Bird Population Report Flags Declining Numbers Of Some Species

The State of India’s Birds (SoIB) released an annual report on bird population trends in India. While there is hope for some species, long-term strategies are required for others
The dance of herons over a shallow lake
The dance of herons over a shallow lakeShutterstock

On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, a moderately large crowd gathered near Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences in Dwarka. As fresh passersby combed through the crowd, they wondered what the spectacle was about. Following the crowd’s direction, they turned their gaze towards the sky and noticed a white egret (a type of heron) hanging mid-air, caught in a fatal web of manjha, as if frozen in flight. A firefighter zipped past me, while uniformed officers strolled around, thinking of a strategy to free the bird. 

Growing up, these doris, often glass-coated, would bring about an untimely demise to many city birds. Even though the locals chattered about how a “kabutar” was being saved—suggesting a gradual loss of connection with wildlife in the urban landscape—it was a breath of fresh air to note that a bird’s life still carried weight. 

State of India’s Birds Launches Annual Report

On August 25, the CD Deshmukh Auditorium at India International Centre saw the launch of the State of India’s Birds (SoIB 2023) annual report. According to the report, the larger trend is somewhat grim despite some good news for certain species.

SoIB 2023 is a collaborative effort involving 13 institutions in the country, comprising six government institutions, seven conservation NGOs, and a host of independent professionals. Among others, the institutions include Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (CES, IISc), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and Foundation for Ecological Security (FES).

A group of great white pelican (one of the largest migratory bird species) on an island at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur in  Rajasthan
A group of great white pelican (one of the largest migratory bird species) on an island at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur in RajasthanShutterstock

A Cause for Concern

As per the report, “Habitat specialists—particularly birds of grasslands and other open habitats, wetlands, and woodlands—are declining rapidly. In terms of diet, carnivores, insectivores, and granivores are declining more rapidly than omnivores or fruit- and nectar-eaters.

Separately, migratory species appear to be under greater threat than non-migrants. And species endemic to the Western Ghats–Sri Lanka region are faring worse than others. Certain groups of birds are faring particularly poorly, including open habitat species like bustards and coursers, riverine sandbar-nesting birds like skimmers and some terns, coastal shorebirds, open-country raptors, and a number of ducks. The finding that a large number of common species are in trouble is a cause for concern.”

Although data insufficiency was an issue, the report, which concludes the findings of over 30,000 surveyors leading to 30 million observations, 205 species have declined in the long term, 98 show a stable trend, and only 36 species have increased.

“It is important to explain the importance of conservation to the policymakers in a language they understand. For government, people often come first—so it is important to connect the dots,” said Abhiram Sankar, IAS officer (Karnataka) and avid birder, on the occasion. “Each forest division should build specific action plans and boost outreach and education within the forest officer staff,” added Manoj Nair, IFS and Director at Nandankanan Biological Park, Odisha.

Connecting Tourism with Conservation

During the panel discussion held at the launch of this report, a thoughtful question was raised—is birding limited to only a certain class of elites? While tourism does promise a hopeful push for birding among travellers from all backgrounds, it is yet to be seen how local communities can fit into the picture. Perhaps an example from snow leopard conservation can be taken as a leading example. In many Ladakhi villages, snow leopards were detested for preying upon cattle. However, with the intervention of Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT) and other such NGOs, snow leopards became an important tourism asset for the villagers. While earlier, they only meant economic loss—with interest in tourism, they were essentially a new source of income.

Take the example of Indian swiftlets found off the coast of Sindhudurg in Maharashtra. As the sun sets upon Vengurla Rocks, many poachers risk their lives to get into the Pakholi Dhol caves (susceptible to flooding at high tide) and bag the golden bird—an Indian swiftlet’s edible nest fetches a big sum in overseas markets such as Thailand and Japan. As an important source of income in a sleepy town, no legal writs are able to shake the will of the poachers. If, however, more and more groups of tourists demand a tour around the “Bird Island,” it is possible to hope that the income from poaching can be replaced by income from tourist trips. As a sustainable tourism asset, it can be far more profitable than poaching, at least in the long term.

Luckily, under the banner of “eco-tourism,” many such policies already exist. Many national parks already employ locals as forest guides, who in turn can earn a livelihood from tourist interest. Having said that, other government policies need to come in place in addition to this strategy. Overtourism can also shift the scales in the opposite direction, so policymakers can only benefit from employing nuance in otherwise black-and-white eco-tourism strategies.

A simple set of binoculars and a guidebook on birds can help you get started
A simple set of binoculars and a guidebook on birds can help you get startedShutterstock

Where to Go Birding in Delhi

The first step towards bird conservation can easily mean taking an interest in birding. If you’re interested in spending slow Sunday hours looking for a flutter of wings or listening to the song of the Koel, here’s a short list to get you started.

Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Located in Noida, Okhla Bird Sanctuary was first founded in 1990. Located near Yamuna, it serves as a wetland that invites many migratory species. Here, you can spot birds such as Baikal teal, sociable lapwing, Indian skimmer and even grey-headed fish eagle. All in all, according to a 2001 census, about 300 diverse varieties of bird species can be found in this area.

Yamuna Biodiversity Park

Yamuna Biodiversity Park is a popular name among the birders of Delhi. Located in Wazirabad Village in North Delhi, this park is divided into wetland, grassland, and semi-dense forest. It supports a healthy population of avian species, especially during the winter season. While you can spot many aquatic and common birds like the white-throated kingfisher, pied myna, and drongo, the cormorants, darters, pintails, painted stork, red-crested pochard, and gadwalls make this park their home during winter.

Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary

Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary is located near the borders of Faridabad, Gurugram, and Noida. The sanctuary boasts several lakes, and it is contiguous to seasonal waterfalls in Pali-Dhuaj-Kot villages and the sacred Mangar Bani. Over 193 bird species, including resident and winter migrants, call Asola home. Many migratory birds are attracted to the area's numerous lakes. Keep an eye out for the majestic Egyptian vulture when visiting Asola, as well as other bird species like the pallid harrier, black kite, red-headed vulture, little cormorant, common coot, tufted duck, northern shovellers, and spot-billed duck.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller