Leafbirds – Golden-fronted, Jerdon’s and others

There are four species of leafbirds (also known as chloropsis) found in India and they never fail to enthral a birder. Each of them is largely green, slender in build, with a medium-length tail and the habit of dwelling in the top or mid-canopy. They feed on fruits, insects and even nectar.

The Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii is restricted to the lower and middle Himalayas, the Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis is found in the North-eastern lowlands (and further up in the Cachar Hills as well), while the very similar (and recently split from Blue-winged) Jerdon’s Leafbird Chloropsis jerdoni is found throughout much of the peninsula. The Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons is widespread across the entire region, overlapping in range with all the other subcontinental leafbirds.

A pair of Golden-fronted Leafbirds:

All the species are usually seen in pairs or in loose flocks. In the non-breeding seasons, they are often seen in mixed flocks and hunting parties.

This article looks at the two frequently confused leafbirds – Golden-fronted and Jerdon’s – that are recorded most often, and explains they key features to identify one from the other.

Golden-fronted and Jerdon’s Leafbirds

Basic Differences

Golden-fronted Leafbird Jerdon’s Leafbird
Bill Long, slim and decurved Heavier, shorter, less curved
Face Mask:
Male Extensive, covers entire cheek and runs down to the breast Large but only up to cheek and entire throat
Female Similar to male Blue, brighter on moustache
Juvenile No mask, blue moustache Blue moustache, Yellow eye-ring
Forehead Orange, but restricted in females and missing in juveniles Dull yellow
Upper parts Green nape, head and mantle but juvenile is dull Dull yellow wash on head, breast, nape and upto mantle


1. Beak – Longer and slimmer in Golden-fronted, Heavy and short in Jerdon’s
2. Extensive face mask in Golden-fronted, not as extensive on Jerdon’s (esp cheeks)
3. Golden-forehead on Golden-fronted vs dull yellow on Jerdon’s
4. Green overall on Golden-fronted, dull yellow nape and head on Jerdon’s Leafbird
Golden-fronted Leafbird (Left) © Panchami Manoo Ukil (checklist)
Jerdon’s Leafbird (Right) © Bhavesh Mengar (checklist)


1. Beak – Shorter and thicker in Jerdon’s Leafbird, long and slim in Golden-fronted
2. Turquoise Blue moustache in Jerdon’s Leafbird, blue patch on imm Golden-fronted
3. Dull yellow forehead on Jerdon’s vs yellowish forehead on Golden-fronted
4. Dull yellow wash on head and nape in Jerdon’s
Jerdon’s Leafbird, female (Top) © Ramesh Desai (checklist)
Golden-fronted Leafbird, immature (Bottom) © Ramit Singal


All leafbirds may sounds extremely similar to the untrained ear. Most calls are a mixture of harsh and sweet notes with some differences in quality. Leafbirds are also excellent mimics and often have an impressive repertoire of sounds that may cause confusion amongst several birders!

Have a listen to the song of the Golden-fronted Leafbird and the Jerdon’s Leafbird to understand how similar they can be!

Do check out other calls of the Golden-fronted Leafbird, Jerdon’s Leafbird, Blue-winged Leafbird and the Orange-bellied Leafbird.


Golden-fronted Leafbird Jerdon’s Leafbird
Landscape level Prefers wetter regions with evergreen and deciduous forests Prefers drier and more arid regions with deciduous scrub and forests
Site level Dense forest patches as well as gardens, groves and woodlands Gardens, scrub, woodlands with lower tree densities

Some helpful notes

a. Habitat may often be a pointer to what leafbird you are seeing. If you are in a rainforest, you are most likely to see a Golden-fronted Leafbird, while a dry scrubland with scattered trees will most probably have only Jerdon’s Leafbirds. However, many regions – such as the western coast, central Indian forests and parts of the eastern ghats may have both species co-existing (in variable numbers).

b. Leafbird juveniles are tricky and often require a good look, with multiple features noted, before an ID can be finalised.

c. Seeing a pair often aids in identification as Golden-fronted Leafbirds do not exhibit the obvious sexual dimorphism that the Jerdon’s Leafbirds show.

d. In case of any doubts, eBird provides the option of using Jerdon’s/Golden-fronted Leafbird and Leafbird sp.

Blue-winged Leafbird

The Blue-winged Leafbird is similar to Jerdon’s Leafbird but allopatric (i.e. populations of the two are geographically isolated from each other). It has blue on the primaries (outermost group of flight feathers) and the tail, while the face mask is even smaller. The male has a bright yellow border to the face patch.


Note patches of blue on wings and tail. Female (above) has no face mask, while the male (below) has a smaller face mask than Jerdon’s with a very obvious bright yellow border. Beak is thick and short.
Blue-winged Leafbird female (above) © Pam Rasmussen (checklist)
Blue-winged Leafbird male (below) © Collin DeBuysere (checklist)

Orange-bellied Leafbird

The most distinctive of our leafbirds thanks to the obvious orange underparts. The face mask on the male is large and elaborate while the female only shows a blue moustache. The bill is longer than that of the Blue-winged Leafbird. The male also has dark blue wings and tail.

Note blue on wings, large face mask and orange belly on male (Left) and the blue moustache on the female (Right). The beak is large and long. --- Orange-bellied Leafbird male (R) © Amatya Sharma (checklist), Orange-bellied Leafbird female (L) © Ashwin Viswanathan (checklist)

Note blue on wings, large face mask and orange belly on male (Left) and the blue moustache on the female (Right). The beak is large and long.
Orange-bellied Leafbird male (R) © Amatya Sharma (checklist)
Orange-bellied Leafbird female (L) © Ashwin Viswanathan (checklist)

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Bird Monitoring and eBird Workshop in Ladakh

A workshop on bird monitoring and documentation was organised in Leh on 09 August 2016 by Bird Count India, Nature Conservation Foundation and Wildlife Conservation and Birds Club of Ladakh. The Department of Wildlife Protection J&K, Snow Leopard Conservancy, WWF – J&K and Angnam Production and Advt supported the workshop. The aim of the workshop was to communicate the importance of birds and their habitats in Ladakh and understanding the need for regular monitoring and documentation of the birdlife in the region.

Explaining eBird tools at the workshop

Explaining eBird tools at the workshop

Almost 60 people, including 25 students of the Elizer Joldan Memorial College, attended the workshop. It began with Tsewang Namgail of SLC, Lobzang Vasuddha of WCBCL and the Wildlife Warden, Tsering Angchok, speaking about birding in Ladakh and stressing the need for increased awareness and conservation measures to protect the biodiversity of this incredible landscape. Following them, Stanzin Namgail of NCF and Prof Tashi of EJM College spoke to the participants about the birds of Ladakh. The Pocket Guide to Birds of Spiti and Ladakh was released at the event.

The release of the Pocket Guide to the Birds of Spiti and Ladakh

The release of the Pocket Guide to the Birds of Spiti and Ladakh

The workshop, delivered in English and Hindi, focussed on the need of documenting birds in the region. Using several examples showcasing the potential of data generated from eBird, Ramit Singal communicated the importance of regular monitoring to the participants. An interactive session was held to discuss what kind of information and knowledge of the birds could be generated using eBird and the participants asked several relevant questions. The workshop closed with a session on how to use eBird on the phone and the web.

A post-workshop birding session was then held at Spituk with over 30 attendees taking part in the birdwalk. Binoculars were shared, curiosity was expressed and many gasps were heard as students and birders spotted some stunning birds such as the Wagtails and Rosefinches in breeding plumages, Redstarts, Chiffchaffs and many others. The walk in the cool weather was made even more pleasant as the clouds held back against the sun to provide a magnificent rainbow as the backdrop!

Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/india/view/checklist/S31106419

A small flock of Mountain Chiffchaffs under scrutiny as a rainbow appears in the background

A small flock of Mountain Chiffchaffs comes under scrutiny as a rainbow appears in the background

Ladakh sees a number of visiting birders in the summer months, and records are regular from a number of popular areas. However, much of the region remains under-represented on eBird and there are no local birders who contribute to the database and thus, the region’s birdlife remains relatively unknown. It is hoped that this workshop is a step forward towards more regular and increased reporting from the region.

If your organization or an organization in your area is interested in conducting such workshops, please write to us about it!

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How to Choose a Local Patch

This is the second in a series of articles from Bird Count India about Patch Birding, following on from Part 1 “What is Patch Birding?”


Thankfully birds occur in most areas and you don’t have to travel far, or go to anywhere special, to go birding. In fact, the priority for a local patch is that it is somewhere convenient to go to on a regular basis, and that it is somewhere where you will enjoy going. The ideal could be a site that you visit for a few hours every weekend, or a couple of times a month – which gives you enough time to cover the entire area in detail – while also being somewhere that you could drop in to when you have maybe just an hour or so to spare during the week, e.g. before or after work or school, during a lunch break, or on your way to somewhere that you have to travel to frequently. The patch should not be far away from your home or work, as if you have to travel for more than perhaps half an hour to get there, then you are not going to visit as frequently.

In order to cover your patch in detail it should not be too large: a maximum of a few square kilometres is suggested, but less than one square kilometre is also fine.


Your patch can contain any type of habitat. A small neighbourhood park, school or college campus, scrub area, agricultural farmland, woodland, railway edge, urban lake, are all suitable. Of course, a variety of habitats, with mature trees, hills or especially water, will increase the diversity of species and enhance your enjoyment. If you are lucky enough to live near the coast, or a large wetland, then you will probably have a great local patch, but it doesn’t have to be a place known to be fantastic for birds.

Ideally don’t use your own garden as your patch – part of the fun of patch birding is to choose a patch that has habitats that you think will attract a variety of birds, and that will get you out in to the field more often. Of course, do continue to note observations from your garden or neighbourhood separately.

Choosing your Patch

You may already know a local site that fits the criteria described above, but if you are not sure, or to refine an area that you are interested in, try the following steps.

  1. Use an online map such as Google Maps or Google Earth
  2. Centre it on your home (or work)
  3. Switch to the satellite or earth view
  4. Look for nearby areas of greenery or water (which might be dried up)
  5. Identify prime areas based on combination of habitats, e.g. water near areas of woodland or scrub
  6. Check for suitable access and whether the sites appear to be private or publicly accessible
  7. Visit the possible sites to check this.
  8. When visiting sites, specifically check the details of the habitat, especially for fairly “wild” areas
  9. Also consider ease of access and viewing: there are good places for birds that are not always easy to access for birders, and for a local patch you want visiting and watching to be enjoyable
  10. Remember to take some notes and enter eBird checklists for your scouting visits to possible locations, even if you don’t select them as your patch!
Choose a Patch using Google Maps

Choose a Patch using Google Maps: greenery and open areas alongside the river looks promising…

Choose a Patch using Google Maps

Choose a Patch using Google Maps: zooming in shows a potentially good area of floodplain with easy access – definitely worth a site visit to check!

Once you have identified a local patch you’d like to “adopt”, create a map (e.g. based on a screenshot from Google Maps) and define reasonable boundaries for it. You will probably refine these over time as you visit.

Try to plan some routes to explore the patch as fully as possible. Again you will likely refine these over time, and you don’t have to do the same route every time you visit. Aim for a route that visits all the different habitats in the patch. Ideally your routes should be circular, i.e. starting and ending at the same point – as this is most convenient when birding on foot!

Now you have your local patch, just visit as often as possible!

Part 3 “How to Record Birds from your Patch?” will be published in a few days…


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What is Patch Birding?

Do Black Drongos migrate?

Have I seen a Green Bee-eater recently?

Is Greenish Warbler only a passage migrant in my area, or a winter visitor as well?

Do juvenile Barn Swallows migrate with adults, or separately?

Are migrants arriving later this year?

Do Asian Koels call all year round?

How many different call types do Common Ioras have?

What food do Barbets prefer, and what do they eat at times of year when this is not available?

When do Tailorbirds nest?

Do Red-whiskered Bulbuls have multiple broods?

What species hold territories?

How can I tell whether this newly arrived Marsh Harrier is a juvenile or an adult female?

These are all common birds but questions that most birders would find it difficult to answer. One solution to this lies in an exciting and rewarding way to take your birding to the next level: local patch birding.

This is the first in a series of articles from Bird Count India about Patch Birding

Your Local Patch

Patch birding involves visiting a local and familiar site on a frequent basis, thus gaining an intimate knowledge of the birds that occur there. Seeing birds on your patch is more than listing and counting, and is more about actively watching and enjoying.

A local patch can be any type of habitat – birds do occur pretty much everywhere after all – so the key is for it to be an area that you can conveniently and regularly visit. Ideally you’d be able to visit at least once a week, year-round. Over time you will learn a lot more about the birds that frequent your patch, and develop your skills as a birder in doing so.

Local Patch

A small wetland with surrounding vegetation and some mature trees makes an excellent local patch.
© Kulbhushan Suryawanshi

Advantages of Patch Birding

Spending time in a place that you get to know well allows you to observe birds in more detail, and quickly learn more about different species and their behaviour, than visiting different sites much less frequently.

As you watch a local patch you will find yourself improving your skills as a birder: you will pick up songs and calls and see and identify the bird making these, improving your ability to bird by ear to the extent that you will soon be identifying birds by sound alone. Watching regular birds over time is the way to build up your appreciation of “jizz”, something that is not really possible to learn out of the field, such that soon you will be able to identify some birds by the way they perch, or walk, hop, run or fly, and even a brief glimpse may be enough for you to confirm the identification.

Singing Plain Prinia

Singing Plain Prinia – patch birding will help you distinguish this from Ashy Prinia by song and call
© Kavi Nanda, http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S30466678

Patch birding will reward you with things that you would ordinarily miss when just occasionally birding at different sites. You will start to recognise which trees begin flowering first and which birds come to them, the order that different species visit in the mornings, which patches harbour the first migrants etc. Soon you will identify the quiet corner that is a reliable spot for an unobtrusively wintering Red-throated Flycatcher; you will find the bush where a pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls are nesting, and be able to discreetly watch the antics of the parents feeding young, and the following year note whether the birds nest in the same area. After a while you will know what to expect, and would consciously look out for the winter’s first Grey Wagtail in the last week of August for example.

Nesting Red-whiskered Bulbul

Nesting Red-whiskered Bulbul – careful watching on your patch will help you observe breeding behaviour
© Yogesh Patel, http://orientalbirdimages.org/search.php?Bird_ID=1679&Bird_Image_ID=119200

You will develop an understanding of the seasonality of common species – when they breed, when you can expect to see young birds, when they moult and how their plumage differs at different times of year. For some common species that we don’t really think of as migrants you may notice that they actually leave your patch for long periods, on what may be local migrations. Observing bird behaviour more deeply, appreciating common birds that you might not have given a second glance to before, will help you detect habitat and food preferences for different species, and you may even end up recognising specific individuals through their particular habits.

Eclipse male Purple Sunbird

Eclipse male Purple Sunbird – when do they attain this plumage, and for how long?
© Rahul Paranjape, http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S25773628

Second-winter Brown-headed Gull

Second-winter Brown-headed Gull – gulls are ideal for recognising the different feather tracts and understanding moult as an aid to ageing.
© Hemant Kirola, http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26075637

Over time you will become very familiar with the regular birds, which helps you then recognise something unusual if you are lucky enough to come across it.

Also, regularly watching a local patch can be a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to watch birds, with short travel times and low fuel usage and costs. It is of course considerably more enjoyable than spending long times in traffic!

Overall great pleasure can be derived from getting to know a place in depth, observing the seasons change and the impacts that has. The notes you take (see below) can build up into a nostalgic personal diary as well as a valuable resource for an overall understanding of bird populations, distribution and movements. With the added possibility of seeing something unusual (whether behaviour you’ve not noted before, a new species for your patch, or even a rare species for the area) patch birding is an exciting pastime that adds a new dimension to your birding.

Part 2 “How to Choose a Local Patch?” will be published in a few days…


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Bushlarks, Skylarks, ‘crested’ Larks

Hopefully, you’ve had some practice over the past month(s) in telling apart larks from pipits. In this article, we’ll try and give some tips to tell between 3 different groups of larks and the species within these groups. We’ll start with the Bushlarks, Skylarks and crested Larks – all of which can be mistaken for each other.

All these larks are generally fairly large and rotund, resident breeders and thus, show distinctive song-flights*.

*A song flight refers to the type of flight that a lark takes to while delivering a song, particularly in the breeding season.

Key differences between these groups are highlighted below:

Bushlarks Skylarks ‘Crested’ Larks
Crest Not Present Short and messy (when open), Not visible (when folded) Prominent and pointed (when open), Rounded and short (when folded)
Bill Thick and strong Small and short Variable
Song High-pitched and simple Complex and varied Complex and musical
Song-flight Ascends and parachutes down with spread wings and tail Flies high with rapid wingbeats Flies with slow and relaxed wingbeats

Bushlarks (Mirafra sp)

There are four species of bushlarks that one may encounter within the Indian subcontinent. All of them are thick-billed, relatively short-tailed, heavily-built larks with exposed nostrils. They often show rufous in the flight feathers. With experience, one can tell the high-pitched bushlark songs and the relatively nicer sounding calls from those of other lark species as well.

All four bushlarks are resident in our region.

Indian Bushlark (Mirafra erythroptera)

The Indian Bushlark is pale and well-marked with a defined whitish supercilium that runs around to the cheeks, heavily spotted breast, and noticeable rufous on wing panels. Structurally, it appears leaner and has a longer tail.

An Indian Bushlark © Albin Jacob (See in checklist)

Indian Bushlark – note the small thick beak, long tail, well-defined supercilium, overall pale plumage © Albin Jacob (See in checklist)

Indian Bushlark © Ramit Singal

Indian Bushlark – Note the long whitish supercilium, rufous on wings, long tail, pale plumage © Ramit Singal

Habitat: Dry regions across the country.

See range map here.

Below is a video of an Indian Bushlark singing:

Singing Bushlark (Mirafra cantillans)

The Singing Bushlark appears pale and small, with minimal spotting on breast, long tail, short and thick beak. Wing panels are not as rufous as in Indian Bushlark and the pale throat and white outer tail feathers are notable features.

Singing Bushlark © Mridul Anand (See in checklist)

Singing Bushlark – note white on throat and outer tail feathers, long tail, clean breast, lack of rufous on wings © Mridul Anand (See in checklist)

Singing Bushlark - Note the white outertail feathers © Mike Prince

Singing Bushlark (can you find it?) – Note the white outertail feathers, clean breast © Mike Prince

Habitat: Dry, arid regions.

See range map here.

Jerdon’s Bushlark (Mirafra affinis)

The Jerdon’s Bushlark appears dark and very heavily streaked. The facial pattern is messier and ill-defined. Overall, it looks chunkier with a shorter tail, longer legs and very heavy beak. It is more similar in proportions to the Bengal Bushlark.

Jerdon's Bushlark © Ramit Singal

Jerdon’s Bushlark – note messy facial pattern, heavy streaking, short tail, chunkier build © Ramit Singal

Jerdon's Bushlark © Ramit Singal

Jerdon’s Bushlark – Note messy facial pattern, breast spots, short tail, large beak © Ramit Singal

Habitat: Scrubby, relatively well-vegetated areas.

See range map here.

Below is a video of a Jerdon’s Bushlark calling:

Bengal Bushlark (Mirafra assamica)

The Bengal Bushlark is darker than the other bushlarks, with relatively fewer marks/streaking on face and back; and a contrasting whitish throat. Structurally, it is large with a long and heavy beak, short tail and rich rufous on the wings.

Bengal Bushlark © Ramit Singal

Bengal Bushlark – note heavy beak, large build, dark plumage, lack of clear patterns or streaking © Ramit Singal

Bengal Bushlark - note overall darker plumage, large beak, lack of streaking on mantle © Sourav Maiti (see in checklist)

Bengal Bushlark – note overall darker plumage, large beak, lack of streaking on mantle © Sourav Maiti (see in checklist)

Habitat: Wetter grasslands, cultivations, open wetlands

See range map here.

Skylarks (Alauda sp)

Skylarks are represented in India by two species, out of which only one is considered to be common across the country. They have relatively small and slimmer beaks, reminiscent of pipits, and short and somewhat scruffy crests. They are usually heavily marked above and look fairly large bodied. In song flight, the complex and rich song is delivered from high up with rapid, trembling wingbeats being a characteristic feature. Both species have pale lores and a black stripe behind the eye.

Skylark in song-flight:

Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)

Smaller than the Eurasian Skylark, they also become progressively darker as one moves towards the south of the country. The crest is small, the tail appears short in proportion to the body, and the rufous on the wings is darker. 

Oriental Skylark © Albin Jacob (See in checklist)

Oriental Skylark – folded crest not visible, long tail, pale lores, heavy streaking on back, slim beak © Albin Jacob (See in checklist)

Oriental Skylark © Ramit Singal

Oriental Skylark – note short crest, short tail, large body, pale lores and slim bill © Ramit Singal

Habitat: Generally found in all habitats – from dry grasslands to wetlands.

See range map here.

Oriental Skylark singing:

Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Much larger than the Oriental Skylark, with a longer tail and relatively shorter beak. On closer look, one may even note the longer primary projection. In flight, notice the white trailing edge to the flight feathers and the white outer-tail feathers. 

Eurasian Skylark © Vladan Vuckovic (See in checklist)

Eurasian Skylark – note white outer-tail feathers, long primary projection, short beak, long tail © Vladan Vuckovic (See in checklist)

Habitat: Found in cultivated and fallow lands, as well as around wetlands. Very rare in India and known regularly only from a few sites.

See range map here.

‘Crested’ Larks (Galerida sp)

These larks can be told apart from the others by the presence of a prominent crest, relatively longer and pointed beaks (except Sykes’s Lark) with a curve to the tip of the upper mandible and nostrils wholly or partially covered by feathers. Their song is the most musical out of the larks mentioned in this article and is quite rich. Flight is relatively relaxed with slower wingbeats.

Note: Very often, the species in this group may be told apart by noting their range as well.

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

A heavy looking lark with a long and slim beak and pointed crest. In comparison to Sykes’s and Malabar Lark, it is much paler overall. It is well streaked on the back and breast. Perches often on rocks and wires especially when delivering its song.

Crested Lark © Ting-Wei Hung

Crested Lark – note pointed crest, long and slim beak, pale plumage © Ting-Wei Hung (See in checklist)

Crested Lark – pale plumage, long and slim beak, pale plumage, short and folded crest © Mike Prince

Habitat: Dry and arid areas.

See range map here.

Crested Lark singing:

Malabar Lark (Galerida malabarica)

Smaller and browner than the Crested Lark, it has a shorter beak and is streaked much more heavily on the upperparts as well as on the paler underparts.

Malabar Lark © Vaidehi Gunjal (See in checklist)

Malabar Lark – note brownish tones, pointy crest, shorter beak than Crested Lark © Vaidehi Gunjal (See in checklist)

Malabar Lark taking off - note the pointy crest, short bill, darker tones than Crested Lark © Ramit Singal

Malabar Lark taking off – note the pointy crest, short bill, darker tones than Crested Lark © Ramit Singal

Habitat: Grasslands and open areas in wetter regions.

See range map here.

A video of a Malabar Lark in song:

Sykes’s (Tawny) Lark (Galerida deva)

The smallest of the ‘crested’ larks, it can range from pale to warm buff and is relatively unmarked. Note the thick, short beak and the near-absence of any streaking on the breast, rump and nape. It is known to have one of the most complex songs, often mixed with melodious, rich notes and mimicry. 

Note the heavy bill, dumpier looking structure, presence of crest © Vaidehi Gunjal (see in checklist)

Note the thick beak, pointy crest, clean breast © Vaidehi Gunjal (see in checklist)

Sykes's Lark © Mulagala Srinivas

Sykes’s Lark – relatively clean breast, folded crest appearing to be small, thick and short beak © Mulagala Srinivas (see in checklist)

Habitat: Dry, stony and arid landscapes.

See range map here.


a. All range maps courtesy of eBird India.

b. The features mentioned here are not exhaustive, but aimed at being useful for beginners to tell apart one species from another with some certainty. eBird also provides the following slashes and spuhs in case of any confusion:

  1. Jerdon’s/Indian Bushlark
  2. Bushlark sp
  3. Eurasian/Oriental Skylark
  4. Alaudidae sp (Lark sp)


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