parks, including large birds like the glamorous Blue Peafowl, which is our National
Bird, as well as tiny birds such as the dainty looking Purple Sunbird, Tailorbird, White-eye and some
Minivets and Munias. Care has been taken to include in the list bird species about which there is
certainty and to exclude those about whom any doubt has arisen, especially some of the smaller birds
whose identification is always difficult, However, suggestions for making additions to the list are
In a book on birds, it is worthwhile to incorporate some tips on bird watching. Hence, a brief
note on the subject by the famous ornithologist, the late Dr Salim Ali, is being included in this
publication, along with his views on the usefulness of birds. For giving permission to do so, the Bombay
Natural History Society has to be thanked. I also wish to thank Shri P.C. Sen, Director, India
International Centre, for entrusting to me this interesting task; Nikhil Devasar and Amano Samarpan, the
photographers; and Shobit Arya of wisdom Tree.
Back of the Book
The ‘golden triangle’ of India – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur is an rich and diverse in its birdlife as it is in its
culture and tradition. The gardens and adjacent water bodies in these cities provide a huge range of
vegetation diversity for the birds to dwell and rest.
This superb book constitutes an engaging guide containing descriptive notes and colourful
photographs of the birds commonly seen in northern India.
Samar Singh, retired as Secretary to the Government of India. He was
Secretary-General, World Wide Fund for Nature-India. A recipient of the ‘Order of the Golden Ark’, he
has worked extensively in the field of environment and conservation.
Nikhil Devasar is a passionate bird photographer. His bird pictures appear in several
Indian and international publications.
Amano Samarpan studied photography at Duckspool in the UK. His work regularly
features in books and magazines.
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