Wednesday 11 November 2015

An Illustrated Ode to the Birdman of India

12th November, the birth anniversary of India's birdman Dr. Salim Ali, is celebrated as Birdwatchers' Day in India. Here's an illustrated ode to the extraordinary life of Dr. Ali, that first appeared on National Geographic Traveller (read the description of the sequence here).

The compilation is available as prints-

The series was originally illustrated for National Geographic Traveller Web, 2015. For print orders outside of India, please visit my webstore.

For orders within India:
Prints of the compilation are available as posters in 3 sizes-
A2 (420 x 594 mm)- Rs. 1200 (Rs. 1000 for the second print onwards)
A1 (594 x 891 mm)- Rs. 3000 (Rs. 2500 for the second print onwards)
A0 (841 x 1189 mm)- Rs. 3500 (Rs. 3000 for the second print onwards)

(Prices inclusive of shipping within India)

To place your orders, please mail me mentioning the number of prints, postal address and contact number on

An introduction to the story :
Each year, November 12 is celebrated as Birdwatchers’ Day in India, marking the birth anniversary of our bird man, Dr. Salim Ali. The date is a lot more special to me because it was on this very day in 2005, that my brother and I were bitten by the birding bug.
It was in 2012 that I happened to read Dr. Ali’s autobiography, The Fall of a Sparrow. I was sitting next to the lake in Lalbagh, Bangalore, on a calm morning with cormorants and pelicans in straight view – the perfect backdrop for this man’s illustrious life. Dr. Ali’s contribution to the study of natural history in India is so remarkable that even to this day when one hears the word ”ornithologist”, an image of that amiable, long-nosed face with a white beard and thick-framed spectacles pops up.
Like every other boy in his day, Dr. Ali’s journey into the natural world began with a gun – a toy air gun – with which he shot sparrows. On one such occasion, a bird that he killed looked a tad unique. It had a yellow patch on the throat. When Ali asked about this interesting creature at the Bombay Natural History Society, WS Millard, the secretary not only identified it as the Yellow-Throated Sparrow but also introduced a young Ali to the world of birds and ornithology. Millard showed him the stuffed specimens of the BNHS museum and lent him a copy of Edward Hamilton Aitkien’s The Common Birds of Bombay. The rest was history.
Ali made numerous path-breaking contributions to ornithology in India. While listing all of them would need a lot of space and time, his prominent achievements are the ones that are illustrated below. They include his efforts to secure financial aid for the BNHS from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his influential role in the creation of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, and in preventing the destruction of the Silent Valley National Park. His writings are upheld as birding Bibles by every Indian birder, novice or veteran. These include his field guide, The Book of Indian Birds, and his magnum opus authored with Dillon Ripley, The Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan.

Ali succumbed to prostate cancer in 1987, at the age of 91, but left behind a spirited legacy. The Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) was set up in his memory in Coimbatore, as was the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Goa. Several animals have been named after him, such as the Salim Ali’s fruit bat and sub-species of the rock bush quail, the Finn’s weaver and the black-rumped flameback. Bird lovers still fondly call the chestnut-shouldered petronia, the bird that inspired Ali’s switch from shooting to studying birds, the “Salim Ali Sparrow”.


  1. Absolutely wonderful. The Old Man would have approved!

  2. Unbelievably awesome. Keep it going. Just love the way you illustrate!!

  3. Brilliant Work ! Finest Tribute To The Legend.

  4. The Old Man would have loved it!! I certainly did !!!

  5. Lovely, very nice! Though I thought our Bird man never had a beard till much later on...

  6. Yet another wonderful work of art. A real paen of prose for the great man.

  7. Lovely work Rohan! Child's play for you?!

  8. Such a fantastic tribute to the best known ornithologist of India --Rohan, hats off to you!

  9. Salim Ali would have loved this to the bits. You are brilliant Rohan.

  10. Wow Rohan, this is really nice, I would love to introduce Great Salim Ali to our kids taking help of your illustrations.

  11. Salim Ali had a wonderful sense of fun - he would have loved this! Thank you 🙏🏻

  12. Absolutely brilliant...enjoyed it very much..

  13. Just awesome ....and very inspiring ..

  14. Selam, selam and selam to Salim.