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

This entry was posted Tuesday, 20 October, 2009 at 1:56 pm

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?

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

  1. Vikas says:

    October 20th, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    If the bird is female she should be called “Kunti” 🙂

  2. Anush Shetty says:

    October 20th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    This is amazing.

  3. Ganesh says:

    October 20th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Vikas!

    He was christened KUNTA IN 2007 when I didn’t know it was
    a “she” – and the name stuck!

  4. Deepa Mohan says:

    October 21st, 2009 at 9:31 am

    What a heart-warming story..and such excellent observation! Why was she named Kunta? Is it after Kunta Kinte who returned to find his roots?

  5. Prashanth says:

    October 21st, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Ganesh, wonderful observation! Kunta is now a celebrity. 🙂

    Given your location in “BR Hillsu”, you are an important contributor to Migrantwatch. I do hope you are reporting the sightings of other migrants too. Who knows, how many more migrants we might come to identify not only to species, but also to individuals!

  6. Suhel Quader says:

    October 26th, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Kunta is also featured elsewhere on the web:
    Open Magazine
    Asian Window

  7. Seema says:

    October 27th, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Such a heartwarming story. Kunta’s grit and determination is truly nature’s gift to mankind.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Halima Sayed says:

    November 6th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    I really hope Kunta is alive. She looks so cute. I spotted my first grey wagtails today and I hope they keep coming everyday..

  9. Saurabh Pansare says:

    November 22nd, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Congrats to Ganesh and ‘Kunata’ too!!
    Great observation i must say.
    I have a concern here. Since last 3-4 years I’ve observed many Common Myna, Rock Pigeon, Sparrows, Brahminy Starling which were lame. It was due to accident or a genetic disorder is a topic of research. Do u have any info on this issue?

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