Kokkarebellur, a small village in Maddur taluk of Mandya district of Karnataka is named after the painted storks.
The word ‘kokkare’ means crane in kannada. Apart from Painted Storks, the spot-billed pelicans are also found here and it is rather disheartening to know that these birds have been classified as the “near threatened category” in IUCN Red List of 2009. Incidentally, this village is one of the 21 breeding sites existing in India and unlike any other bird sanctuary you may have visited.
A bird’s haven
For starters, Kokkarebellur is not a reserved forest sanctuary but a small village where the storks and pelicans coexist freely among the villagers and mostly in tamarind trees in the middle of the village.
The villagers are used to regular visits by tourists and photographers and can help you find the trees where the birds nest. The painted storks and pelicans are found in big herds during the migratory season. And make no mistake, these birds are huge. The painted storks have snow-white plumage with patterned bright pink and black stripes and have a yellow tapering bill. The pelicans have grey and white plumage, short stout legs, large webbed feet, flat and an enormous bill with an elastic bag of purple skin hanging below the throat that helps them collect fish from water.
The uniqueness in Kokkarebellur is the long established bonding between the birds and the villagers who have adopted this bird as their heritage, since they consider the birds as harbingers of good luck and prosperity to the village.
The happy co-existence of the villagers and the birds is because the villagers actually look after the birds, train them till they fly back to their nests. The spot-billed pelicans are protected by the law in India. In Kokkarebellur, a community-based project has been instituted to carry on the historical links of the pelicans with the villagers.
With increased nestling activity in recent years, efforts to conserve these birds have been fruitful and are also being hailed as a “role model” for replication at other places. Birds are seen nesting in clusters of 15 to 20 pairs per tree and the strange part is that they use the same set of trees every year.
The birds typically arrive after monsoons in September. They then make their nests, lay eggs from October to November and fledge around for three months till March, after which they tirelessly feed their hatchlings through the summer season.
As summer peaks in May, they re-migrate. Apart from the painted stork, you can also find little cormorants, black Ibis, grey herons, black-crowned night herons, ring necked parakeets and Indian pond heron.
Kokkarebellur is a must visit simply because this is probably the only place, where you can spot these winged beauties at such close quarters.