Seven Days of City Birding

As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions began to ease, the want to go birding began poking in. Before, I kept myself busy writing most of the posts that came before this one, while reading my bird books, exploring other blogs and daydreaming about travelling to other birding spots around the country. Living in a busy part of Colombo with very few trees nearby did not help out much either.

I eventually buckled down to one week of birdwatching just to challenge myself, after reading this fantastic post by Malaysian birder Choy Wai Mun. Instead of describing each day in detail (with the exception of one), I shall summarise my sightings and the conclusions I drew, over a period from Monday the 8th of June, to Sunday the 14th. 

I’d wake up at around 6.30 am to the calls of House Crows (Corvus splendens), an elusive Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) and sometimes an Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) or Yellow-billed Babblers (Turdoides affinis).

I’d eventually drag my sleepy self out of bed, pick up my little camera and amble outside, blinking to adjust my bleary eyes to the light. Then I’d go up the stairs to the adjoining apartment (vacated for the moment) and wait for something interesting to appear - until I had to go indoors to listen to lectures online. Sometimes I’d come back out at around 10 am to see if there were any good sightings around.

A wisp of a rainbow

Our house is one of three moderately-sized, adjoining apartments in a fairly small piece of land separated from the busy main road by a vehicle sale. The one sharing the ground with us is rented by some of my fellow medical students, who have all gone home to wait out the quarantine. The upstairs block (where we once used to live before moving downstairs) was also occupied by a few juniors from our faculty. This is reached by a staircase outside, the top of which is a good vantage point. Our shared garden is small; over the years, my parents have coaxed vegetables out of its infertile soil with difficulty.

View from the top of the stairs

The view is not only unflattering, but also not the most productive in terms of birdwatching. The nearest gardens are mostly hidden, with trees far away. The surrounding concrete walls make bird calls echo until it’s rather difficult to find out from where it’s coming - as I noticed with a loudly calling Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius), which I failed to locate.

The commonest birds - which I saw all the time - were House Crows, either perched on TV aerials, electricity lines and roof edges, or wheeling about in the air, flopping their wings carelessly as they roamed alone, or in small flocks. Feral Pigeons (Columba livia) were often seen, too. Our part of Colombo is home to massive numbers of them, which amass to feed on scattered grains or rice near a shrine, by a bustling junction.

House Crow 

Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) were also a common sight, either flying between buildings or perched on aerials, and occasionally, a Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis), Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) or an Oriental Magpie Robin would appear.

Common Myna

A few Yellow-billed Babblers visited our garden on the second day, and rooted around in the front yard looking for grubs.

Yellow-billed Babbler

There was a surprise sighting of a Shikra (Accipiter badius) on the third day, weaving between buildings and offering me only a glimpse of its slender brown form and whitish rump.

Watching the skies was a long wait for sightings apart from crows and pigeons. On a very hot day, Spot-billed Pelicans (Pelecanus philippensis) could be seen far away, soaring over thermals. I spotted a few Little Swifts (Apus affinis) and one Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus). 

What seemed to be munias and sunbirds occasionally zipped overhead, calling as they flew by. Brown-headed Barbets (Megalaima zeylanica) flew from tree to tree in the distance. I also saw a cormorant flying across the sky on the second day - probably a Little Cormorant (Microcarbo niger).

Rose-ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) screeched as they flew past, sometimes landing on aerials or other good perches around. At one point on the 6th day a small flock appeared, prompting my father to fear for the long-beans which he’d carefully cultivated in the backyard - these birds are notorious for snipping bean pods and flowers.

Rose-ringed Parakeet, female

Even with several days of waiting and watching, I never did see that elusive Asian Koel.

Day four was different - instead of birdwatching from home, as was the original plan, I went on an impromptu outing to Thalangama Lake with my boyfriend. Almost all parks were yet to open, and Thalangama being a quiet neighbourhood was the best spot to avoid gatherings anyway.

We reached the place at around 7 am, slung on our backpacks and set off on our walk. It was a gloomy day that had begun with heavy rain in the wee hours, and storm clouds constantly loured overhead. We walked quietly down the lakeside road, spotting birds and trying to identify them, reaching a total of 37 species, almost all of them typical residents of the area.

Spotted Dove

Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) were swimming about in the lake, their whinnying courtship calls occasionally ringing through the air. We encountered a pair of them fairly close to the roadside, and we watched them diving as they fed, occasionally emerging covered with water weeds.

Little Grebes

We noticed a little bird perched on an electricity cable in a nearby residential lane, and upon cautiously stalking up to it, found it was an Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis). 

Ashy Prinia

By the same lane was a tree which was hosting some Oriental White-eyes (Zosterops palpebrosus) and a small flock of Black-hooded Orioles (Oriolus xanthornus). I have found photographing orioles to be very frustrating - perhaps because of my impatience. Thankfully this time I managed to grab a decent photograph of a juvenile.

Black-hooded Oriole, juvenile

It wasn’t the perfect day for birding - gloomy and drizzly, nowhere near the migrant season - but it was a relief to finally spend some time outdoors, together.

List of bird sightings, in roughly chronological order:
  1. White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicrurus)
  2. Purple Coot (Porphyrio porphyrio)
  3. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
  4. Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus)
  5. Lesser Whistling Teal (Dendrocygna javanica)
  6. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
  7. Sri Lanka Swallow (Cecropis hyperythra)
  8. Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
  9. Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus)
  10. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
  11. Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius)
  12. Yellow-billed Babbler (Turdoides affinis)
  13. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
  14. White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
  15. Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
  16. Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii)
  17. Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
  18. White-vented Drongo (Dicrurus caerulescens)
  19. Black-hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus)
  20. House Crow (Corvus splendens)
  21. Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala)
  22. Little Cormorant (Microcarbo niger)
  23. Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus)
  24. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  25. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)
  26. Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)
  27. Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer
  28. Ashy Prinia (Prinia socialis)
  29. Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)
  30. Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis)
  31. Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea)
  32. Indian Black Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata)
  33. Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
  34. Shikra (Accipiter badius)
  35. Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
  36. Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis)
  37. White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata

Await a post on Thalangama Lake in the near future - the scarcity of detail in this post is deliberate. 

And for more interesting and up-close takes on city wildlife - not just birds but also insects and other critters - do take a look at my sister’s blog, Jonny’s Bucket List.


  1. Hello
    a great idea to explore birds in the city, and you can see that there is really a lot of variety, you don't really pay attention to it,
    the parakeet and the great crested grebe are great ..
    Regards Frank

    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting, Frank! I definitely did see a lot more birds than I thought I would.

  2. Hello Sandini,
    These are very beautiful and interesting birds you photographed. I especially liked the Little Grebes they a little bit resemble our grebes and a Spotted Dove.
    I enjoy your post and all birds!
    Greetings from Utah.

    1. Hi, Kaya! Thanks for visiting and commenting. Little Grebes are relatively tiny but very pretty in their breeding plumage, like here.

  3. Lots of amazing birds Sadini! I would love to see a kingfisher one day.

    1. Hi, Henry! Thanks for visiting and commenting. In time you’ll be able to see one someday - I believe the Common Kingfisher can be found in the UK.


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