A characteristic feature of jungle scenery is the snowy white egrets standing or stalking about the moist margins of tanks or in swampy paddy-fields, sometimes perched on buffaloes relieving them of ticks. In the earlier part of the year the male birds have long hair-like feathers growing out of their backs over their tails, which are much prized. On the giassy expanses round jungle tanks, and in other open places, may be seen and heard noisy red-wattled lapwings, commonly called " did-he-do-its " from their shrill cries. Their startled screams are often heard at night. Many of them have been shot by irate sportsmen because they had by their cries given the alarm to deer which were being stalked. Other birds often found in the neighbourhood of tanks, are stone-plovers, called "hare-eyes " by the natives, and golden plover. The last may often be seen in flocks on the ground, and in wild districts will permit sportsmen to walk within range of them before rising. When flushed they fly swiftly in circles frequently whizzing past the sportsman within easy shot. Most people prefer them to snipe for the table.
Every large tank is usually frequented by one or more pairs of noble-looking sea-eagles, haliaetus leacogasta, whose long quavering flute-like cries are most pleasant to hear. Numbers of black-bellied marsh terns are also often seen hovering over tanks. They come from the coast every day to feed, returning at night. Four kinds of kingfishers are to be seen, but are not found at tanks so much as at pools in the forest or in the rivers, in the banks of which they make their subterranean nests. It is said that numbers of them are caught by Moormen and gipsies with decoy birds and limed twigs, and the skins exported to India and China. Of course no sportsman will wantonly shoot eagles, terns, or kingfishers.
Hair-crested storks, leptoptilus Javcmicus, commonly called marabou cranes, are sometimes seen. They are generally come on, feeding alone in some small pool in the forest, and being extremely wary, can, as a rule, only be shot when taken by surprise. When alarmed they usually fly off and perch on some tall tree in the neighbourhood till the danger has passed. The beautiful feathers under their tails, like miniature ostrich feathers, are much valued.
The strangest looking birds in the forest are without doubt the horn-bills, anthracoceros coronatus, which are frequently found in pairs or small flocks in open forest adjoining plains and fields. They have a peculiar undulating flight. Though their loud harsh screams enable them to be easily found, they are not so easily shot being very difficult to approach. Sportsmen making trips to the low-country usually try to secure a skin or two of these birds, with huge hollow head or bill attached, as curiosities.
Several kinds of wild pigeons are found in the low-country forest. The largest and finest of these is the imperial green pigeon, carpophaga oenea, called batagoya by the Sinhalese. Its noisy flight and loud calls " wuk-wû-a ! " are familiar to sportsmen, all of whom regard it as a bird well worth shooting. Another large pigeon is the wood pigeon, palumbus Torringtonice, called milagoya by the Sinhalese, It is peculiar to the Island, and is very shy and wary, settling generally at the top of lofty trees. Some miles to the north of Trincomalee is a small rocky island inhabited by numbers of rock pigeons, columba intermedia, where good bags may sometimes be made. There are several kinds of doves, but they are hardly worth powder and shot. One of these, the bronze-winged dove, chalco-phaps Indica, is an extraordinarily swift flier, whizzing through the tree-choked forest at express speed. The meat of wild pigeons and doves is generally tough and bitter, though skilful native cooks sometimes manage to make it palatable.
Parakeets are common everywhere and are often shot for the pot when flying over the camp in screaming flocks in the evening. Parakeet pie and mulligatawny are excellent. In harvest-time clouds of tiny ortolans fly about the fields. Dust shot is required for these diminutive birds and a dozen may often be bagged at a shot. They are most toothsome.
On the great tidal flats of the Jaffna lake, the salt lake at Mullaittivu called Nanthikadal, and the numerous estuaries along the north-east and north-west coasts may be seen, especially in the wet months of the year, flocks of pelicans and lines of flamingoes. As they always feed out in the open, far from cover of any sort, it is not easy to get shots at them. They are most easily approached in light canoes, which must be sailed up to them, not paddled. Pelicans are uneatable, having a very "ancient and fishlike" taste, but a well-cooked young flamingo is as succulent a bird as ever appeared on a camp table. In the words of the French restaurateur commending his viands to the British tourist, "It shall leave you nothing to hope for." When the tide is out numbers of curlew, whimbrel and other sea birds may be seen feeding on the shore or on the flats. They may be shot by lying in wait behind bushes on the sea beach, but are more easily got from canoes. They are both excellent eating. All sea birds, and in fact nearly all wild birds, should be skinned and kept some time before cooking.
A few pin-tailed and garganey ducks and common teal are sometimes shot in the north-east monsoon, in the northern parts of the Island, but can scarcely be included among the game birds of Ceylon.