Lunch with a Falcon

Bangalore is a fast-growing city. Known as the Silicon Valley of India, the revolution in information technology has created more job opportunities for young Indians while the city kept growing in all directions. As such, skyscrapers have become a common part of the landscape of the city. Bangalore itself is very close to the Western Ghats which is home to a myriad of species, and the wetlands and shrub forest in and around the city provides habitat for many bird species.

Thanks to Balaji Narayanan for this wonderful photograph.

It was a monsoon day and I was about to start my lunch on the fifth storey in one of the modern architecture buildings in south Bangalore. I saw a bird which I couldn’t identify as it flew away between the building where I was and the 15-storey structure just opposite. This is a secured IT hub zone in the outskirts of Bangalore; there is no road between these two buildings, and it is quiet except for the techie’s chit chat in the coffee corners. I wasn’t sure if what I saw was a lifer (a birdwatching term for a first-time sighting of a species.) For any birder, lifers are a stirring experience. But one thing was certain: it was definitely a raptor.

The next day while having lunch, I made sure that I sat facing the window, just to catch a glimpse of the bird if I’m lucky. My wish was granted. The bird flew in from a long distance but fortunately it landed on an ideal perch on the building across. There were extended metal bars on each floor of the building and it landed on the 14th floor. I had neither a camera nor binoculars to look closely at the bird, but this time I observed the bird’s flight and concluded it must be a falcon. The bird sat in the same place until I finished my lunch and, of course, I couldn’t concentrate on my meal. Though I had more than 300 lifers in India, I had never seen a falcon before. 

There are four different types of falcons in South India: the red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the laggar falcon (Falco jugger) and the amur falcon (Falco amurensis). I knew Amur is a migrant which travels all way from East Asia to Africa via India, though sighted only in winter. I ruled out Amur falcon from the list.

I came back to the pantry for a coffee at 4 in the afternoon when I found the perch empty and the falcon gone. Do I need to wait for the next day? Does the bird really come here on a daily routine? Why so? I had many questions in my mind and resolved to continue my vigil the next day.

During lunch, I saw the bird was sitting on the same perch. Since it was a secured work premises, I was not allowed to bring binoculars or a camera. I had to go about identifying the bird only using the naked eye, and it was difficult. Every hour that day, I wentto the pantry and fortunately had a close look when the bird took off from the perch and flew across two buildings, before flying off into the distance.

I observed the black barred rufous belly and the black mustachio stripe. I called my friend Ashwin Viswanathan, a well-known ornithologist who was excellent at identifying bird species by their call or silhouette. When I explained my observation he ruled out the laggar falcon from the list.

The remaining two options were the red-necked falcon and peregrine falcon. The red-necked falcon is a resident bird, but Vishwanathan said that it preferred a natural perch. The only other option is the peregrine falcon, which can be found on five continents. But this falcon migrates to India only during the winter. So what is this bird? I thought it would be difficult to identify unless I photographed it. I had a mobile phone but it was of little help. I had to wait for a chance to get an even closer look at it, so I started watching the bird every day and found out it always comes to the same building.

This went on for about a week. I decided to go to the other building and seek permission to photograph the bird. Based on the window position and perch location, I calculated the specific place which would give me the closest look at this bird. Even a mobile phone camera should be enough to take a good picture if I could just reach that location. I went to the 13th floor and approached the security guard to allow me to take a photograph of the bird, but he denied me access.

The next day the bird was sitting one floor below, close to the washroom ventilation. I saw the rope hanging from the top of the building and a knot in it indicated that the bird’s perch was a few feet away. I wanted to ensure I reached the correct floor. I went to the 12th floor and entered the washroom and from within I saw the knot of the rope between the slides of the ventilation. But the bird was sitting very close to the wall of the washroom, just below the ventilation and I couldn’t see it. I knew the bird was less than three feet from the washroom. I went outside and saw both the knot and the bird.

One day, surprisingly, the bird changed its perch to the adjacent side of the building. I rushed there immediately to the pantry on the other side. Finally, I had a closer look at the bird and even got a picture with my phone:

It was a shaheen falcon (Falco peregrinus peregrinator), a cousin of the peregrine falcon! The shaheen falcon is a subspecies of the peregrine which is resident in India. My friend whom I showed the photo told me that shaheen falcons are attracted by pigeons common in urban areas. The peregrine falcon is the fastest flying bird in the world and can fly at 330 kph. They are especially skilled at hunting swoops and are able to survive in the alpine highlands as well as in lowland cliffs.

Shaheen Falcon on its natural habitat [Palani Hills]

It can be found in the desert, the tropics, in islands and in other habitats. Unfortunately, due to the introduction of DDT, they were on the brink of extinction. However, thanks to ornithologists,  environmentalists and activists who all fought against DDT, these birds are enjoying a resurgence. The shaheen falcon was always on its perch between 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. For a couple of months on weekdays, I watched the bird during my lunchtime. The falcon made my lunchtime precious and something I always looked forward to.

Article Published in Voices Magazine [Philippines]. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal

Read my other articles :

Lunch With a Falcon

The remaining grasslands of Palani Hills

Palani Hills - Shrinking Heaven

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  1. Nice Satheesh! Fastest flying bird 330 kph amazing

  2. Sashidar SubramanianJanuary 13, 2023 at 10:31 PM

    Nice Satheesh! Fastest flying bird 330 kph amazing

  3. Must have been amazing to discover a lifer nearby your workplace! Though I am shocked that you have crossed 300 species on your life list before spotting a single falcon species...