Birder Profile: N Mahathi 8

Mahathi is a 16 year-old birdwatcher from Chennai who loves everything about nature. Read on to find out more about one of India’s most promising young birders!


1. Please tell us bit about yourself. What do you do and where do you live?

I am Mahathi. I am currently studying in class 11 and I am 16 years old. I stay inside IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Chennai. While I have been birding for around 10 years, I’ve only being doing so seriously for around 5 years. I am also fond of butterflies, lizards, snakes, etc though I don’t know a lot about them!

I participated in the Young Birders Event conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology this year.


2. When and how did you get interested in Birding?

It is actually a long story. From my early days, I was taken around the campus by my parents and shown blackbuck, deer and large birds such as egrets. When I turned 4, I began attending the annual summer birding camp for children held by Prof. Susy Varughese. My interest towards birds grew at 7 years of age, when I saw a large, colourful parrot on a mango tree outside my window. Soon after this, my vision deteriorated and my interest began to fade away. However, after my vision was corrected with glasses at the age of 9, I began birding during the summer.

The first time I birded in winter was when I was 12. The first winter migrant I saw on that day was the Brown-breasted Flycatcher (which is usually a passage migrant through Chennai). The diversity of birds was something different and there has been no looking back since! I bird every weekend now, and I have also made several new birding companions who have introduced me to eBird and also influenced the way I bird.

The Brown-breasted Flycatcher was the first winter migrant that Mahathi saw. Photo: Harshith JV (eBird checklist)

3. Do you have a favourite bird or birds? Why is it/are they your favourite?

No favourites… and I like all of them. I can tell you my least favourites to identify though – old world warblers and pipits! I really like the Fire-tailed Myzornis, the Bugun Liocichla and all the hummingbirds (I’ve seen only 2 species) a lot.


4. Where do you enjoy birding the most?

I don’t have any favourite location either. But I like the Great Himalayan National Park a lot. The Western Tragopan is seen there (if you want to see it, ask the locals and they’ll help you out… one only has to sit outside without moving from 1 AM  to 4 AM and it is pretty much impossible to use the camera at that time!).

The IIT campus is my home for now and I like the campus and the adjacent Guindy National Park a lot as well. But honestly, I enjoy birding anywhere and places are very different in the birding aspect. When one goes to a new place, it often takes a day or so to figure out what one is actually looking at and what kind of movements one is looking for.


5. Do you have a birding partner or a group you enjoy birding with? How is birding alone different from birding with others?

Yes. Inside IIT-M, there are quite a few birders who reside in the campus and others who come regularly to the campus. I often bird with Tanmay, Vivek anna, Rama aunty and Vikas both on campus and when I go outside.

Birding alone is quite different from birding with others since you actually have more eyes when you bird with others and its also a lot more fun when you have company. Also, we get to split the job of entering the checklists and submitting them and sharing it with the others. But I do bird alone quite often as well.


6. Anything on the birding bucket List? (Doesn’t have to be a bird, could be a place, witnessing a phenomena, etc)

Yes! I want to see all the bird species of the world. I want to visit places such as Eaglenest, Jim Corbett National Park, visit the Western Ghats a few more times, and I wish to visit Brazil some time as well.
I want to observe the nocturnal migration of flycatchers and warblers (I am going to try observing this  in the coming season). Since we inevitably have cyclones, I will be out in the eye again to look for wind-blown birds from the sea. I also want to go on a pelagic but I have to wait for 2 more years for that since there are age restrictions.

Mahathi with an Eastern Meadowlark specimen at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

7. Do you use eBird? Has eBird changed how you bird? How?

Yes… I believe I’ve been using eBird now for nearly 4 years. And to be honest, except for being able to share checklists I don’t know whether eBird has changed the way I bird since I was birding seriously for only around a year or so before I joined eBird.

Also, before I visit any place eBird gives me an idea as to what birds I should expect and I think that helps a lot. Before I go anywhere, I just look up eBird to check the birds found in that state or district.


8. Have you set any birding goals for the coming months?

Currently, I think the next 2 years are going to be quite busy for me so I not going to target or hope for things too high! However, my 2 basic goals would be to try and submit at least 1 checklist per week and reach 600 species at the end of these 2 years (I am currently at 549).


9. What is your message for fellow birders?

Have fun when watching birds. Even when we see crows, mynas and other common birds, we should continue to observe them instead of neglecting them because they are already on our life list. Their behaviour is interesting and they are also fun to watch. I think as long as you keep observing them there is always something new you can learn about their behaviour.

Cover Image: Fire-tailed Myzornis by Udaya Kumar Balasubramanian

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