The long hop

This entry was posted Wednesday, 10 June, 2009 at 11:46 am

The long hop: a one-legged bird returns to its winter home
By Meghna Krishnadas

The hero of our story is a courageous Grey Wagtail that was first spotted in the temple township of Biligiri Ranganaswamy Betta within the BRT (Biligiri Ranganaswamy Temple) Wildlife Sanctuary, some 200 km south of Bangalore.2007_a-copy2

It was noticed by TS Ganesh, a resident at BR Hills for twenty years. Ganesh lives on his farm and coffee estate, where he has been observing and photographing the birds that visit his home. One particular individual caught his attention in 2007, when migratory birds first began to arrive for the winter. Among the birds in his backyard, he noticed a Grey Wagtail with just one leg! Surprised, Ganesh photographed the bird. It was one of a pair of Grey Wagtails that remained in his garden until the following May when both went missing, presumably having headed back northwards to Central Asia (C&NE Afghanistan and NW Pakistan) to their summer home to breed.

This appeared to be the end of the story. Migration is a difficult business for any bird, let alone one with as serious a handicap as a missing leg! Birds migrate back and forth from their breeding to their non-breeding lands, tracking warm weather and food supplies. Some birds are champion migrants, like the Bar-headed Geese that travel at astoundingly high elevations over the Himalayas, under conditions of very low oxygen. However, these arduous journeys are very energy-intensive and the weak often do not survive. Migration requires the bird to be at its fittest in order to undertake the long voyage, so Ganesh didn’t expect to ever see his one-legged wagtail again.

Imagine his surprise and awe, then, when the one-legged wagtail reappeared in Ganesh’s garden in October 2008!


When Ganesh heard of the MigrantWatch project he wrote to them about this remarkable individual. MigrantWatch encourages birdwatchers, naturalists and any interested person to document the arrival and departure dates of migratory bird species that visit India during the winter. The idea is that citizens’ contributions will help evaluate the effects that global warming might have on the timing of bird migration.

This little episode illustrates how fascinating it can be to observe the natural world. The resilience of this little one-legged bird, which weighs just above 15 grams, but still managed to make at least two migration journeys of 1500-2000 km each is something we can only wonder at.

Will our hero survive yet another year and two more long journeys to return to Ganesh’s farm at BR Hills? We shall know the answer in a few months, and all of us, Ganesh included are keeping our fingers crossed!


3 Comments to The long hop

  1. Prashanth says:

    June 10th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Nice write-up. Do hope Ganesh’s visitor at “WATAPI” keeps coming back. Nice of him to have kept track of the Wagtail over three seasons! Maybe “WATAPI” – Ganesh’s farm could be a field station of MW!

  2. Deepa Mohan says:

    June 11th, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Wow, what a heartwarming story! Thank you Meghna.

  3. sarabjit singh says:

    June 12th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Interesting story Meghna.
    I saw a one-legged white wagtail on the highway from Bikaner to Jodhpur last winter when we stopped at a dhaba for lunch. There was a pair and sadly the two-legged character (must have been a male by his behaviour) was behaving quite boorishly.
    The one-leg was going about his business quite cheerfully, hopping along lloking for insects. The other foot appeared to have been squashed under some heavy weight. It was an old injury and the wagtail appeared to be accustomed to hopping around – no sense of being physically challenged in that little bird.
    I have a video on this which I hope to share with you soon.
    No idea whether it was migratory but if it was, it would be wonderful if it came back like Ganesh’s.

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