Posts tagged with “Grey Wagtail”

Kunta is back! Return of the one-legged Grey Wagtail

Tuesday, 20 October, 2009

By TS Ganesh, 13 October 2009

Yes, the one-legged Grey Wagtail has returned to the Biligirirangan (BR) Hills for the third year in a row!

I first observed and photographed this bird in 2007. Much to everyone’s surprise, she returned in 2008. Meghna Krishnadas wrote earlier this year on these pages: “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!”

Yes, I fervently hoped that the bird I’ve named Kunta (“lame” in Kannada) would make a hat-trick by showing up this year.


I spotted my first Grey Wagtail this year in the forest — in the first week of September — and promptly entered it into my MigrantWatch account. Since then I have been looking out for the now-famous one-legged bird in and around my home here on BR Hills. On the 10th of October when I was returning from a trip to K Gudi (a resort 23 Km south of here) with some friends, we spotted Kunta near a lake just a kilometre from my home, perched on a power-line. Only one of us, (Ms. Pooja Rao) managed to shoot a few photos of the bird, looking as chirpy as ever, and none the worse for wear after the arduous to-and-fro flights these three years!

The weather has not been favourable – it has been raining almost every day for the past month. A pair of Grey Wagtails has been visiting my backyard for about two weeks now, but still no sign of Kunta, who used to wake me up with her cheeping. Is it possible that the new pair has usurped Kunta’s territory? I hasten to add that there certainly are a greater number of Grey Wagtails in this locality compared to the number in the previous years.

One begins to ask questions like – What is the lifespan of these birds? How do they manage to navigate to the same spot every year? What are the dangers they face during these trips? How many of them head towards peninsular India, and how many return?

I have heard that the average lifespan of passerines like the Grey Wagtail is about 3 years – in which case our hero has certainly lived a full life; 3-not out, if I may say so. Knowing that more than 50 percent of these birds die young, I am amazed at this particular handicapped bird!

Is it too much to hope that Kunta makes history by returning in 2010?

The long hop

Wednesday, 10 June, 2009

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!