Slaty-headed parakeet

When we mentioned the Great Himalayan National Park, birders would reflexively say Himalayan Monal. That’s a shy bird we have seen before, always running away startled, and this time was no exception. The slaty-headed parakeet (Psittacula himalayana) was seldom mentioned. It is a spectacularly coloured bird, and you have to climb into the Himalayas to see it, so it has a claim to being the signature bird of the park. The parakeet can be seen across the Himalayas, from Afghanistan to Arunachal Pradesh in the east. We saw raucous groups of these parakeets on our aborted walk from Gushaini to Ropa.

In flight, when their wings and tails open up you can see the scarlet patch on the wings, and the blue and yellow tail feathers. The distinctive feature is the slaty head. This individual had a faded slaty colour, but there were others in the group with a darker gray head. This lighter head-colour marks out this bird as a juvenile, meaning it is less than three years old. We saw them towards the end of the breeding season, and perhaps the heavy activity was partly due to the necessity of feeding fledgelings.

We saw these birds as we climbed up towards Ropa, on slopes at an altitude of over 2 Kilometers, and saw more them as we climbed. They would descend to lower valleys in winter. Since these are the only parakeets which live at such heights, they are also the only parakeet which are forced to migrate with the seasons. The squaking calls followed as we went back down the path. We must have seen these parakeets before, but I had no memory of it. Nor did our notebooks contain a mention of this birds. So this must have been a lifer.