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Shikra – the leopard among birds of prey

A young Shikra (All photos by Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Shikra – the word Shikra is borrowed from the Urdu word which is derived from the word shikari meaning hunter. Once upon a time, this magnificent bird of prey was a constant companion of falconers due to the ease with which it could be trained and was frequently used for hunting before it was declared illegal in india. 

The shikra(Accipiter badius) is a small raptor but with great courage and speed. The talents of the Shikra have long been known. The bird’s brilliance had several eminent colonial British ornithologists express awe at its capability to hunt and adapt. 

“A small but fierce predator, is likened to the Leopards of the Cat family, owing to their fierce and brutal hunting techniques, blended with intelligence and strategy, exactly like the Leopards,” writes Hugh Whistler, the British Indian ornithologist in his book Hand book of Indian Birds. 

Like leopards, Shikras are known for their specialised hunting skills. Each hunt is strategically planned, depending on the prey species. These Raptors also develop a preference and taste for particular prey. 

Shikra is a widespread resident in the open wooded country and urban spaces in India, except in the North-East. It feeds on small birds, lizards, frogs, mice and others, but is also known for its speed, stealth, opportunism and pluck to take on birds larger than itself. The shikra is found in abundance in Asia and Africa and is also called the little banded goshawk. Smaller in size than many raptors, the shikra has rounded wings and narrow long tail, with a pointed beak. This pointed beak enables it to hunt its prey. The identification of the male-female is quite simple. The male has a white colour around the neck with red eyes with black spots. The female has a dark pale grey color and is larger in size than the males and has  yellow eyes with a black spot.

I noticed my first Shikra when I got interested in wildlife photography two years back. It was a quick flash – I only caught a glimpse as it took off swiftly from its perch. Since then, I have seen dozens of them and the sight of a Shikra – its trim profile, delicate colour, fast wingbeats and piercing eyes – never fails to thrill me.  I have seen them chasing pigeons, mynas, swooping down upon lizards and — on one occasion — I saw it attack a grey francolin. In the last case, the francolin made a desperate attempt to get away by taking to its wings, though I couldn't see what became of the chase that ensued.


An Indian Navy Air base in Mumbai is named after this bird — INS Shikra. The Shikra is also the mascot for the 149 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

Famous Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi wrote a poem called "Main Ik Shikra Yaar Banaya" about a lost love wherein he compares her to a shikra.

“main ik shikra yaar banaya,

Ohde sir te kalgi te ohdi pairi jhanjhar

Oh chog chuginda aaya !!

(O my mother, I made a Shikra my beloved

A plume on his feet

Bells on his feet

He came pecking for grain

I was enamored!)

Also Read : Kingfisher: The Bird which Inspired a bullet train in Japan