December 27: Every winter, the Delhi Zoo in New Delhi, India, spruces up for the visit of some special foreign visitors. They fly in from the distant lands of China, Japan and Central Asia to escape sub-zero temperatures back home and bask in the warmer Delhi sun.

These visitors include pin-tail ducks, shoveller ducks, common teals, coots, dab-chiks, yellow wagtails, yellow-winged wagtails and white wagtails. Flocks of migratory birds have made the Delhi zoo their temporary habitat. And they’ve already arrived in the city, reports The Times of India.

Winter Guests
Winter Guests [Illustration by Shinod A.P.]
The birds have taken to their new surroundings like ducks to water. Literally – with over 1,000 of them being ducks anyway! Special arrangements have been made to provide an adequate stock of fish for the guests.

And, like with foreign visitors everywhere, the birds are attracting a good deal of curiosity from the locals. What are they like, people want to know?

Well, they are colourful. Take the pintail duck. A bird with a long neck and pointed tail, the male has a chocolate brown head with white stripes on the sides of the neck; the females have a uniform head.

Their cousins, the shoveller ducks, are even more colourful. The males have dark green heads, white breasts, chestnut flanks and blue forewings. And, it is impossible to miss their spatulate bills (bills shaped like spatula or a flat thin metal implement used to smoothen mixtures).

Then, there’s the yellow wagtail. Here, too, the males shine with olive green upper parts and yellow lower parts.

Of course, not all of them abound in colour. The male and female common teals for example, do not have too much colour; just broad white bands and green speculum or patches of colour on them. The common coots, whose favourite pastime is standing in fresh water, are black in colour.

The Delhi zoo will continue to be a visual delight till the beginning of summer, or April. Those who see the birds for the first time can’t wait to catch another glimpse of them again. That is why youngsters like Aman Bhardwaj are regulars to the zoo. “I have been coming here for the last four years to watch these ‘imported’ birds. It is an amazing sight that is visible only in winter months,” the youngster is quoted as saying in the newspaper report.

Not all the guests have been able to come this time, though. Visitors are feeling the absence of the popular Siberian cranes that fly an enormously long distance from Siberia. It is believed that a large number of them are shot over Pakistan and Afghanistan during their flight to India.

These birds are considered to be ‘foolish’. The shooters imitate their cries upon which the birds descend to the ground, only to be shot or trapped. The cranes lay just two eggs a year and, generally, only one chick survives. As a result, there are not too many of them around.

Given the dangers in flight, the cranes have given Delhi the skip this time.