Hyderabad is an ever-expanding city. Following the IT boom of the late ’90s, it has seen a surge in population and development. Progress, however, comes at a price – the city has lost much of its greenery and waterbodies to the concrete jungle, with little habitat left for our avian friends.
Although the population of birds in and around Hyderabad has dwindled considerably, there are a few birding spots that are still pristine, thanks to the efforts of local birders and photographers. While this list highlights these traditional birding spots, there are many more that have died a silent death, either because of encroachment for infrastructure and building projects, or because they’ve been turned into landfills or sewage sites. Clearly, the need of the hour is to save the greenery and lakes we have left, to ensure that Hyderabad supports a healthy population of flora and fauna too.
Here are the top 8 areas where bird life still thrives, in alphabetical order. In these places, birdwatching is a wildly rewarding activity, and there’s a good chance for some remarkable sightings.
A rewarding spot to go birdwatching is Ameenpur lake. It is one of the best examples of how dedicated conservation efforts can save urban lakes. Thanks to recent clean-up drives spearheaded by birding groups and NGOs, the lake now supports more than 200 species of birds including flamingoes, Painted Storks, Asian Openbills, kestrels, kingfishers, bee-eaters, Hoopoes, and pelicans. The thick vegetation surrounding the lake also supports Spotted Owlets. On a good day, you may even spot a Checkered Keelback with a fish it has hunted.
At around 80km away from the city, Ananthagiri Forest makes for a great weekend getaway. Still fairly pristine, it supports many species of birds including the migratory harriers, the rare Mottled Wood Owls, Flycatchers (Verditer, Tickell's Blue, Indian Paradise) and nightjars, to name a few. This is one of the best places to photograph birds in a dense, verdant habitat. There are well-known birding spots, like the Kotpally reservoir area, but you can always venture a bit deeper into the forest on your own too. Of late, the urban crowd that comes to picnic here has been littering the area, but the place still has a charm that’s hard to match in and around this city.
As its name suggests, this is a vast expanse of forest reserve. It is located in what used to be considered the suburbs, but with the IT boom, the distance has shrunk and the area is bustling at all times of the day. Most enthusiasts in Hyderabad view this as one of the prime destinations to go birding in the city. The botanical garden supports over 600 species of plants that attract a wide variety of birds, including flycatchers, minivets, Baya Weavers, and orioles. You will see quite a few wading birds at the many watering holes and ponds inside these gardens.
This lake is said to be older than the city of Hyderabad itself. Now, it lies neglected, and is slowly being polluted by heavy metal and antibiotic effluents from surrounding pharmaceutical and bio-tech companies. Occasionally, you will see froth on the surface of the lake, and a few dead fish. Nevertheless, the area still teems with bird life – an indicator that the lake isn’t dead yet. The lake supports many water birds from terns to storks to kingfishers. Only time will tell if this lake can be revived like Ameenpur was, or if it will go the Hussain Sagar way. (The Hussain Sagar lake, located in the heart of the city, was our main source of drinking water, around 400 years ago, but in modern times, it is nothing but a dump yard for toxic industrial waste and municipal sewage. Nowadays, it supports little to no avian life.)
Nehru Zoological Park
The best place for beginners to start birding is the Nehru Zoological Park. In addition to the birds on exhibit, there are certain hotspots within the zoo that attract wild birds, including, but not limited to Painted Storks and jacanas, buzzards and kestrels, Mottled Wood Owls and Spotted Owlets, kingfishers, flycatchers, and orioles. The pure water sources available inside the park and the constant chirping of the caged birds seem to attract these birds. Since most people usually flock directly the animal enclosures, you will get to spot these birds in the wild in certain pockets of the zoo (mostly around the bird enclosures) at your own time and pace. Just take a walk around.
One of the first universities of the princely state of Hyderabad, the OU campus is a sprawling forest area that supports many birds, ranging from Black Kites and Black-shouldered Kites, Rock Doves and Spotted Doves, kingfishers and bee-eaters. The crowded campus falls quiet on weekends, which are a good time to go birding peacefully. Make sure you arrive early, as your chances of spotting birds are best in the morning.
There is no better place than a large water body to spot or photograph birds. One of the best spots in Hyderabad is the Gandipet lake, or Osmansagar lake, which has been providing fresh water to the city for centuries. There are many ways to reach the lake bed – from the Gurukul side, from the Minar side, or the Balaji temple side. The lake is a haven for the migratory Greater Flamingoes during winters. On a good day, you’ll spot a few hundreds flocking together. Now that the lake has shrunk in size, the birds’ numbers have dropped drastically. However, with good rainfall, the lake brims with water, and the flamingoes return. I’ve noticed that these birds don’t have that characteristic pink or red tinge; instead, they are paler in colour, probably due to the lack of carotene-rich food around the lake area. A huge population of spoonbills, darters and Painted Storks can also be commonly spotted here.
The Old City
The old city itself is home to resident populations of many commonly found urban birds such as drongos, bee eaters, kites, robins, orioles, flycatchers, and barbets. Visit old government offices or residential complexes that still support a lot of greenery, and you might be able to spot birds that you wouldn’t believe you’ve been living alongside all these years.
* Go to lakes such as Shamirpet, Edulabad, Pragathi Nagar, Fox Sagar Satyam enclave to spot wading birds such as plovers, lapwings, sandpipers, stilts, terns and so on. While residing at Kundanbagh in the heart of the city, I spotted many species such as barbets, sunbirds, and even paradise flycatchers.
** Weekend getaways around Hyderabad include Ananthagiri forest, Manjeera, Pocharam, Rollapadu, and Pakhal wildlife sanctuaries. Rollapadu is one of the last few havens of the Great Indian Bustard in the state, though the resident population has dwindled considerably. But there’s a good chance you’ll be able to spot a few Blackbucks when you go.
*** Protected/restricted areas are not open to visitors and tourists, and you might need permission to enter. In some places, such as the Infosys campus (both at Gachibowli and Pocharam) and KBR park, you aren’t allowed to carry a camera inside and you can’t veer off the track.