Studying the Species of Indian birds in Rajasthani Miniatures
Today, avid bird watchers can view birds through a zoom lens or rifle through guides to find the exact characteristics, genus, and species of any bird they happen to view. In the past, things were obviously not this simple. Birds are hard to observe due to their elusive nature and how they tend to not stay in the same place for too long. Then how on earth were artists able to paint such beautiful Indian birds in Rajasthani Miniatures? Well, we don’t know how they did it, but we know the names of birds that they occasionally painted in Miniature paintings.
Here’s a list of Indian birds in Rajasthani Miniatures that are either migratory, rare and endangered, or simply not well-known in the rest of the country.
1. Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
The black birds in the picture have yellow around their eyes, which is a distinctive feature of mynahs. However, the colour and silhouette of these birds do not match the mynah but rather the black drongo. In fact, mynahs have a short tail and are usually brown, never pitch black.
The black drongo is a small passerine bird that lives in many regions of tropical southwest Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan. It has an instantly recognisable silhouette due to its forked tail and pitch black colour. Despite not being well-known, it is found in many regions of India and prefers to live in lightly forested areas and agricultural zones.
Drongos are very aggressive towards larger birds and often dive-bomb any that infiltrate their territory. Smaller birds take advantage of this behaviour and live near them as a form of protection.
2. Indian Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha)
Some of the ducks in the bottom left pond are brown with a dotted white patch on the breast. They are most likely simplified depictions of spot-billed ducks. These large grayish brown ducks are found almost everywhere in Rajasthan and seldom mingle with other species, preferring to roam marshes and freshwater wetlands in small groups. Though they are named after the signature red dot on their bills, this feature is missing in certain sub-species. They have black bills with yellow tips and a green panel on their wings that is only visible when they are in flight.
3. Indian Golden Oriole (Oriolus kundoo)
The Indian Golden Oriole is one of the few species of yellow birds of Rajasthan. Others include the Yellow-footed green pigeon, the Treepie, and the Common Lora. The male golden oriole has a black patch around its eyes and wings, which this artist has captured in astonishing detail. They are partial migrants: most Indian Golden orioles are residents, and those that live in northern regions often migrate to the south for winters. They also like to nest near black drongos and take advantage of their territorial nature.
5. Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster)
The oriental darter lives near freshwater streams and lakes. It eats fish and hunts by submerging itself in water completely, except for its neck, which sticks above the surface. They hunt alone but can sometimes be seen sunbathing next to cormorants, a similar water bird with a long neck.
It is classified as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List due to problems such as pollution and hunting.
6. Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
At around 80 to 90 cm tall, the lesser flamingo is the smallest living species of flamingo. The lesser flamingo and the greater flamingo are the only two flamingo species native to Rajasthan. The sexes of both species are of different sizes, and as they are both Old World* species, it is sometimes hard to tell the two apart. They have pale pink feathers with hints of red and black. Lesser flamingos feed on algae that live in alkaline lakes, which gives them their distinct pink colour. They are not migratory, but there are some reports of individual birds travelling between India and Africa.
*Old World refers to species that are native to Asia, Europe, and Africa.
7. Sarus Crane (Grus antigone)
Sarus cranes are commonly found in wetlands and paddy fields in north and central India, specifically Gujarat and Rajasthan. Much like peacocks, these birds feature in many Rajasthani Miniatures. We are able to distinguish them from other cranes by their height and signature red heads. In fact, they are the tallest flying birds in the world and can grow up to 5 ft 11 in. They have a band of white on their necks which transitions to a gray coloured body. Sarus cranes often nest in paddy fields and make nests on the ground itself.
Urbanisation has caused the loss of wetland regions, which has led to the destruction of their habitat. Pollution and pesticide poisoning are also threats to this species.
8. Siberian Crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
Historically, Siberian Cranes would migrate to Etawah and Mainpur to spend the winters. In the 19th century, artificial wetlands were created in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, after which these birds flocked there regularly.
Siberian cranes have not been spotted in India since 2002/2003 after a harsh drought dried up the Bharatpur wetlands. Though the wetlands are now in a stable state, the birds have yet to grace their presence. Bird-watchers believe that the Central Asian flock of Siberian cranes that migrated to India has gone extinct completely, and these birds will never be seen in this country again.
9. Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
There are four closely linked species of stilts spread over Eurasia, Africa, and America. The black-winged stilt is a wader with long pink legs and a long black beak. They have black upper parts and white underparts. Certain subspecies may have all-white heads,while others may have black heads and backs. They can be distinguished from similar black and white water birds due to their beaks which help them hunt insects and small crustaceans.
In India, black-winged stilt species are found in all states except Andaman and Nicobar.
10. Indian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi)
The Indian Paradise flycatcher is a medium sized passerine bird. The males have elongated tail feathers and black heads, while the females have orange-brown plumage. Both sexes have a black crest, blue ringed eyes, and grey undersides. They feed on insects.
Let’s look at some other Indian birds that frequently feature in Rajasthani Miniatures.
11. Egrets and Herons
A lot of different species of herons and egrets can be found in Rajasthan. We can tell egrets apart from cranes by their curved necks and the plumes or thin, long feathers that they grow during the breeding season. Look closely, and you’ll be able to find great egrets, purple herons, the western reef egret, and many more.
12. Peacocks and Peahens
These beautiful birds are a classic pair, and they love making an appearance in almost every Rajasthani Miniature. They perch on top of buildings, trees, rocks, or spread their tails and dance. They are sure to brighten up every painting they are a part of. The male peacock, while difficult to paint, is so beautiful and striking that it was no doubt every Miniature artist’s favourite.
You can learn more about the various birds that feature in Rajasthani Miniatures as well as the techniques of painting them through Rooftop’s Miniature Maestro Course. This course covers multiple different schools of Rajasthani Miniature Painting and is taught by artists who are familiar with traditional methods and techniques of Miniature painting.
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