Black-and-Orange Flycatcher Male
Black-and-Orange Flycatcher Male

Spotting the Endemic Birds of the Palani Hills

All images by the authorAccording to the online resource ebird.org/hotspots, Kodaikanal is home to over 150 species of birds, and about 30 of these birds are endemic to the Western Ghats. Many of these are visible seasonally, as some are resident and others are migratory. Some birds inhabit only a certain altitude range. 

The 30 or so birds that are endemic to the Western Ghats are endemic to the south-western ghats, with some restricted almost exclusively to the Palani Hills.

In this photo essay, meet a few of them.

White-bellied Sholakili

I like to call this one ‘the star of Kodaikanal’. These birds are the singers of the shola forests. The sholakili can be described as a small (around 15 centimetres wide), blue-gray bird, with a pale belly and a frost-coloured forehead.

It is classified as a ‘vulnerable’ species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, as it is found only in the high altitudes (above 1200 metres) of the south-western ghats, and specifically in the forest patches known as the shola forests. Based on its restricted habitat, its existence is being threatened by habitat loss. 

Look for them in any shola patch in and around town: they can be seen early mornings/ late evenings when they are out singing.

Nilgiri Flycatcher

This is another beautiful little blue bird, also an avid singer. It can look similar to the white-bellied sholakili. Relatively easy to spot around the shola forests, these are sometimes also seen in gardens and densely-wooded areas. You can often find them singing away in the morning, especially in the summer while looking for a mate.

Black-and-Orange Flycatcher

This bird is black and orange in color, stunningly bright in the dark shola forests of the high altitude Western Ghats. They are quite small in size, around 10-13 centimetres long. They are not easily seen as they are quite skittish, but if you have the patience to wait and look for them, you are in for a treat. This bird can often be found alongside the white-bellied sholakili.

Palani Chilappan or Palani Laughing Thrush

The laughing thrush does not really laugh. However, it does have a loud and distinct call. While there are many laughing thrushes found in India, there is only one, the Palani laughing thrush, spotted in our region; these are endemic to the Palani Hills range.

They are also classified as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List because of habitat loss and based on the fact that they are only seen in this range. These guys can be seen almost everywhere around Kodaikanal town, in both slightly wooded or busy areas. They are also quite skittish.

Nilgiri Wood Pigeon

Another personal favorite bird is the Nilgiri wood pigeon. It is also endemic to the Western Ghats, but not really restricted to the Palani Hills. It is also very similar to a ‘regular’ pigeon. However, it has a distinct marking which looks like a black-and-white patch on the back of its neck.

The Nilgiri wood pigeon’s presence in a forest is often considered an indicator of a healthy forest. It is also classified as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List, like most other endemic species, because of habitat loss. They are quite shy for pigeons, and are usually seen in the canopies of dense shola forests. 

Sivaguru Noopuran

Sivaguru Noopuran is a wildlife enthusiast, a shutterbug, tech lover and of course an avid birder. He has shot well over 300 species on camera, and uses a Nikon D5 camera and 600mmF4 lens as his weapon-of-choice. He currently shuttles between Bangalore and Madurai, with escapes to the Western Ghats on weekends.

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