Colombo, the island’s capital was until quite recently considered as a green city with a vast covering of trees. When viewed from the air, it appeared as a blanket of green amongst the houses, roads and buildings. Despite the rapid urbanization and development of high-rise buildings across the city, present day Colombo is still home to an astounding diversity of wildlife. The Beira Lake in the heart of the city, is home to a large population of Spot-billed Pelicans that nest on trees around the lake, are perched atop streetlights and can be seen riding the air currents around the city’s towering skyscrapers. The Common Fruit Bat, or the Flying Fox, is another species that has taken a liking to city life. A Fruit Bat colony roost on the treetops at the Vihara Mahadevi Park and take to the sky at dusk in their hundreds, which is quite the spectacle to witness.
Areas lined with large trees are home to the critically endangered western race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkey. In the outskirts of Colombo, several wetlands have recently been created including the Bellanwila – Attidiya sanctuary, Weli Park, the Beddagana Wetland Park, Diyasiru Park and the Talangama wetland. These urban wetlands are inter-connected with a complex of ponds, canals and paddy fields in a mix of habitat that are home to a staggering diversity of wildlife including over a 100 species of birds, 37 species of damselflies and dragonflies and 30 species of butterflies. The wetlands are popular haunts of the urban birdwatchers, who live in the city that need to connect with nature. The Pheasant-tailed Jacana can be seen trotting amongst the water lilies. At Talangama lake, there are nesting sites used by year after year by Asian Open-billed Storks, Purple Herons, and Black-crowned Night Herons. Four species of Kingfisher can be seen; the commonly seen White-throated Kingfisher, the not so commonly seen Common Kingfisher, the Pied Kingfisher, known for hovering above the water prior launching a quick strike on its unsuspecting prey along with the largest of them all, the Stork-billed Kingfisher.
Among the raptors, Shikras and Brahminy Kites are commonly seen across the city. Day roosts of Collared Scops Owls are occasionally found in home gardens. Oriental Honey Buzzards and Crested Serpent Eagles are seen occasionally in the leafy outer suburbs. Colombo’s skyscrapers are also providing ideal vantage points for the Shaheen Falcon (the local race of the Peregrine Falcon), the fastest animal in the world, which can get to a top speed of up to 300 km/h when diving down at its prey, which mostly comprise of pigeons, small birds and rodents.
Between the months of October through to March, migrant Blue-tailed Bee-eaters can be seen on rooftop antennas across the city, while flocks of Barn Swallows, are perched on electricity lines. In large home gardens that are abundant in leaf litter, the colourful Indian Pita takes up residence each year in the same plot. The wetlands near parliament have seen rarities including small flocks of Glossy Ibis, Comb Duck and an individual Ruddy-breasted Crake. The Malayan Night Heron, a rarely seen migrant occasionally makes surprise visit around the capital.
The Bengal Water Monitor, the largest lizard on the island, which can get to over six feet in length are widespread around Colombo and have even adapted to living in polluted canals. Monitor Lizards can often be seen sunning themselves in gardens and on branches of trees. Unknown to many, Colombo’s waterways are home to the largest species of reptile in the world, the Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile. Signs have been put up around numerous waterways about the presence of crocodiles and fences erected for the safety of people. Thankfully, there seems to be a peaceful co-existence between the city dwellers and these apex predators.
After dark, several nocturnal mammals, seldom seen during the day emerge into the open. The Asian Palm Civet, also called the Polecat, is an omnivore feeding on fruit, insects and rodents and often reside and breed within the ceilings of houses. In the outer suburbs, Porcupine can be seen by the roadside and digging holes to live in home gardens with shrub vegetation. There have also been infrequent sightings of Eurasian Otter around the Diyawanna oya. The most iconic amongst Colombo’s wild denizens is the Fishing Cat, the second largest of the wildcats next to only the leopard. The Urban Fishing Cat Project seeks to study the behaviour and get an understanding of the population of these elusive felines around the capital city.